I was sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. I was wearing my sensible jeans. A pair of soft black Levis that, instead of clinging to, tread around my hips: easier to zip them off when the doctor examines my rectum. All my life, I’ve been kind of preternaturally inclined to rectal bleeding. My little spotting had been diagnosed as nothing medically serious, merely the consequences of overzealous toiletry. So I’ve always shrugged off blood in the toilet with an ease that bordered on affection. Years ago, when I told my ex-husband about my spotted toilet paper, he replied: “You probably like that.” It wasn’t a recognition of my masochism (although he knew about my cutting past) but an affirmation of my desire to be a woman: mimesis of menstruation.
I went to the doctor this week though because my regular heavy flow days had gotten a little too heavy, a little too flowing, a little too regular. So I sat there waiting like a good little girl in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, reading magazines I’d never read (Newsweek: “Michelle Obama: My Fight Against Childhood Obesity”), being wan but aloof, waiting to hear my name called.
Is that me? It is me. How strange it is to be called a “Doctor” in a doctor’s office. The young teenage girl with neon patent leather Nikes who was also being a good little girl, there with her mother or grandmother, looked a little surprised. But I was a little surprised too, though I shouldn’t have been. It was all my doing. I am a doctor (a Doctor of Philosophy) and I circled it as my title of choice on my patient survey.
The form asked me to choose: “Prefix: Mr. Mrs. Ms. Miss Dr.” I am all of those things but since discussing excessive bloodletting into the toilet is not an academic matter, I feel that I have to choose a “Prefix” that reflects, if not the accuracy, the inevitable outlines, of my flesh. Thank God then, for the gender-neutral “Dr.”
But I’m not so sure that “Dr.” is a gender-neutral prefix. For me, anyway. Even on the medical survey, the category of “Prefix” is an odd one because there is a separate section for indicating gender. So “Prefix” seems to ask for some other, more social information, even though it is essentially that of gender: one way to say “male” and three different ways to say “female”....then one way to say “post-graduate degree.” Thus, in picking the post-graduate degree, am I not saying that my education bears the same weight upon my psyche and body as my sex and marital status? To push that even further: I wonder if being a Ph.D. is some kind of gender for me.
Is being hyper-educated a gender? Not “gendered” but “a gender.” What I mean by that differentiation is, I’m not interested in how hyper-education is represented along traditional lines of masculinity and femininity. For example: being a bookworm means you are less muscular and able-bodied thus more feminine than masculine; or being learned means you are not a housewife thus more masculine than feminine. No, what I mean is the functionality of hyper-education as a gender.
Gender marks the fleshly plugs and sockets we use to sexually and romantically connect with other human beings. If we apply this formulation to “Dr.” what we are essentially asking is: How does your identity as it is comprised by what and how you’ve learned dictate a specific mode by which you become sexual? Does my Ph.D. in American literature really shape my sexuality? Is it that my expertise with words and books gives me a special nubbin and/ or dent that can be petted to orgasm? Or that the ease and pleasure with which I dissect the prose of Mary Gaitskill or Anaïs Nin constitute a body part that longs for a specific kind of spit-and-stroke rhythm?
I think so. Even if I haven’t figured out exactly how, I think so. Being a doctor as a type of girl doesn’t mean that I’m looking for my twin in educational degree. This is not a match.com profile. Rather, I think of this boy I’ve recently been in love with. He is not a Ph.D. in literature. But when he talks about writing and reading he talks in a way that puts his entire body into it. His hands have been trained to hold tools other than books but when he talks about books I love that he talks in a way that feels soft and firm at once. His desire to love and find meaning in words I love and find meaningful is so palpable it’s fingertippy. And when he talks like this he’s talking to ME, the Doctor of Philosophy. This is who defines my gender. Someone who knows how to touch my body of knowledge and education in a way that makes me feel more like a girl and less like a human.