Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
Across the discussions we have hosted and shared during our Pride Month series, how queerness intersects with different identities has been something we have talked about a lot. However, something we haven’t quite touched on yet – and is a space that isn’t really discussed enough – is how queerness can intersect with chronic illness.
How queerness and chronic illness intersect with one another is something we don’t often hear much about — and I know that this is an intersection that I need to learn more about myself. Thus, I am incredibly honoured to have Holly, the book blogger behind Hollibrary Books, visit us at the Pond today to share with you all her personal journey of navigating chronic illness and queerness. Holly visits us today as a parasaurolophus, wearing glasses and holding a pencil and a book.
But, before I share with you all Holly’s incredible piece, I would love to tell you more about her book blog and her gorgeous bookstagram.
Holly’s Book Blog, Hollibrary Books, and Bookstagram
If there’s a book blog that you need to explore and follow, it is definitely Holly’s wonderful book blog, Hollibrary Books! On her blog, she has incredibly thoughtful book reviews of queer books (I particularly loved Holly’s review of The Henna Wars) and her book hauls (and what she’s purchased, library loans, and ARCs she’s received)! I also adore her look books – where she creates makeup looks to match book covers (I especially love her look for The Light at the Bottom of the World).
If you love soft and floral-themed bookstagram feeds, then you’ll love Holly’s feed! I love how beautiful Holly’s bookstagram is, and I also love the diverse books that she spotlights! If you aren’t following Holly, I cannot recommend her bookstagram enough – it’s gorgeous, her captions lovely and warm, and you’ll find plenty of new books to read.
Holly: Ebb and Flow: Navigating Queerness, Chronic Illness, and Finding the Right Words
content warning: discussion of menstruation, endometriosis
The only thing I’ve known longer in my life than being queer, is being sick. And yet, I didn’t realize it for years. Somewhere deep down, where I wasn’t quite comfortable with looking too hard, I knew. I know I did. But it was easier at the time, safer, to ignore it. To tell myself otherwise.
Or, where being sick was concerned, to be told so by others.
I was eleven when I started menstruating. I’d taken the mandatory Health classes. I had my mom and my older sister. But nothing had prepared me for how painful they were. Excruciating. Incapacitating. While everyone else seemed to be going about their lives normally, I spent seven days nauseous and curled up in the fetal position. I needed to use tampons and pads because it was the only way to guarantee I wouldn’t get up at the end of a class to find a red pool on my chair. Lunch hours were spent in the bathroom. Weekends were spent in bed with a heating pad.
I was twelve and sixteen and twenty, still trying to understand why this was happening to me but not my sisters or friends. Every trip to the bathroom now left me in tears. The pain became so severe that I started missing several days of school—and then work and university—every month. It continued to get worse. No prescription, no matter the dosage, helped alleviate my pain.
My teenage years were spent folding further and further in on myself. I was in pain and miserable and became someone my family and friends didn’t recognize. Every doctor said these were normal period cramps, and I was either:
- a) lying
- b) had low pain tolerance
- c) exaggerating my symptoms for attention
These are not things people want to hear about. You’re not really supposed to talk about your period, I’ve learned. You’re supposed to accept that whatever you’re experiencing is normal. Even if it’s clearly not. That’s the problem. I kept going back, though. Like a broken record, saying the same thing over and over, annoyed that I had to say the same thing over and over.
At the same time, I was searching for something else, too. Another, different answer—for the words to match a different sort of feeling, one that brought a lightness to my heart and a warmth to my cheeks.
Two things happened when I was twenty-two.
The first is I found the word that matched what I was feeling: bisexual. I came out for the first time to my sister. We were driving home from university and I was explaining a new installation piece I had in mind for my Drawing and Intermedia course. The piece was directly grappling with my revelation despite never having been in a relationship before (spoiler alert: my creative process in university was Catharsis™). Then I came out to the rest of my family. There wasn’t condemnation, but there wasn’t an outpouring of acceptance, either. It just…happened.
The second is that—after years of gaslighting from doctor after doctor, and being told my pain was imagined or exaggerated—I found another word. A word to explain what was going on inside my body: endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition where cells similar (but not the same) to those that line the uterus are found outside of the uterus: on ovaries, fallopian tubes, the bladder, intestines. It’s also been found elsewhere, particularly the lungs. These cells act similarly to endometrium, thickening and shedding each month as a result of fluctuating hormones. Over time, the resulting growths can effectively “glue” internal organs together, or cause infertility. It’s often referred to as a women’s illness, but this is inaccurate and leads to even worse disparities in care for trans individuals. You don’t need to be menstruating or have a uterus to be symptomatic. There’s no determined cause, and there’s also no cure. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it before. Even though it affects as many as one in ten, you’ll still find incorrect definitions in books published within the last year—trust me, I’ve looked.
Maybe it was foolish of me to think that finding these words would mark a conclusion. I thought: I had my answers—the end. In reality, it was but the beginning of an ongoing process, and another round of questioning.
If I had spent the last few years of my life figuring out how I felt about others, the next few were spent figuring out how I felt about myself. Coming out didn’t seem to change much, but my diagnosis changed pretty much everything. The treatments I underwent made my body unrecognizable—physically and emotionally. And I think, worst of all, is that nothing changed about my condition. I had been sliced open, caesarean style, so the endometriosis could be burned away and my organs pulled apart from one another, put back where they belonged.
After everything, I should have felt better. But I didn’t.
In fact, I felt worse. And every time I met with my doctors, pleading with them, I was told the same thing: that I was young, and any procedures I was discussing now were out of the question because “one day I would meet Mr. Right.”
They would always say it with such optimism, like reminding me of a light at the end of the tunnel. Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility, and those with it are fifty percent more likely to be infertile. But keep my uterus, and one day all my suffering would be worth it. I’d find Mr. Right, and suddenly all of my problems would be solved.
This was the elephant in the room. It was the shadow looming over me. It was a weight that pressed against my chest and made it hard to breathe. After all those years trying to find the right word, and thinking I had found it…now I was flooded with doubt. I wasn’t so sure if bisexual was right, after all. Even though I’d always thought of it personally as being attracted to genders alike and different from my own… I had never been more sure of what I didn’t want than I was during those appointments.
And thus, I found myself in the position of having to come out to a complete stranger—regardless of how familiar they were with my internal organs. It’s an odd thing, too, revealing something personal and yours, in such a way. I’m still not sure if that distance makes it easier or harder.
Regardless, I no longer felt comfortable using the word that had brought me comfort for so long. So instead, I simply said, “I’m not straight.”
And the doctors would ignore me.
They would continue to talk about my future as if they knew exactly what I wanted, explaining how all of my insides—not just the reproductive organs, but my heart, too—were supposed to function. It was then that I started to realize none of this was about what I wanted. It also wasn’t really about my health, anymore.
Maybe it never was.
Since then, the questions I’ve had to ask myself have gotten more complicated. I’m still figuring things out, trying to find the word (or words) that feel more like home. As I write this piece, that word is queer. I find safety in its ambiguity, particularly when I have to let strangers in, and especially strangers in the medical field. Each new doctor—general practitioner, ER nurse, specialist, surgeon—needs to know in some capacity, because my sexuality now plays an integral part in my health. It’s part of the reason I’m now seeing the specialist I am, and awaiting multiple surgical procedures that will give me the best chance of living life tomorrow in less pain than I am in today (which, unfortunately, is a lot).
My queerness and my chronic illness have had an undeniable role in making me who I am, even long before I was fully aware of either. And now, they are inextricable. Intertwined, for better or for worse.
Thank you to everyone for reading, and an even bigger thanks to CW for inviting me to partake in Pride Month at The Quiet Pond. I adore everything about the Pond, and it’s one of my absolute favourite blogs—and bookish spaces in general!
About the Blogger
Holly is queer, chronically ill, and has spent the better part of her life with her nose stuck in a book. After graduating from university with a Bachelors of Fine Art in Art and Design (where she made work exploring chronic illness, sexuality, and gender), she found herself a job at her local library and now lovingly oversees—and has overhauled—their collection of Young Adult fiction.
When not at work or reading, Holly will often be found drawing her favourite characters, playing with make-up, putting together puzzles, riding her horse (when her body allows), or reshuffling her shelves—which happens a lot, since they are organized by colour.
I want to thank Holly for her time and energy to contributing to our Pride Month series today! I loved her post, value her perspective, and am so grateful that to her for sharing something that is vulnerable and personal for her. Thank you so much, Holly!