Don’t Touch My Tattoos

I don’t have any visible tattoos that you might notice at first glance. I do, however, have some large tattoos in intimate places on my body that one can only see if I consciously wear clothing that shows them off. I did not, and I cannot stress this enough, get these tattoos done so that other people can see or worse, touch them.

Consider this: I have a tattoo on my thigh that peeks out slightly if I wear shorts or a skirt. It’s only a few months old, and I got it done during winter so very few people have seen it to date. However, during a particularly unnaturally warm day a few weeks ago I found myself in a public place wearing a skirt that revealed the slightest bit of ink on my leg. Of course, I didn’t think anything of it because my tattoos are an inextricable part of my body, but it would seem that certain people still think they are a novelty akin to communal artwork. I was made acutely aware of this when I ran into a friend of mine walking with a group of people I didn’t know, and, while talking to my friend, felt my skirt being lifted up my leg. His friend, someone I have never met before, apparently wanted to have a closer look at my tattoo and thought it completely acceptable to touch my leg and lift my skirt up to reveal my thigh to the entire world.

I slapped his hand away as soon as I noticed what was going on, yet he stilled seemed shocked at my reaction when I told him what he did was completely inappropriate.

“It’s such a nice tattoo, I just wanted to look at the whole thing to see what it is. There’s no need to freak out so much, just calm down.”

Just calm down? I felt completely violated and so disrespected that I could barely contain myself. Here was this stranger who thought I was overreacting to him touching my body without my consent, and I was suddenly the bad guy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to talk to you about my tattoos and I love receiving compliments about them, but if you violate my personal space or put your hands on my body you are no longer simply appreciating my artwork. I don’t know if there is some sort of gender bias at work here, because I’m a womxn and popular culture has taught men that they are entitled to womxn’s bodies, but what I do know is that touching someone anywhere, especially in an intimate and private place, is completely unacceptable regardless of gender.

If I didn’t have a tattoo, what that man did could be considered sexual assault, but since he was just ‘admiring’ my ink his actions suddenly became ok.

Well, here’s what I have to say to you, random stranger: you are not entitled to touch my tattoos. You are not entitled to lift my clothing. You are not entitled to expose me for your viewing pleasure. You are not entitled to my body.

You are not entitled to my body.


Suit Up Boys

I’m not on birth control, even though I engage in casual sex quite regularly. Not because I don’t want to be; I tried the pill for a few months, but unfortunately it interferes with the other, more important medication I already take, so I had to stop.

Although the pill is great at preventing unwanted pregnancies, it does nothing to stop the transmission of STIs, so even while on it I made sure that when I slept with a man, he suited up. Most of the time I didn’t even have to ask; most of the time the man I was with brought his own condoms and automatically used them. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at finding nice guys, and I’ve only ever had one experience where I heard this phrase:

“I don’t like the feeling of condoms. I’ll pull out, I promise.”

When he said it I froze, and then I laughed. Perhaps that wasn’t the right reaction, but for me it was an automatic response to a ridiculous situation. He started spouting some nonsense about condoms reducing sensation while I hopped out of his bed and began pulling my clothes on. When he realised I was leaving, he told me that he was good at pulling out, that only about 20% of couples get pregnant while using the withdrawal method, but that would never happen because he could “tell when it [his orgasm] was coming.”

I will admit that I started laughing again after his little speech. He was trying to justify not using a condom by telling me that I only had a 1 in 5 chance of getting pregnant? He had obviously done his research into the pulling out method, so I find it strange that, in all of his reading, he didn’t once consider the fact that a) we weren’t a couple and I had no reason to believe he could control himself, and b) 20% is far too high a percentage to risk.

Before walking out the door I asked him about STIs. He told me he was clean, and scoffed when I asked when he was last tested. Apparently the answer was never, which is not only incredibly dangerous but also, in my opinion, disrespectful to all of his partners. Before turning my back, I told him he was arrogant and naïve – nobody is immune to STIs, and anyone who engages in sex with multiple partners should be tested frequently.

Thankfully, I dodged a bullet that day.

When I went home, I checked up on his research: according to Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Women’s Health Center  the withdrawal method results in pregnancy roughly 19-27% of the time when used incorrectly. So yes, he knew his pregnancy facts, but he clearly did not realise that most STIs are transferred almost 100% of the time when using the withdrawal method. That is not a chance anyone engaging in casual sex should take.


What’s In A Name?

In a bored monotone on a Friday afternoon, a government official spoke the words that ripped away my autonomy and reminded me that yes, we do still live in a man’s world.

“You need permission from your father, or another male relative to change your surname.”

I was over 18, a legal adult, and was still denied the right to chose a name for myself simply because I am a woman. Never have I felt so disenfranchised than in that moment, when my entire identity seemed to belong to someone else.

When we are born, our parents normally pick our first names for us, a seemingly arbitrary combination of letters that make up the sounds we belong to. But our last name, in Western cultures, is decided on before we are even conceived – we inherit our father’s name. Although it is becoming more and more normal for women to keep their so-called ‘maiden’ name when getting married, most children are still automatically named after their paternal family members.

I am not my father’s daughter, and I no longer wanted to be known as such. I wanted to legally show the world that my mum is my family, and the only way I could think to do so was by changing my name to hers. Realising that made me recognise that actually, Shakespeare was wrong about the significance of names.

Although a rose would still smell as sweet if it went by any other name, it would not be a rose as we know it. To use the world of celebrity as an example, consider Caitlyn Jenner: one of the most important parts of her transition was changing her name from Bruce to the name she felt represented her as a person. Calling her Bruce is the epitome of disrespect, because she isn’t Bruce. It really is as simple as that.

Except for me, it wasn’t simple.

It’s difficult to explain how important your name is to someone who feels comfortable with his or hers, or how negative connotations to that specific sound can colour your entire perspective of yourself. But it’s nearly impossible to explain how difficult it is to write out that name when it doesn’t belong to you, when you identify as someone else. We build up our identity around our name, it represents our integrity and abilities, so when your name is not what it’s meant to be, you feel like a fraud. Writing that surname brought a bitter taste to my mouth, because it didn’t belong to me.

Eventually I gave up trying to explain myself because my case was so unusual, and only a small handful of people actually understood what I was going through. A lot of my friends and acquaintances tried to tell me that it just wasn’t worth it, that the arguments and bureaucratic battles were a waste of my time. Maybe if I hadn’t fought, if I had simply bowed to the system and tried to convince my father to sign away his naming rights, it wouldn’t have taken over 18 months for this process to be legalised. Maybe my application would not have been ‘lost’ twice. Maybe I would not have had to waste hours of my life waiting in lines only to be turned away. The only thing I know for certain is that I would not deserve my new name if I had simply let my sex determine my rights. I wouldn’t be making my mother proud by letting government officials convince me that I’m still owned by my father because of my two X chromosomes.

My name is Tessa Knight, and I am my own person.

*In South African law, The Birth and Deaths Registration act, section 26 (Assumption of another surname) part 2 says the following: 

At the request of any person, in the prescribed manner, the Director-General may, if he or she is satisfied that there is a good and sufficient reason as may be prescribed for that person’s assumption of another surname, authorise the person to assume a surname other than his or her surname as included in the population register, and the Director-General shall include the substitutive surname in the population register in the prescribed manner.

I Got A Pap Smear Today And So Should You

Firstly, I need to preface this article by saying that I don’t know how to be a proper adult yet and I still find making doctors appointments super scary, so I nagged my mum and eventually she did it for me.

Unfortunately, good ol’ mum failed to mention that the gynaecologist about to put his fingers into my vag was a man, so when I walked into the doctor’s office I was greeted by the sight of a balding gentleman rubbing his hands together and staring at anatomical pictures of female genitalia. Safe to say I was a little creeped out, but I only really started sweating when he introduced himself as my doctor.

I was so nervous. Most of the women in the generations above me have some sort of horror story to tell about old men sticking speculums into their sensitive areas and cranking those buggers open wide enough to have a sneak peak at their cervix. I was prepared for pain, but I needn’t have been.

The doctor was lovely. It turned out that he was rubbing his hands together to try and warm them up in order to make the whole “stranger sticking his fingers into my vagina” experience slightly more pleasant, which I did appreciate when the time came to get down to it.

All in all, the procedure didn’t hurt one bit.

When it was over I mentioned that I had avoided this visit for years because I had expected the procedure to hurt. I was told that I was not the only woman to do so, and when I said that I didn’t think it was all that important I was promptly informed that I really wasn’t the only one.

The thing is, we don’t talk about vaginas enough. Female genitalia is still a taboo subject and honestly, that needs to change. I shouldn’t have avoided an important doctors appointment because I was ill informed and too scared to take my kit off in front of a trained professional. And the fact that there is an entire medical field dedicated to keeping vaginas healthy goes to show just how important it is to look after our little ladies.

Personally, I got tested because a friend of mine contracted HPV and sent me this document from the HPV Information Centre. It’s long and arduous to read, so here’s a summary of the important facts:

  • HPV is considered to be the most common sexually transmitted infection out there, to the extent that almost every sexually active person will contract it at some point in their lifetime.
  • HPV can cause cervical cancer in women.
  • Cervical cancer ranks as the 4th cause of female cancer in the world, and the 2nd in woman aged 15-44.
  • 830 million women aged >=15 are at risk of cervical cancer worldwide.

All I can say to that is go get checked, if for no other reason than to get a cool ultrasound picture of your badass, baby-making uterus to stick on your wall.

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