I’ve struggled with privacy my whole life.
I may not have been a quiet child, but I knew what acceptable dinner conversation was and which thoughts should never see the light of day – those that live on the inside of your eyelids with questions and secrets you take to the grave. There were things I never felt comfortable asking my parents about, things they never deemed necessary to teach me. That was just our “normal.” Things changed when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
Suddenly, it was normal for my father to ask if I had gotten my period. It was standard procedure for my mother to touch parts of me she hadn’t seen since I was potty-trained. We went from avoiding most things to bearing it all in front of each other.
Family and friends were clued in on many details of my illness — things I thought to be sacred. From appointment dates to the feelings surrounding fertility precautions, we let people into our previously private world. I’m not sure if we did it to keep them at bay, to avoid the constant ringing of a cell phone during difficult moments. Or if we shared these details simply just to get them off our chests. Either way, we unknowingly created a sense of entitlement in those we love. And maybe even in those we don’t. I sought comfort in perfect strangers, walked any path that wasn’t a hospital hallway. I answered questions people never asked, and immediately regretted it.
The entitlement I speak of is a warrant people feel to know things about me. Things you wouldn’t typically ask anyone. Such as, “What doctor are you seeing?” and “What medications are you taking?” And the intrusion isn’t limited to my medical business. People want to know why I’m not moving in with my partner, what kind of anti-depressants I take, what size I am. I’ve realized the offense I take to this has made me overly sensitive. I refuse to answer even the simplest of questions one might use to make conversation. “That’s none of your business,” I say.
The poor waiter just wanted to know what I’d like to drink.
Part of me feels guilty for even having these feelings. I’ve used writing to cope with my issues for some time now. When I realized I was good at it, I published it. Am I allowed to be offended at an invasion of my privacy, when I literally wrote a book and opened it for all to see? The survivor in me says yes. Yes, I am allowed to pick and choose what I divulge to others. And, as a matter of fact, I’m allowed to change my mind.
I struggle with depression, you’re welcome. I wear a size eight in shoes, you’re welcome. I’m a cancer survivor — seven-and-a-half years in remission — you’re welcome. I suffer from anxiety, you’re welcome. I am a poet and you’re welcome to buy my book. Just don’t read between the lines. You won’t find anything of value.
I can take my books off the shelves, I can wear jeans all my life so no one asks about my scar, I can tell you to go fuck yourself and laugh about it. No one is entitled to my business, even if I share it. It is a privilege to know me, not a right.