Sugar-Free Sex

I was trying not to fall off the chair we were sharing when he tapped the silver chain of my bracelet. “This is cool. Does it mean something?” 

It was Canadian Thanksgiving, and as Americans lonely in our empty residence hall, we had spent the entire day together locked in a looping conversation, switching locations and positions until we landed in his room, sitting at his desk scarfing down microwaved oatmeal. I knew where it all was going. But reckoning with this question was something I had been dreading. “Oh,” I said, blushing, looking away, and trying to sound as casual as possible. “It’s a medical alert bracelet, I have Type 1 Diabetes.” I glanced back at him to gauge his reaction. “I’m pretty self conscious about it…I just don’t want people to treat me differently…” I trailed off. “No, fuck that. Fuck them,” he murmured. Relief washed over me, and as he leaned in to kiss me all I could think was thank god

I was diagnosed when I was five, on the morning of American Thanksgiving. I ate dry hospital turkey as my new endocrinologist drawled, “You can still do anything you want to do, you’ll just have to plan a little more.” I prided myself in making this my life motto. I wrote my college essays about how I overcame this challenge, how it informed my political leanings and activism, how it strengthened my character. I wore it as a badge of honor; life handed me lemons, now taste the sugar-free lemonade I have since made! But I didn’t include the days I would spend hating myself because I couldn’t control my blood sugar, the hours I would spend devising the best way to conceal my insulin pump in an outfit (in my bra, it turned out, creully conflating my burgeoning womanhood, sexuality, and illness), the times I would ignore the symptoms of low blood sugar because I didn’t want to stop what I was doing in the moment. I never gave validity to these feelings of shame and burnout because I thought I was being selfish. After all, it’s not like I’m going to die from my lackluster pancreas. 

The first time we had sex, he smirked as I took off my dress, which revealed the insulin pump nestled in my bra, suddenly outed after a day of obscuration. I didn’t mind how he asked me to explain its mechanics, how he seemed genuinely interested even though we were significantly past the conversation stage. I thought it was sweet how he was so careful to avoid my infusion site, how he nervously asked me if he had messed it up when his hands roamed over it accidentally. But months passed, and as he got more comfortable and the sex got more familiar, instead of waiting for me to disconnect my pump tubing from the infusion site, he would tap on it and sigh, as if willing it to disappear. I’d always apologize, as though it were my fault for holding up the process, as if the burden of the illness I’d had nearly all of my life laid on him rather than me. 

I never thought to question this behavior, because a large part of my subconscious was still grateful for acceptance. When I was alone, I would contort my body to stare at the bruises and scars the infusion sites had left on my stomach and ass, smearing on lotion to reduce their appearance. I always carried a carefully positioned purse to hide my insulin pump clipped onto the waistband of my jeans. I only tested my blood sugar or gave myself insulin in the privacy of toilet stalls. How could I blame him for wanting what I had wanted my whole diabetic life, for acting upon what I was manifesting every day: disappearance, invisibility? Allowing yourself to be seen is an act of vulnerability, of bravery, of standing in front of someone and saying “Here I am, in perpetuity.” Is that love? The act of bearing all, the good and bad and accepting who you are in relation to another? Loving a part of myself that has made life more complicated, more uncomfortable, more frustrating is hard. Invisibility is easy. And I am tired. I want easy. I wish I could say these feelings left my life just as he did (suddenly, without a word), but they didn’t. I don’t know if they ever will. 

The last time I had sex, I left a crowded bar with a stranger and breathed in deep when the cold night air hit my lungs. We took an elevator up to his room, he turned on music as I took my coat off. “By the way,” I said, glancing at him, beginning to unclip the tubing of my pump from my infusion site, “I wear an insulin pump, but I’m taking it off now.”  He turned around, smiling and pleasantly surprised. “I’m a Type 1 Diabetic too.” 

I laughed out loud.

Story by Anonymous, Montreal, Canada

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