Tender Points

“Tender Points does precisely what people are always saying can’t be done—it combines a moving, distilled, literary journey with advocacy and even pedagogy, here about trauma, chronic pain, patriarchy, and more. Call it “écriture féminine en homme,” if you want (as Berkowitz does, with acid wit)—but whatever you call it, this is firm, high- stakes speech speaking truth to power, radiating beauty and fierceness from its inspiring insistence and persistence.” —Maggie Nelson


Doctors are cops

Self-select into the profession like a disease

That will never be diagnosed

Because its name is health

And its smell is soap

Walk around swinging their clubs

Talking too loud

Killing people all the time

(It’s their job so it’s fine)

And who can argue with a stethoscope

“Here’s a doctor I remember”

Here’s a doctor I remember:
A hero on the message boards
A six-month wait to see him
Weill Cornell Medical Center
Vulvodynia specialist blah blah blah
And when I saw him, I took off my clothes
And he looked at my skin

He had a theory
About pigmentation
And vulvar pain
And I was so much a piece of meat
He scratched my stomach
To see the mark it would leave
(This was part of the study)
And he said to me, “You have porcelain skin”
I wanted to hit him

I asked him about the side effects
Of the drug he wanted me to try
Exasperated, my good doctor said
“You can’t believe
Everything you read
On the Internet”

“The police asked if I was lying”

The police asked if I was lying

The police said he was a good boy

The police said I was making it up

The police asked me why I was alone there

The police kept yelling at me

The police denied my request for a female detective, which I later found out was
violating procedure

The police did nothing

This cruel abuse of power is sickeningly common, and yet there’s this part of me that
wishes my own rape had at least had a chance at something that might pass for justice.

But when a ghost rapes you, there’s no event to report. No one to report it to. It’s up to
you to perform your own cruel interrogation.

I asked myself if I was lying

I told myself I was making it up

I asked myself why were we alone in the exam room

I asked myself why were we alone in the exam room

I told myself maybe what he did really was normal, and maybe I’m a pervert for
remembering it wrong

I kept yelling at myself

I did nothing

“Ann Arbor never felt like a safe place”

Ann Arbor never felt like a safe place
There was a professor in our department
Who thought he was Ernest Hemingway
He famously touched students’ breasts
He had these signature moves
Like these tried and true tricks
For how to surreptitiously touch his students’ tits
For example, The Scarf Move:
Compliment a student’s scarf
At a department luncheon, then adjust it for her
So your hands each brush a nipple

And he taught there, tenure track
And everybody knew
But nobody did anything about it
His sexual harassment
Was so well-established and unquestioned
That it was like a favorite school tradition
Comfortable, cozy, cider & donuts

And every day I woke up in that town
And knew that he was touching girls
Who didn’t want to be touched
It tore a hole in me
I talked about it and nobody cared
I talked about it and nothing changed
I talked about it and Rebecca said Are You Okay?
And I said yes
But what I should have said was
That’s the wrong fucking question, Rebecca
What the fuck is wrong with everyone else
And why is this man still working at our school
And behaving like a monster?

“One of the most persistent lies is that boys are angry”

One of the most persistent lies is that boys are angry.

And the shadow lie: that girls aren’t angry.

But even though we aren’t formally trained to hate like boys are, every girl is a natural

We have so much to hate.

A growl that tastes like blood

Black reservoir
Of anger splashing
Closer than you think
Beneath the slimy dock of everything I say
In my person voice
Nice woman voice