“No, das ist not correct. Man can have guns to hunt vis,” he prattled on, if prattling can be done harshly accented and monotone. In agreement with most German citizens (except, clearly, this gruff gentleman), I’m a staunch supporter of gun control. And if my knickers weren’t down and he crouched between my spread-eagle legs, I’d voice my opinion on the matter. But with my lady parts exposed and vulnerable, I feigned interest in his dry tales of big game hunting in the Himalayas. After all, this wasn’t a date gone terribly wrong, this was my first gynecological appointment in Germany.
Though Americans brazenly strap rifles to their pickup trucks, we’re quite prude. Guns don’t scare us, but nudity does. We’ve come to accept nudity in small doses—an ass bouncin’ along to an MTV beat, cleavage and pom-poms jumping in support of our favorite team. But an exposed nipple is absolutely unacceptable and we’d rather drive home sweaty and stinking than bare our butts in the gym’s showers. Even in a doctor’s office, we hide our bodies beneath the appropriately named modesty gowns.
In Germany there is no such modesty. Boobs and wieners appear in newspapers and on TV without fuss or controversy. Munich’s large and lovely English Gardens, smack in the middle of town, allow public nudity. Families gather to picnic and play soccer without the confines of clothing, skin and privates flapping freely as they run. I admired this lack of inhibition—Germans don’t simply accept nudity, they embrace it. I thought myself Bohemian enough; I was certainly no prude.
“Now go in zat corner and take your trouzerz off,” he said, waving his hand absently towards the corner behind his desk. I found a two foot by two foot square marked with yellow tape on the floor. I stood inside the square, looked blankly at the bare walls of the room’s corner and turned around to stare dumbly at the doctor’s back. I took a few steps out of the square; surely I had misunderstood him. He turned at the sound of my footsteps.
“Vat are you vaiting for? Take your trouzerz off, in ze corner.” I stepped back into the corner, back into the yellow square. Where are the modesty gowns? Where is the curtain to conceal me taking ze trouzerz off? From my corner I searched the nearby exam table, which wasn’t a table at all, but a chair. A chair with stirrups, and no gowns or curtains in sight.
The wheels of his desk chair squeaked as he turned to find me staring like a moron from my yellow square, pants still on. “Vat is wrong? Trouzerz down, den come to ze chair,” he harrumphed with obvious irritation. If thumb twiddling was done outside cartoons, he surely would have twiddled his thumbs in exasperation as he sat watching me drop trou. Painfully aware that he had not scheduled time for my modesty, I hastened to undress. It was February and winters in Germany are only tolerable beneath several layers of clothes. I peeled my pants off, careful to stay within the boundaries of the yellow square. Two pairs of socks, tights, undies dropped to floor. He glowered at the untidy heap audaciously ignoring the yellow tape and said nothing, though his subconscious thumbs picked up their twiddling pace. I hurriedly bent to collect my clothes and gave a yelp as my bare buns squished against the cold wall. An ignominious squelch echoed through the room, the sound of a dodge ball thwacking a fat belly. My embarrassment was excruciating. I grabbed fistfuls of clothes, threw them in a wad in that fucking yellow square and trotted to the doctor’s side, trying to act casual as my thighs jiggled and my butt cheeks wiggled.
He positioned me in the exam chair. I sat at almost ninety degrees with my feet at elbow height in the stirrups. He sat in a wheeled stool, pulled on rubber gloves, and prepared to insert the speculum. Then to my horror, he rolled his stool between my legs so that we sat face to face. The entire exam was conducted at this intimate proximity. I could feel his spittle spray my eyelashes as he droned on about the best rifle to use for Himalayan sheep. I could see the dandruff in his hair as he bent to peer at my crotch. However, he was a doctor and, though an uncomfortable conversationalist, was doing nothing inappropriate. Knowing this did not mollify me. Inside I squirmed with discomfort while my body remained frozen in humiliation. All this for a Pap smear?
Now, years later, I chuckle at my prudishness. I spread my naked self on the sauna bench without worrying which position best hides my stretch marks. I shed my clothes in front of my gun-toting gyno without diffidence. I still have trouble keeping myself and my belongings inside that damn yellow square, and indeed inside the invisible box that contains most of German society. But at my last appointment, I looked that gruff gyno in the eye, the speculum between us (well, in one of us), and said, “Yes, man can have guns to hunt with, but should he?” I’m still terrified of and abhor guns, but I have come to embrace nudity.