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Dismissed by doctors

One monologue on dyspareunia—painful sex—laid bare the bruises it causes to sufferers’ self-esteem and to their relationships. An ensemble segment showcased the extraordinary real-life statements of many doctors who often dismiss endometriosis as a phantom pain imagined by unbalanced women.

“Periods are supposed to be painful,” says one doctor. “Pain is part of being a woman,” says another. You must have a sexually transmitted disease,” says a third. “The pain is a physical manifestation of psychological guilt,” says a fourth. “It’s a ploy for attention… I’m going to refer you to a psychiatrist.”

Quigley aptly emphasized the ironic reality for many women: When they receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, they’re relieved, because the burden of the actual disease is less onerous than the fear that you’ve become mentally unbalanced.

In the final pieces of Female Trouble, Quigley iterated the shame–even the ostracism–that infertile women can experience in a world that exalts motherhood as a woman’s most important role. Quigley wove it all together with grace as well as a fearless commitment to a sensitive subject.

In addressing this issue on stage—rather than, say, in articles or medical symposiums—Quigley has taken an unusual path. She quotes the late actor and social activist Ossie Davis: “Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change–it can not only move us, it makes us move.”

I’ve been there, too

Her audacity in bringing this issue onstage especially resonated with me. Although I don’t have endometriosis, I do suffer from a condition (suffered mostly but not exclusively by women) called interstitial cystitis, which causes similar symptoms, including extreme pelvic pain. Sometimes it hurts so much that I can barely walk, and my simplest plans become a challenge.

All my life, doctors have readily offered me treatment for pain from headaches to sore feet. But ever since I was first diagnosed with interstitial cystitis in my late teens, medical professionals have shrugged when I sought relief from my pelvic pain. “It’s not pain,” one physician—herself a woman—corrected me. “It’s just discomfort.”

Granted, patients need to listen to their doctors, who may hold the solutions to their ailments. But doctors need to listen to their patients, who alone know the extent of the pain they suffer. As one frustrated patient who has been through the drill too many times, I wish a long life to Quigley’s worthwhile work.