Gabrielle Union has never shied away from having difficult conversations. And on Wednesday, the actor, activist, and author of We’re Going to Need More Wine took the stage at the 2018 #BlogHer conference in New York for a no-holds-barred chat about multiple traumas in her life, including a sexual assault that occurred at the age of 19.
The rape occurred at a Payless store where Union was working at the time and is an assualt she opened up about years ago — long before the onset of the #MeToo era. But when asked what led her to bravely come forward, the Bring It On star disputed that it was about courage. “I don’t look at it as brave, I look at it as necessary,” she told the audience. “There is so much that we internalize and we hold to ourselves out of fear of judgment and sometimes that fear can literally kill us.”
Union implied that coming forward wasn’t so much of a choice as a calling. “I have seen the devil up close, I can’t go any lower. When you are being raped at gunpoint at work, I can’t go any lower; when I watched my girlfriend at 35 die a slow death because she was afraid of finding out what the lump was in her chest, I can’t go any lower. I’ve seen it,” she said. “So at this point, I can only go up — and I’m trying to take as many people with me as I can.”
She also wasn’t afraid of career implications. “If I have to live as a slave to other people’s opinion’s I’m not gonna ever be s***,” she told the crowd, which erupted in applause. “I’m gonna be somebody else’s s*** and never my own. Whether I soar or sink I want to do it standing up with dignity and integrity and not living somebody else’s idea of who I should be.”
Union went on to bring up the fertility issues she faced with husband Dwane Wade. “Towards the end of my fertility journey I finally got some answers, because everyone said ‘You’re a career woman, you’ve prioritized your career, you waited too long and now you’re just too old to have a kid — and that’s on you for wanting a career. The reality is I actually have adenomyosis,” she said. “The gag is I had it in my early 20s, and instead of someone diagnosing me they were like ‘Oh you have periods that last 9 or 10 days and you’re bleeding through overnight pads? Not a mere inconvenience perhaps there’s something more there.”
Adenomyosis is a condition similar to endometriosis in which the lining of the uterus grows into the muscular walls of the uterus itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are more than 200,000 cases of it each year. But many women, like Union, find themselves going years before learning that they actually have it. Union warned women who are experiencing pelvic pain that — like in her case — birth control isn’t always the answer.
“Every doctor I saw was like let me put you on birth control. Right? The catch all. Note: if you are on birth control for anything other than birth control, to address or treat any sort of period issue you are not actually treating or addressing a period or reproductive issue. You are masking it,” she said. “The pill can mask all kinds of things. It is amazing at preventing pregnancy; not so great with addressing anonymous.”
Overall, Union stressed that neither trauma she’s endured — sexual assault and infertility issues — are things to be ashamed of, and that no matter what, the most important thing is to stay true to you. “Judgment renders so many of us immobile,” she said. “When I think of the antics that my fertility doctors would go through to make sure no one would see me in the lobby. [Laughter] Just know if you are out there having fertility issues — you are not alone.”