There are those who like the doctors, and those who do not. I was a strange sort of child, and enjoyed going to the doctors. I liked knowing what was going on with my body, and still do. Unlike other sciences, the medical field was one that felt closer to truth. I could trust the diagnostics, the examinations and suggestions, because cold, hard facts backed their claims. I felt as if my person was more mine the more I knew of its functions, so regardless of what afflictions put me there in the first place, I found comfort in those bleak offices.
My experiences changed in my teenage years. I remember meeting with my lifelong primary care physician, waiting patiently for her assessment of my minor condition. The conversation we shared was brief, as it was innocuous in the beginning. I shared details of my life up until the accident, anticipating her attention to shift once we got to business. However, her demeanor had changed during our chat. Normally politely uninterested in my life, her expressions clearly changed from one of unconcern, to one of concern midway through.
After some scribbling, she informed me that based on the “new information” I gave her, she was going to order a pap smear, STD testings and STD preventative shots. She almost forgot about my ankle, the reason I was there. While it was not abnormal to recommend these tests to a teenager, they are for a 13 year old virgin. Especially one who had just admitted to complete virginity. I hadn’t even had my first kiss. I thought crushes were the height of human affection, at that point.
She explained her reasons for ordering the barrage of STD treatment. During our conversation, I had elucidated information that switched me from a “low-risk” of STD exposure category, to a “high-risk” category. Because of what I had said, she had reason to disbelieve my claims of virginity and motive to put me under sexual surveillance.
And what did I say? What could a 13 year old girl say besides, “ I’m having sex all the time” to rise suspicion and doubt of my virginity? What could be said to make a learned professional toss out context over fearful suspicion on a bureaucratic level?
I told her I thought I might be gay. To be exact I said, “I think I like girls.”
This was enough to toss 13 years of empirical, personal and clinical data in the trash, and change her opinion about my moral integrity as a near-child. As if suddenly my promiscuity was inevitable, and my desire to be sneaky about it determinate. Because I thought I liked girls, my doctor had reason to believe I was a sexual deviant.
Up until this point, I was utterly trustworthy of my PCP. While she spoke, I felt the first hints of doubt in my mind. Her words no longer sounded like a scientific assessment of my person. I felt what she had to say was merely an opinion, and not even a professional one. Especially when she brought God into the conversation about my body.
For the first time I questioned her logic, someone I had known and trusted from my earliest memories. She no longer appeared a confidant, but another obstacle that would take years to understand.
This new ilk marred my quality of care over those formative years. Every doctor thereafter would question why I was categorized as “high-risk.” “Because I’m gay.” I would say. I wished I had said “Because I eat pussy, which means I am or will inevitably be diseased.” But I did not. Doctors would always ask, and always their interactions change once knowing. It was predictable behavior, especially living in the bible-belt as I was.
It made disclosing certain information about my life hard. If their professional assessment of me was changed by such unimportant, unrelated information, then who knows to what accuracy and reliability their assessment of other matters may be? Doctors became untrustworthy. The human element flawed the perfect truths of science.
The worst example of this flawed element was when I did want to get a STD preventative shot – the HPV gardasil shot. I asked, but my doctor did not recommend it. “If you are already sexually active, it may not matter,” was his reasoning. I informed them that I was not sexually active yet. He gave me a stare, then answered in a manner neither here nor there, condescending to the core. He said something along the lines of, okay, but if you are sexually active, you must understand its efficacy could be affected.
I stormed out of the office. I didn’t get the shot.
Later that year, by the grace of the gods, I became sexually active. Not crazy for a 16-17 year old. Years later, I learned that during those years, one of my experimental boys (yes, boy) gave me HPV. The gardasil treatment would have greatly aided my defense, if I had gotten it.
I hate shoulda, woulda, coulda… but god damn.
I played hopscotch with doctors for years. I finally found one, who, when telling her my sexuality, gave the charts a scorned look. “That’s… really silly.” She remained my doctor and confidant until I moved away.
My case is not isolated, nor is it the worst case scenario. Health care descrimination is a visible effect of our culture’s intolerances. This is also not “news” and if it is new to you, then your head has been thoroughly stuck in the sands of privilege for far too long. One sixth of all LGBTQ patients have experienced a range of discriminations. That is a harrowing figure. The numbers for trans and BIPOC Queers are far worse.
It need not bear lengthy regurgitation here, because the information available at present is sadly overflowing. However, in order to drive the point home, let me share stories of descrimination:
- Robert Eads, a trans man, was deliberately unnotified about his ovarian cancer by doctors and nurses, which eventually took his life.
- A transgendered individual was “forced to have a pelvic exam.”’ after coming in for a sore throat. Their genitals were then scrutinized by a handful of nurses.
- Queer folks straight-up denied health care. A quote from the doctor who denied a Queer patient access to precious HIV medication stated, “This is what he gets for going against God’s will”
- If you need any more convincing, this fact sheet produced by National Women’s Law Center lists several glaring examples of LGBTQ+ decrimination specific to healthcare.
Always keep at the front of your mind, too, that this isn’t baked goods at risk. These are peoples livelihoods — and death is a price unfairly wagered on Queer communities as a result of said decriminations.
It may seem this is the natural end of this passage. However, I would like to go one step further and clear up some of the hogwash my personal corner has been subjected to, and shed light on health care concerns that do statistically show up at higher rates on WSW (women who have sex with women) charts.
Lesbians are often miscategorized as either “high risk” or “low-risk” for STI’S. Depends what idiot doctor you have when. In reality, Queer women are just as susceptible , no more, no less, to STI’s as the heteronormative woman is. Seems obvious, right?
What is not so obvious is the damage this miscategorization causes. If you are told that you are low risk, you may just believe it and practice unsanitary sex acts that you normally would second guess. Although you may not be being penetrated by the male pecker, which carries a variety of terrifying ickies, you are potentially sharing dildos and other toys that can act as a boat for wicked passengers.
Be vigilant about your sexual cleanliness. I clean toys before, during, and after sex. It lowers the risk of contracting the most common STI’s that WSW face at a higher rate; BV (8% to 52%) and HPV (4%-14%).
Most other STI’s actually do occur at an average rate with their heternormative counterparts. Keep in mind – studies on Queer statistics are rife with flaws; not a large enough data pool, internal bias effecting results and lack of understanding clear, Queer lines. This means that if you are a gold-star WSW, this affects you fairly spot on. But for everyone else on the spectrum, take results with a large dose of salt. Especially if you are a bisexual, trans, or sexually unique Queer.
There are other health concerns the WSW face at a much, much higher rate. Addiction. Obesity. Malnutrition. It comes as no surprise, but mental health is in the red for WSW.
Lesbians struggle with addiction more than any other ally on the spectrum. Smart women like to drink they say — to the point of drowning it appears. According to this study, which specifically uses a finer toothed methodology for identifying alcohol and drug disorder in the LG community, numbers the national average of alcohol and substance abuse at 13% with dependence, and 8% without. (think binge drinkers). The findings for the Queer community concluded;
“…that LGB individuals, particularly women, are at greater risk for alcohol and drug use disorders and related problems. Findings consistently suggest that lesbians/bisexual women are more likely to meet criteria for alcohol use disorders, report alcohol-related problems, and report having been treated for their drinking than heterosexual women. The findings for men continue to be mixed…”
I urge you to read this study. It is not perfect, but it goes into many socio-economic factors rarely addressed in older studies, including diversifying its mainly white group, identifying age and culture pressure patterns in the gay community.
Second to that is Heart Disease and its companion, obesity. WSW in the UK face a 14% greater rate at becoming overweight. WSW in the US, “48% of lesbian/bisexual women with BMI values greater than 25 met criteria for obesity.” Body standards over the globe are trash, we can accept this, but when the burden of disease overcomes one’s ability to live a healthy life, and therefore a happy one, concern arises. (Editors recommendation on literature on this linked at the bottom)
Finally, WSW rank high on the charts for a panoply of mental struggles. This, of course, cannot easily be quantified nor qualified, but the trends so point to some sort of relationship between being gay and being sad. Be it the fact one lives in a society that demonizes natural states of being, or being raised under the influence of those who support poor self care — it’s hard to say.
I think the most important takeaway is this: prioritize your mental health and seek therapy. Everyone should be in therapy. Everyone. Even if you think nothing is wrong, talking in a judgment free, private space is a healthy method to explore one’s inner workings, and maximize one’s full potential.
My goal in writing all this is that the queer community becomes more aware and involved in the discussion of their health and safety. WSW, in particular to this article, may see things here that they see in themselves. In all cases, advocacy for one’s health is important, and a tool for advocacy is information.
If you share a seat on the Queer spectrum, I know you are no stranger to ostriziation. When sitting in that cold, little doctor’s seat, however, you must prepare yourself for what is to come. Some of it will be useful, clinical analysis, and some of it will be bullshit. Be wise to the things you do know, and thoughtful to the things you do not, but never forget that the struggle is real.
To be clear, I am not advocating for a bunch of WebM.D trolls to justify their anti-vax anti-mask rhetoric over well founded, well measured scientific conclusions. I am simply urging at-risk minorities to educate themselves on the threats levied against them as a microcosmic group. For example, If you, a WSW, run a higher risk of contracting BV statistically — ask for a pap smear, even if convinced not to because of your “low-risk”. If you feel an unhealthy relationship with alcohol at hand, bring that up to your doctor.
We don’t need stigma and culture killing us outright, or even worse, passively. Letting a false narrative run in the background of professionals in charge of our livelihood is unacceptable, and we, as a community, must educate ourselves for the sake of advocating for ourselves in times of need. Consider how important you are to growing a planet full of Queers. Think like Queer Pioneers!
- On health, wellness, trans, obesity and BIPOC intersectionality: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/670607/belly-of-the-beast-by-dashaun-harrison/
- A collection of essays and shorts on the struggles of lesbian, BIPOC, ageism, sexism and descrimination in the public: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/198292/sister-outsider-by-audre-lorde/