Thursday, April 7, 2011

Healthcare and Being Queer

LGBT folks have more health problems as we age and more health problems in general. A dearth of studies have been done on our community but other studies on oppressed minorities have shown that "outsiders" have more mental and physical difficulties. Fear of rejection and lack of understanding and compassion deter LGBT folks from seeking medical care in the first place. Things as simple as the standard questions about birth control methods convey the assumption that everyone shares the same life experience. When you are ill and under a lot of stress, explaining your lifestyle  and worrying about how it will be received is the last thing you feel like doing.

Here are a couple of examples from my own experience. Nearly twenty years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma. At Clark's level four, it was a serious diagnosis where the specter of metastasis meant a life expectancy of about 18 months. I had to go to a lot of different doctors for a myriad of tests. My live-in partner accompanied me. One of the first things that we were asked was "Are you two sisters?" Based on our feelings we answered this question in different ways. Our responses are not important. What is important is that neither of us felt much like entering into a discussion about our orientation. We only wanted to deal with the situation at hand.

Another example came up more recently. I went to a follow-up appointment with my male gastroenterologist. He was a "good-looking." Berkeley guy of East Indian descent, someone who , judging by the publications in the waiting room, prided himself on his sensitivity around issue of race. He told me that in the hospital following the procedure he had explained a lot of things that I had zero memory of, due to the drug I was given. I asked him what happened in our interaction and he laughed and said, "It was really salacious."

I was floored and didn't know how to respond. Of course, in retrospect, I wish I'd said something like, "You mean that drug made me straight for a few minutes?" But unfortunately, I kept my comments to myself and left his office never to return.

The onslaught is perpetual and the real costs of being defined as an outsider are impossible to calculate. It is clear that raising consciousness among folks in the medical profession, studying the diseases of our community and our special needs and risk factors. And of course, making real healthcare available to all should be a top priority in the world we are trying to create to replace this woefully inadequate one.