I make a concerted effort ’round these parts to not issue blanket statements about butches, femmes, or queerfolk. Most of the time, generalizations are ignorant at best and insulting at worst (generally speaking). However, there are some that I think you, my wise and worldly readers, would agree with. Examples include: there’s a tax for everything, we all will die someday, baby pandas are adorable, and butches hate going to the doctor. I’m confident about that last one, because (generalization alert!) everybody hates going to the doctor.
There’s real logic behind the old-timey saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We all want doctors to stay far, far away. They poke us, prod us, make us put on ridiculous smocks that showcase our naked tushes, stick us with unwanted needles and fingers and **shudder** speculums, scold us about our weight or smoking or drinking habits, and then expect us to pay them for it all. Face it, MDs – nobody is jazzed to be sitting in your chilly, too bright offices with your stupid food pyramid posters from 1985. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings, but I bet your giant piles of money will ease the pain.
When it comes to seeing doctors, butches have a whole extra layer of crap-frosting on top of our double decker suck cake. Here’s a sampling of the anxious questions that plague my thoughts – and, I reckon, the thoughts of many other MOC queers – whenever I have a new physician:
“Will she think I’m in the wrong office?”
“Will she be totally freaked out/disgusted by me?”
“Will she know how to treat me?”
“Will the quality of care I receive be the same as if I were a feminine, straight woman?”
“Oh god, should I shave my legs beforehand??”
Meeting new people is nerve-wracking enough for me, especially when I don’t know ahead of time whether said new people are “accepting” of queers. (Note: I kind of hate using the word “accepting” in the context of LGBT folk, because I think it’s ridiculous that people think they can accept or not accept something that is obviously real. It’s like “accepting” that tree over here or that cloud up there. They exist, we exist, GTF over it. End rant.) So when Scary New Person will also be touching me in places normally reserved for trusted bedmates, I’m just a giant sweaty ball of anxiety and panic attacks.
This stress doesn’t even necessarily go away after I’ve become a regular patient. For years, I continued to see physicians that I wasn’t really comfortable with just because doctor-shopping is such a clusterfuck in Boston. Finding somebody who is accepting new patients and near your apartment/dorm? Awful.
Until recently, I was a patient at a women’s clinic at a major area hospital. The clinic was neither particularly nice nor convenient – my two-hour trip there involved two trains and a bus – but it was accepting new patients at a time when others were not. The nurse practitioner (it was basically impossible to see an actual doctor unless you were half-dead) was a nice enough woman, but I knew from the minute we first met that she didn’t know what the hell to think of me. I don’t know if she had other queer patients, but I do know that I never saw another obvious dyke in that waiting room. Getting the side-eye from other patients was something I came to expect.
During my first visit with the NP, after the supremely-awkward “let’s talk about the people you are fucking/have fucked” conversation that they make you have, I decided it was time to suck it up and ask for something I had been avoiding: an STD test. The NP looked confused for a moment, then said, “Well, I’m not sure what to test you for.” Meaning, of course, that she had no idea what a woman who only sleeps with other women could possibly have contracted. I was shocked and weirdly embarrassed. If she, the healthcare provider, didn’t know, how the hell was I supposed to know? I think I stuttered something really intelligent, like “Uh, I guess the regular stuff?” So she listed some of your standard STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and of course, HIV – and I was like, “Yeah, OK, all of the above.” And that’s how I got my first STD test from a woman who apparently didn’t think I needed one. After that, I had to specifically request a new test every time I saw her (which ended up usually being after a new partner); she never once suggested on her own that I get tested. Despite that, I continued to use the clinic as my primary care provider for a couple years, because I couldn’t stand the idea of starting my search all over again.
Then 2012 rolled around and I decided it was time to make a
vague clichéd heartfelt resolution: this year would be the year of Positive Life Changes. I was going to eat better (breaking: I, Bren, ate an apple – as in, a fruit, from nature – yesterday for my afternoon snack), exercise more (still working on that one), and give back to my community (more on that in future posts). Part one of my PLCs? Find a goddamn LGBT-knowledgeable doctor. Here I have to admit my privilege: I live in Boston, a super-queer city. In this queer city, there is a big, shiny, new-ish building right near the heart of town. This gleaming tower is home to Fenway Health, a medical care provider whose mission is to “enhance the well being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and all people in our neighborhoods and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy.” Years ago, FH used to be in a somewhat sketchy old building downtown that honestly wasn’t the most attractive of options. But in 2009, this classy new building was completed; now the Boston queer community can access basically all medical services (with the exception of emergency care) under one roof – PCPs, OB/GYN, dentistry, optometry, rapid STD tests, counseling/therapy, pharmacy, family planning, and even transgender-focused services. It’s one-stop shopping and we’re super lucky to have it. Needless to say, when I found out that their Women’s Health group was accepting new patients, I jumped at the opportunity.
Last week, I had my first visit with my new doc. I was nervous, of course, but shockingly, I was also excited. Excited to go to the doctor? Am I a weirdo or what? (We all know the answer to that one.) Really, I was feeling the same excitement I experience whenever I’m going to a place where I know for sure there will be other queer people. I’m a total dork for community like that.
Let me tell you about my experience at Fenway. First off, for the first time in my goddamn life, I saw other people like me in the waiting room. I saw two – count ‘em, two! – other butches and other dykes of various gender presentations. In the examination room, the bulletin board was covered with flyers and brochures targeted toward LGBT needs, with information on coming out support groups, artificial insemination services, LGBT partner abuse hotlines – hell, there was even a picture of a polo shirt-wearing, fauxhawked, chubby butch getting her blood drawn. It was perfect.
My new doctor is young (around my age) and seemingly quite straight (or at least very feminine), but man, did she know her shit. You guys, you’ll never guessed what happened: She actually asked me what gender pronouns I use. How cool is that? She also told me what STD tests I should have, since she actually knows how lesbians work, and gave me the first useful nutritional advice I’ve gotten in a very long time. (Sidebar: I found out that juice – even 100% juice – is actually not healthy, because of all the sugar. Juice! Bad for you! Et tu, juice?? Disappointing, but as Kate Chopin would say, “Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”) Needless to say, I was the happiest butch who just had a pap smear done that you will ever see.
I’m going to wrap this rambling stream of consciousness up with a little pep talk to my fellow doctorphobic butches. Here’s what I’ve come to realize about healthcare:
1.) You deserve it. Your body and your well-being is just as valuable as anybody else’s. Don’t feel like you don’t have a right to demand better.
2.) You’re the customer; the doctor is the provider. They’re getting paid to treat you and if you’re unhappy with their service, don’t hesitate to complain or to take your business elsewhere.
3.) Get an annual pap and breast exam. Yes, it sucks. I know. I fucking hate it. But you know what I hate more? Cancer. Being around to live a long, happy, gaytastic life is worth a few uncomfortable minutes every year.
4.) Oh, and don’t shave your legs for the doctor. They can handle it.
Readers, what have your healthcare experiences been like? Do you have any horror stories or, hopefully, tales of triumph? Are you, like me, still feeling really betrayed by Tropicana? Let’s take it to the comments!