Going to the Doctor as Queer Women

icon_doctorby LauraLynn Jansen

CW: discussion of homo/biphobia

“Married, Divorced, Widowed, Single? hmm… those don’t quite fit my relationship status,” Jordan thinks. She looks up at the walls and the posters depicting people receiving medical services, coupled males and females smile back at her. “Just once I would like to see one that depicts two women together,” continues the conversation in her head. Jordan drops her eyes to the form again and checks ‘Single.’ “But I’m not,” she debates in her head, “I have someone I’m committed to and is committed to me.” She sighs and goes onto the next question, “Current form of birth control?” This is a scenario women encounter every time we enter a medical facility. The situation is likely to be dealt with in one of three ways by woman who has a partnership with another woman. The quickest is lying about having a female sexual partner. Another option is to use the most neutral language possible and hope you can slide by with being detected as a lesbian. The last option can be the scariest; you come out to your health care provider. Does it really matter?

There are many myths about immunity to diseases if you are a woman who only has sexual relations with another woman. Here are a few: — I can’t contract STDs or HIV. — My not having sex with men means I can’t contract cervical cancer. — I don’t need to have a pap test. The entire above are incorrect. Women who have sex exclusively with other women may encounter any of the above mentioned. Regular screening and care is vital to every woman. The bigger issue is feeling safe coming out and telling your healthcare provider(s) you have a partner of the same sex, and it can be intimidating and downright scary. If there is any place one needs to feel safe it is in their doctor’s office, where one tends to feel nervous no matter their sexual orientation. There are several approaches to making a setting that appears to be unaware of LGBTQ clients, through their intake forms with limited options of partnerships or an assumption of contraceptive use, more safe for you as a patient. First you will want to determine how safe the setting feels to you. Consider the answers to the following questions before disclosing yourself.

Can you switch providers if you feel uncomfortable? Check your insurance plan or campus policy for selection of providers and ease of selecting or switching a primary care physician.

  • Find a referral service for friendly providers (see resources), ask your friends who their health care providers are or trust your intuition on how you believe this person will act if you come out.

If you live in a smaller community you may want to investigate your health care provider’s confidentiality and information-sharing policies. How will you be identified in your file after disclosing who you have sex with?

  • This is especially important if you don’t want your family or other individuals (this could include insurance agencies) to know of your relationship status.
  • A potentially tough aspect of disclosure is how to deal with curious, ignorant or negative responses from your health care provider and/or staff. Bringing someone along may help with this type of situation. The two of you can create a game plan for dealing with this worst-case scenario. Simultaneously, you can increase your chances of feeling comfortable by implementing any or all of these suggestions:
  • Bring a friend or partner along to help alleviate anxiety. The second option may provide more anxiety; discuss it with your partner and figure of what would feel the best for you.
  • Write in your relationship status on the form (if it isn’t already listed) so when the nurse, nurse practitioner or doctor meets you they may be clued in ahead of time to your relationship status.
  • Ask to start the encounter with your healthcare provider clothed. One is likely to feel more vulnerable naked in a little gown. Disclosing your relationship and questions around it with your own clothes on creates a more empowered setting for you.

Write down questions ahead of time in case you become nervous. What is the big deal anyway?

  • The full disclosure of your life situation and sexual practices can influence your health and well being on a variety of levels. Living either a closeted lifestyle or an open one is bound to be stressful. Knowledge of these stressors may help diagnose a variety of health-related problems.
  • Additionally, being in a same sex relationship and not being able to speak outwardly of it takes a lot of energy. When you are open with your health care provider about your life it allows you to focus on your health instead of hiding.
  • Disclosing your relationship status is likely to increase your receiving more accurate medical information from your health care provider.
  • Possibly the most important piece, is that your health care provider knows who is important to you in case of an emergency. Hopefully, this will also prompt a situation where your partner is respected as more than ‘just a friend.’

Find Out More>>

The Mautner Project is a national resource for individuals with female partners and their medical concerns.

Lyon Martin Services based in San Francisco, CA was founded by two women, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who paved the way for lesbian health issues.

Source: LauraLynn Jansen, MHEd., CPCC, PFT, RYT, Campus Pride, 2005.

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