AMSA Queer Project
AMSA Queer celebrates National Coming Out Day - October 11 2018
AMSA is marking National Coming Out Day with a series of stories from medical students. These are just a snapshot of the experiences LGBTIQ+ people have in healthcare spaces every day, but we hope that they give you a valuable insight.
As a trans person I tend to be more engaged with the healthcare system than most people in their early 20s. And moving around a lot over the past few years for med school and placements has meant that I’ve seen a few different doctors over the last few years. The hardest bit is the first appointment, because you never know how someone is going to react. I always find myself looking for rainbow flags while I’m sitting in the waiting room, looking through pamphlets for anything LGBTIQ related - any sign to reassure myself that I won’t be walking out of the appointment feeling like I want to cry. Then there’s the build up to coming out in the appointment. I still haven’t quite worked out whether it’s better to do it straight away, or wait until later in the appointment.
Once you tell a doctor that you’re trans, the purpose of the visit immediately turns from whatever mundane, unrelated reason you went, to an opportunity for that doctor to use me as a queer encyclopaedia. Part of me doesn’t mind, because I understand that doctors can’t be experts on everything, but a lot of the questions can wait to be googled after the appointment. I’ve had to answer invasive questions about what gender dysphoria feels like, what my genitals look like, and whether I’ve had ‘the surgery’. I once had to see a psychiatrist before I was allowed to have top surgery (mastectomy with reconstruction), and spent most of the (very expensive) appointment being reprimanded by the psychiatrist for having started taking hormones without his consent, and listen to him question the qualifications of all the other doctors I had seen up to that point.
The worst thing is that you can never stick up for yourself. The doctor has all the power. You need them to write your scripts for hormones and other medications, and give you the referrals and approvals you need. So when someone says something offensive or problematic, you just take it, because if you fight back they can take access away from you.
Visiting the doctor in Canada has not always been positive, and this is what I say is the most negative experience I have had with homophobia. Interestingly, out of all places, going to the doctor has been consistently the worst (aside from two seperate pharmacists who, when I called them to tell them "my partner is going to be picking up my prescription," would not release it to her because they were expecting her to be a man..). Multiple times, without asking me if I was having the sort of sex that could make me pregnant, the doctor has asked me which sort of contraception I use/assumed I had experience with the birth control pill/mis-gendered my partner. I usually told doctors that I am gay, and therefore do not use any contraception because I am not terribly concerned about immaculate conception impacting me. At some point, when I got a bit older and really comfortable with being open about my sexuality, I reflected on how I felt the first time this happened. The answer was "really awful." I decided that this doctor (working at a university center) needed to find out the hard way not to make assumptions.
The doctor asked me if I was using contraception. I said no. The doctor asked me if I was sexually active. I said yes. The doctor asked me if I was using the pill or condoms. I said no. The doctor asked me if I was trying to have a baby. I said no again (at this point, I wondered how long I could carry this on for). The doctor asked a few more similar questions, and instead of assuming that "maybe she is not having the sort of sex that could make her pregnant," the doctor asked me - a 24 -year-old, university-educated, woman - if I knew how babies were made. I said "yes." The doctor then asked me what I was doing to avoid pregnancy. ".... nobody with a penis? My partner is a woman." Note that, at this point, I wasn't considering medicine, or I would not have approached it this way!
The doctor went all sorts of shades of red, and apologized. I don't think she will make that mistake again, but the assumption of heterosexuality can be just as harmful in terms of accessing health care as overt homophobia; I still feel reluctant to discuss my sexual history with doctors, and dread the "which contraception do you use?" question.
When I came out as gay to one of my medical student colleagues, he immediately walked away and refused to talk to me ever again. This was in first year, and I am now a final year. This has happened more than once.
All of the doctors I have been placed with have been lovely, as have the nurses. They encourage me to be myself and to not hide my identity.
I come from Canada, and I have actually had exclusively positive experiences there, and in medical school here in Australia. In fact, I had one coworker in Canada stop, and ask me why I was using gender-neutral pronouns for my partner. "Are they gender queer, do you use they for everyone, or are you trying to hide you are gay?" I told him the last one, and he told me "seriously? Nobody cares, and if they do, I will personally go and speak with them. Never be afraid."
Since then, I don't hide who I am at work (I'm 29, and I decided to be out at work/school since I was 22), and it hasn't gone badly for me. I have only been in Australia for one year, so I don't know if this is going to be a story of what is possible, or what actually is.
I am very open about my sexuality at school; I feel like most people want to learn about LGBTQ* issues, and are willing to listen. I told my classmates that they can always ask me any questions they have, and if I cannot answer it, I will find someone who can.
I have received a lot of great questions from my classmates, and they come from a genuine place of wanting to help.
About AMSA Queer
AMSA works to promote health equity for all people, and recognises the importance of respecting diverse sexualities and gender presentations.
2018 is an exciting year for AMSA Queer Project, with the new AMSA Queer Network launched in June during Pride month. This online network aims to provide a safe space for LGBTIQ medical students to connect and find community and solidarity, and to discuss issues of particular interest to the queer community. It is an autonomous network, and is accessible to LGBTIQ-identifying medical students. To join the secret facebook group, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another major aspect of AMSA’s work promoting LGBTIQ equity is the production and collation of educational resources for dissemination throughout medical schools. This year, AMSA Queer Project is teaming up with Wavelength Med in creating an event guide for wellbeing or queer reps, allies and/or LGBTIQ-identifying students to run workshops for other medical students. These workshops allow for awareness raising around terminology and queer issues in clinical practice.
If you are interested in getting involved or want further information, please contact email@example.com.