"I didn’t fully come out until I was about 22 or 23 – a full lesbian experience at a Melissa Etheridge concert in the middle of Pride in Pittsburgh; that’s when the lightbulb went off. I quickly retreated…because I thought to myself 'I can’t come out as a lesbian, it’s scary...and how do I know for sure?' So, the inner academic in me wanted to make sure all the data was there before I made the decision. Which is why, at first, I came out as bisexual. When I visited my OB/GYN, I felt comfortable enough…no that is not the right word I was not comfortable. I felt...like I had to be open and honest with my doctor. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years at that point. So, she gets to the questions about my sexual history. She asked, 'how many sexual partners have you had in the past year?' I remember having to stop and think to myself how invasive this was and I responded with a question: 'Are you talking about sex with men, sex with women, or both?' I remember feeling like she was quite taken aback and responded, 'ummm, both I guess?' So, I proceeded with my honest response that it had been both. Then she proceeded to give this small sigh and mumbled under her breath and said, 'indiscretion of the youth.' My heart was racing. I will never forget that phrase. It was shocking. It was such a big step to say something about myself that I wasn’t quite comfortable with yet and could not believe she said that. She was supposed to be the one that understood all of my history without judgement. She was supposed to give me the best healthcare, the best options and the best advice. When she said that, I thought to myself that what she just expressed was basically equating my sexuality to promiscuity. That is simply not okay, and I felt uncomfortable and even a little ashamed for being my authentic self. It made me not want to be honest with her for the rest of the visit. Of course, I did because I had to if I wanted the most out of my visit and it is necessary for your healthcare provider to know these things. But this was the first time I had ever gotten any negative feedback from what I had to say about my sexuality, from anyone. Not only that but it was the first time I had ever experienced a ‘professional stopping’ and just immediate tension in the room so she could utter something that was clearly inappropriate and targeted towards me in a negative way. I was young, I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t out to my family and really only a couple of friends knew. This ended being something I had to process alone.
I did back to her again. At that point I was sexually active with primarily women, but this time she seemed fine. Maybe she was desensitized or maybe she was more understanding about the issue, I’m not sure. But that first time is one I will never forget. The first time I told her, told ANY healthcare provider, about my sexuality… how her negative reaction made me feel. Mind you, this is in Pittsburgh, PA. People come from all over rural PA and West Virginia to see healthcare professionals in Pittsburgh because there is no other option for healthcare specialists where they are. You know? And how many of these kids are stuck in these bible belt areas of America that are potentially facing discrimination from doctors because of their sexuality when they are already dealing with so many other issues because of where they live. Queer kids who live in these areas are told, and I even remember being told myself, that ‘you can have homosexual feelings, but it is your choice to act on them.’ My own parents told me that, my Dad told me this. Because he was raised in the church and that’s what they believed. So, to think that LGBTQ+ kids from these areas, not only have to travel all this way to see a specialist, but to not feel supported in the one space where you are supposed to feel safe and supported by your healthcare provider. Health care providers gain access to the most intimate details of your life in order to properly care for you. This is scary, this has to be terrifying that it is up to chance on how your experience will go. This is something that is important to think about and is why it is so important to know the situation you are walking into.
When I moved to Boston, I specifically sought out a queer friendly health provider at Fenway Health. *YAS*. I found a female doctor who happened to also identify as a lesbian or queer. It is so nice. I can just openly talk with her and be candid with her about literally everything regarding my health and sexuality. She is incredibly supportive. She will have students in during my appointments and she will make them ask me really difficult uncomfortable questions to get them use to hearing all of the possible answers from me, a lesbian patient. It’s cool to see a physician enforce the idea that this is okay and that you are allowed to have these conversations with your patients. Your patient should feel comfortable talking about it and you should be supportive of your patient. She gives me fun literature to read…it’s absolute night and day between her and my last physician.
Being able to have a provider that accepts you, but also even identifies similarly to you, is so important. You know, just because a doctor labels themselves as for everyone doesn’t mean they are necessarily welcoming. They may not understand the conversations and certain nuances that you have with patients you can connect with and understand your position. If you are a straight female doctor you aren’t necessarily thinking about the different aspects of lesbian life in the same way as a lesbian or bisexual doctor who has experienced that personally.
If I could go back and give any advice to my younger self, it would be to talk to other people in my local queer community in Pittsburgh to get advice on which physicians I should see and to let me provider know that I was not comfortable with that comment. We could have moved forward communicating better with each other to build better quality healthcare."
-Candi, Boston, MA (she/her/hers)