"Before I moved to Boston, any time a doctor had asked about my sexual partner preferences…I always got really nervous. Thinking, “Will they judge me? Will I receive the care I need?” I think this fear manifested in my experiences with my pediatrician growing up. My mom did paperwork for the office I was treated at growing up and the staff was a second family. This was great for a lot of reasons growing up - we walked through the staff entrance, could be seen quickly or between patients if something was wrong. It was a privilege I’m incredibly grateful for. However, because of this relationship there was always the possibility that mom was going to be aware of a visit, even the confidential parts. Despite the fact I was sitting down with a medical professional who by law practices confidentiality, I still felt an overwhelming sense of hesitancy and judgement coming my way because of how close we were outside the exam room. I felt like because our families were close, that confidentiality line got blurred. When I was coming out this was a very scary thing because I wasn’t ready to tell my mom yet, but needed to tell my doctor.
During my freshman year of college I started to be sexually active. At the same time, I knew to be safe in my sexual experiences I should be tested regularly and began scheduling appointments with my pediatrician when I was home on breaks. It was then I had an awkward conversation with my pediatrician where I had to disclose that I was sleeping with men. Despite the awkwardness, the team was very responsive and tested me. Right off the bat…my first STD. The first thing my pediatrician said was, “Congratulations, you’re now a statistic.” She probably thought of it jokingly, but it definitely came out in a hurtful way. As you can imagine, I felt like the world was ending and everyone would know. I was thinking about the people I would have to call and even more uncomfortable conversations ahead of me. It was overwhelming and the person I trusted to help me through it was making light of the situation. Eventually, I did receive treatment and I still don’t think my mom knows of that experience, but an already uncomfortable experience was unnecessarily made even more uncomfortable.
Those were just weird experiences. Nothing that made me think, “this is because I’m gay,” simply something unique to my situation. The first time that I really felt that being gay changed my self-perception in a doctor’s office was about a year or two later when I asked for a prescription for PrEP for the first time. I remember the conversation vividly with my pediatrician, stating my case as a good candidate for the treatment. She turned around and said, “No, you don’t need this. You aren’t at high risk.” That caught me off guard. I wanted to say, “Would you say the same thing if a girl came in asking about birth control?” But was too ashamed to stand up and advocate for myself - after all, this was the same woman who two years sooner said I was a statistic. Though I did try to change her mind and added some additional facts about PrEP that I knew, she stood her ground even harder. Doubling down that I am not an individual who needed this. For the first time, I felt that my gayness made things different in my doctor’s eyes. I felt like my medical history was ignored. She wasn’t educated about a major treatment option for people in my community and I walked away feeling very dejected.
That moment shocked me into, “Okay that’s not right for me. I don’t need PrEP.” I listened to her, despite the fact that I was in fact at high risk at the time. However, that thinking changed when I moved to Los Angeles and there was an ad about this study, that I’m still on, for Truvada and Descovy. From that point on, I have been getting paid to take PrEP as part of the study and the experience has been phenomenal. I’ve had the privilege of working with doctors who understand my needs and risks, I’m always met without judgement.
Another experience that I didn’t realize was strange until later on happened when I was living in LA. I had a mysterious presentation of a UTI or STD. Being proactive and following suit with my history, I got treated for an STD. But my symptoms weren’t going away and all of my results were coming back negative. My PCP then recommended me to a urologist, both of whom at the time were older white gentlemen. The urologist is to this date the worst medical treatment I’ve experienced. It was incredibly unorganized. I was left alone in his office and the patient room waiting for him to return, even though I heard him talking to other patients in the next room. I was left alone for periods of up to 20 minutes at a time, on more than one occasion. He never diagnosed me or gave me a solution for my problems, he just tested and tested me for STDs again for the second time in a week. Slowly, over time, my symptoms went away despite never being diagnosed or properly treated. My experiences at that office made me feel like that same statistic in the gay community my pediatrician said I was, not a person concerned about very real health problem.
What those experiences have taught me, is the important of finding a doctor that specializes, in some way, in the queer community. Now, I receive treatment at Fenway Health in Boston, a medical center that specialises in LGBTQIA+ patients. They fully understand my questions and needs. They never question my behavior or preference. I don’t feel like I have to educate anyone or be overly prepared to go to my appointments. I can finally be a patient, not a statistic." -Derek Litts, Boston, MA (he/him/his)