“I’m Franky and I use she/her pronouns. I’m in graduate school to be a social worker. I’m currently on a medical leave to explore myself and focus on my mental health. It’s really important to take care of yourself when you’re in this field, especially when you want to stand with others throughout their healing journey, which is something I’m really passionate about.
Going through graduate school and treatment for my mental health has helped me figure out my different identities, especially my sexual identity. During the past year, I’ve been in various forms of treatment for an eating disorder. This is when I first came out and became confident in my skin and identity, which I did by listening to a lot of other peoples’ stories.
My sexual identity was something that I had questioned since high school. I went to an all girls Catholic school so it was very stigmatized to question your identity. That’s something I carried with me. In my junior and senior years of college, as well as grad school, I started making more friends with people in the queer community.
I started treatment for my eating disorder last January, and what really got me questioning my sexuality is when I was asked about it. It’s just a question that medical providers ask, and I always felt very uneasy about it because I didn’t know how I identified. When I would said ‘straight’, something in my body didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know what that was. In eating disorder treatment, it’s very common for people to struggle with sexual and gender identity, so that was a topic my peers and I often explored. Watching people find themselves was a beautiful thing to witness, especially in treatment. I looked up to them and realized that I could be myself too.
It started with talking to one person, and then a group of people. I remember my first night at residential, we’d go around and say a fun fact when everyone was meeting, and half the table’s fun fact was ‘I’m gay’. Being in that community, I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this too’, and that’s when I found connection. Also, therapists being open about identifying as people within the LGBTQ+ community really helped me.
Since I had a very positive experience in the beginning of my treatment, it was something that I wanted to continue with other medical providers. I advocated for having groups on sexual identity in other facilities by explaining to therapists that sexual identity was an important topic that wasn’t talked about enough. I’m very fortunate that I had providers that were very receptive and wanted to bring that to the group.
Back in high school when I’d see my primary care physician, I found more challenges because people weren’t educated or didn’t understand. With my past medical professionals, sexuality and gender were taboo topics. It wasn’t something that my doctors necessarily brought up, and it wasn’t something that I felt comfortable talking about. I used to visit the on-campus health centers in college and I remember how they talked about sexual identities and sex education. It was very exclusive and heteronormative, and didn’t gear towards everyone. Now that I’ve come out as queer, I’ve been able to be more upfront about my identity.
I now go to Fenway Health for my medical care, and that has also been really helpful. You walk in and there’s rainbow flags, and it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m home.’ I’m so grateful for that experience. There aren’t many other facilities like that around the country, which is why finding resources to build more communities like that in other areas is so important.
I found out about Fenway Health when I was looking for internships for my social work degree. I love their philosophy. I had friends who went to Fenway Health and talked about their experience with their providers and just how open their providers are about their own sexual identity, which makes it easy to talk about your own. I realized that’s something I want. Fenway Health makes it so easy to make appointments and find a primary care physician and incorporate that into your work. That’s something I never experienced before.
I remember encountering a random provider when I needed a document signed. The form asked about my sexual identity and I said it’s something that I’m not sure about yet. We explored that and they shared their own experiences. We talked about how that affected my mental health and how it affected my treatment. It was a conversation that was new and eye opening, and it was amazing to see the provider open up about themself.
I think I’ve always had a passion for working in the medical field. Growing up I had a lot of surgeries, so hospitals were a normal thing for me. Being a medical social worker has been something I've always been interested in, primarily working with youth and families. I would love to work with queer youth. I feel like I'm so early on in my journey that I want to discover and research more and I think I need more education, knowledge, and personal experience to work in that field. That's something I’m passionate about and I know that my personal experience will be helpful as well. Going to Fenway Health, I realized that that would be a setting that I would really thrive in and want to work in, more on the behavioral health side. Connecting behavioral health and physical health and combining those two fields together through a social work and medical lens is really important.
I think my sexual identity plays a big role in my mental health. Just keeping an identity stored within you and not being able to embrace that leads to so much loss and confusion and definitely fuels my depression which I definitely fuels my physical health. Since coming out and being honest with my family and friends, I felt physically and emotionally better.
Queer medicine has a long way to go. I think we have a generation of people who are willing to learn and want to incorporate these things in the medical field, whether it’s behavioral health or physical health. I think raising the voices of the people in the community is extremely important. Especially those who have had harmful and discriminatory experiences and raising awareness about discrimination and people who are apart of oppressed communities. Knowing that healthcare is not a safe place for everyone, and wanting to make healthcare accessible to all, both in a systematic way and within the communities of medical care, whether that’s a hospital, community health center, or urgent care.
One piece of advice I’d give to my past self is to listen to my instincts and the things I feel in my body. If I feel like I’m hiding something, listen to that. I hid my identity for so long and it was something I knew, but didn’t know. Reminding myself to listen to that little voice that knows what I want and knows who I am, even when I feel lost. I wish I just listened to that earlier and explored my sexuality and what it meant to me.
Embracing who you are is a beautiful thing, and it’s so hard to live in a world where not everyone can embrace that. Especially in the medical field where that’s a place where you need to express yourself, you need to get your needs met. It’s important to incorporate these ideas, not make them taboo, educate ourselves, educate each other, and make an environment that is welcoming and honors all identities.
When I was in residential treatment this last time, each month they would decorate the house a different way. It was June and they decorated for pride month, but they never took the flags down, so the whole house had rainbow flags and hearts on every window. As soon as I walked in, I knew I felt more comfortable knowing my sexual identity would be safe. My sexuality is something that I want to embrace, and I want people to feel comfortable embracing that in themselves as well. Little things can go a long way.” -Franky Qvistgaard, Boston, MA (she/her)