"My family structure consists of me and my wife. We’ve been together since 2012, and we have a daughter named Chloe. She is two and some change. I am currently pregnant with our second. We’re pretty healthy -- we just get yearly physicals, so that is the extent of what we need for medical care. My wife is a nurse practitioner and I used to be a medical speech pathologist. Right now I'm a stay-at-home mom trying to get back into the swing of working while pregnant and having a toddler at home.
When I was in my early 20s, I had one instance that stands out to me with my OB-GYN provider. I was just going in for my yearly pap smear. She never asked me about my sexual history, and then, at the end of the appointment, she was talking about how cute I would look with her nephew that came in from out of town. That was the last time that I saw her. I thought it was really…rich to just assume that I would be interested in her nepew and to never, ever ask of my sexual history when that’s a big part of her job. That was the first instance where I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really not being seen right now. There’s probably a decent amount of other people who could be in the same situation as me, and we’re not being considered. We’re just automatically being identified as straight.’
In 2019, my wife and I went to get our yearly physicals at the same time as we had back to back appointments, so for both appointments we both just stayed in the room with the physician. Our daughter was with us, and it was honestly a lovely visit. I had no complaints whatsoever. She was very accommodating, very sweet. When I went to schedule my next yearly physical, we had moved, so I was thinking about possibly getting a provider that was closer to us. I was looking at my medical chart from that 2019 visit -- this was in 2020 -- and I saw that my primary care provider diagnosed me with ‘ego-dystonic lesbianism’. Wild! Essentially, it is somebody -- and I haven’t brushed up on this -- but essentially what I took from it was that…you can look at it like I struggle with my sexuality. So either I am straight and trying to be a lesbian, or the opposite -- I’m a lesbian and trying to be straight. Essentially, a conflicting identity. It’s a parallel to gender dysphoria.
I had never heard of this term before. They took it out of the diagnostic criteria in the 80s. So, she had to look this shit up. It’s not auto-populating; this is not a common diagnosis. That is one thing my wife and I took from that. I, as a speech pathologist, have to diagnose people, so I’m used to looking up diagnosis codes. I know the software she was working on. I know that she had to go out of her way and type out lesbian. So I got that diagnosis, and at first I’m just like, ‘Maybe she’s just trying to identify me,’ but this is a medical diagnosis. This is being sent to my insurance company; this is a disorder; this is on all of my paperwork.
I started doing a little more research -- it’s in my chart, my electronic chart. I tell my wife to go look at hers, and she does not have that. So, the only thing we can conclude from that is…my wife is a little more old-school lesbian presenting and perhaps [the doctor] thought that Michelle is not externally conflicted with her identity. That’s the only thing that we could think of that made an inkling of sense. Maybe because of my wife’s external presentation, it made more sense to the provider that she would be gay or lesbian -- thats the only way we could make sense of it. So I called the doctor. She called me back and essentially said, ‘I’m still learning. I had a really nice time meeting with you guys. You know that I have to put information about your marital status in your chart.’ Like, yes, but that goes in the demographic area of the chart, not in the diagnosis area. And if that were true, why didn’t you put it in my wife’s chart? We’re married to each other. If this happened to just be a mistake and she was putting things in the wrong area, then it would be consistent, right? At the end of the conversation, she didn’t have an explanation as to how and why that diagnosis was in my chart. She was willing to take it out.
At first, I just kind of giggled. Then I looked more into it, and I was super insulted. I think it does mess with you a little bit, though. I kind of wondered if that was something I was exuding. Perhaps she was picking up on something that I hadn’t picked up on myself? Am I doing myself a disservice by being feminine or ‘hetero’ presenting? Should I… what do I do? It did mess with me, to be completely honest with you. I don’t want to be interpreted as somebody who has an issue with themselves.
It made me think about people who aren’t in a safe space. I’m in a metro area -- people are largely accepting over here. I have that to my advantage. I think about somebody who could be in a much more fragile state, and that could be so, so, so damaging. Also, I would imagine somebody who is in that state wouldn’t go forward with confronting the physician and perhaps just take that diagnosis and let it follow them for the rest of their lives in their medical chart. Everything is electronic now; everything kind of sticks. It’s formally off, but it was once there -- it still exists somewhere in the digital universe.
I was really emotional about it; I was really angry about it. I did go to the news, and they did a little story about it. I came to Diagnosis: Queer, too, because I wanted to get the word out there that it’s super important for us as a community to intentionally seek out people who are safe for us. I will say that it is perhaps this unknown-to-me privilege -- that it’s not obvious that I’m a lesbian -- that I can go in straight spaces and feel safe. This was a reality check for me that it’s not always that way. Everything felt pleasant, but it wasn’t. There was a lot more going on in her mind that I haven’t even…at that point, I took it for granted. I just always felt safe, I always felt accepted, and I never even questioned if I was or wasn’t. That was a reality check that made me want to go forward and get the word out there to as many people as possible.
Ask. Be out right verbal: Is this a safe space for me? Look at the intake forms. Really, really think about who you’re trusting with your medical care. Because shit like this can happen! What if she was totally resistant to taking it off of my chart, and she was steadfast in her belief that that was me? She has that power. She could have done that.
I laugh because it’s so shocking to me that it happened, but I’m still really pissed about it.
I feel like I knew really, really young. My first experiences were with girls, but it was very confusing for me once I came to the point where I had to formally address all of these things. I feel like, in the world where I was in, it was very much accepted to mess around with girls and experiment with girls -- like, you’re at a party and you're drunk and you’re kissing for the guys, right? Everyone was doing stuff like that. No one liked having sex with their boyfriends, so I was like, ‘Oh my god, me too, I hate it.’ I was the kind of girl who would always pick my best friend over my boyfriend. That kind of thing was seen as cool, but that was confusing to me because it felt like everybody else was doing the same thing I was doing. Yet, everyone else was into dudes. ‘Oh yeah, me too, I’m also into dudes,’ but I didn’t realize how serious they were until I did. Like, I met my wife, and then my life made so much sense.
I feel like I’ve always lived in the shadows of a straight, hetero world. That was my identity for so long. It was confusing then, and this specific medical issue was also confusing for me because it kind of reinforced the fact that maybe the doctor is right. Maybe I do think that I’m in the straight world, but I’m also a lesbian and with my wife. ‘We can all coexist together and you accept me, right?’ Again, it’s this assumption of feeling safe and feeling accepted without really making sure that I am.
Be proactive, versus being reactive. It definitely would hurt less if I were seeking out a safe space and I was told that it wasn’t, versus thinking it was and being proven otherwise. We do have some power with our medical providers, with the exception of being hospitalized and having to be under people’s care who you can’t choose. When it comes to any place you’re taking you or your family, it should definitely be a topic of discussion. You can leave!
Actually, what’s happening right now is that I’m taking my daughter to her well visits and they constantly ask me about my husband -- constantly. ‘How’s daddy? Is daddy tall? She’s so tall, your husband must be so tall.’ And there’s almost a point where I smile and nod: ‘He is -- he’s so tall.’ Sometimes I don’t have the energy to constantly be correcting people, but I still constantly correct this practice. And, their intake forms are beautiful -- they talk about how inclusive they are, but in practice are they?
I’m kind of at a point now where I have to go shopping again. I’m at the point now where I’m almost exclusively going to queer providers. I need them to match what’s going on in my household. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable and I don’t want to feel pre-judged. Like, if I were a part of the trans community, I’d probably feel most comfortable with someone who was in the queer community. That’s more difficult and there’s a lot more medical care that’s involved with that. So that would be my advice for any person going out there in the world: protect yourself, save yourself, and don’t let this shit happen to you. It’s these microaggressions, right? They taint you. They suck. I have beautiful experiences at this pediatric office -- I feel like my daughter is in good medical care -- but that shit bothers me. I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling like our family isn’t validated and a part of their practice, and that is going to make me leave.
I think I’m still figuring it out. I’ve done some homework in trying to find providers who have gone out of their way to be identified as safe spaces. Currently my insurance doesn’t cover them, but that’s my long term goal -- to be in those spaces. If they’ve gone out of their way and they’re part of GLAAD, that’s where I’m putting my energy; that’s where I’m taking my family. I will say, though, I found a provider there recently when I was getting pregnant with my second. I went to her, and she had a rainbow pin on her lapel. I think, from the way she alluded to things, that she also identifies with the queer community. I was telling her that I wanted to get pregnant. She said, ‘Just have sex every other day.’ It’s in my chart -- I filled everything out -- and I said, ‘Yeah, um, no I can’t do that -- I’m married to a woman,’ and then she turned beet red and was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry.’ She went out of her way to be on one of these safe space websites. It didn’t feel safe for a second. She corrected herself and she’s been lovely. But…I guess it’s just not perfect out there…or even close to it. So it’s hard for me to give advice, when I haven't even been able to navigate it. I haven’t had an experience that has felt truly welcome and safe -- from the get go, right out the gate -- yet.
Providers, read the chart…before you have a new patient. I know it seems difficult, but maybe star it, write it up at the corner, or make it part of the interview. ‘What is your name? What are you here for? What are your pronouns? What is your sexual identity? Who are you married to?’ I don't know…maybe that just needs to be part of the script that every healthcare provider is so used to going through at every visit. Then, if they start to misuse those things and they don’t correct themselves or they don’t respect it, then you know, you gotta peace out of there. There’s no effort being put into it. I don’t think it will be that hard if it’s something that’s ingrained in them [during medical education]. Maybe there just needs to be queer representation of patients in medical education too. Bring in queer patients, who are ready and willing to talk about their experiences, and make it part of the education process. Maybe these [medical students and doctors] are in rural areas and they won’t see a bunch of queer patients -- not to say that there’s more [queer people] in urban areas -- just, go out of your way and bring these patients incase they haven’t, knowingly, seen one."
-Tatiana, Michigan (she/her)