Statistically speaking, the “L” of LGBTTIQQ2SAA, often referred to as lesbian or bisexual women, or WSW (women who sleep with women), in medical and research spaces, are less likely to report regular screening for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by the HPV which is transmitted through sexual contact. Transmission can occur between two female bodied partners even with no biological cocks involved. The “G”, often referred to as gay or bisexual men, or MSM (men who sleep with other men), in medical and research spaces, accounted for 63% of the estimated new HIV infections in 2010. The first “T” for transgender or trans identified people, a study in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage and the home of the Fenway Institute for LGBT Health, found that one-in-five transgender people postpone or delayed health care for fear of discrimination. Further, research, electronic medical records, and data collection have rarely begun to incorporate options regarding gender non-binary, genderqueer, pansexual, or polyamorous patients. This tip of the iceberg on statistical reviews of health care disparities in our community seems discouraging, especially considering the statistics worsen when any other additional “minority demographic” compounds queerness (for example “POC,” low-income).
Moving from statistics to my personal experience- In my mid-twenties, I had the lovely experience of being able to smell my own vagina while sitting in my study groups, and it smelled more like fish than, well, vagina. No amount of washing seemed to change my circumstances, so I headed to my doctor. When my doctor asked about my sexual activity, I shared that I practiced safer sex with three male partners and three female partners. He told me I had gonorrhea and gave me medication. A week later my vagina only smelled worse. I called and was told to schedule another appointment. My physician took me into his office, not an exam room, and told me I had bacterial vaginosis. He went on to express concerns about my promiscuity and sexual activity, referencing my previous monogamous marriage to a man as a healthy standard and sign of my decaying morals. He never once apologized for misdiagnosing me or giving me ineffective treatment. BV and gonorrhea are very different, and it is likely that his personal bias affected his diagnostic reasoning. I have had the general experience of my providers asking me to educate them on my identifiers and sexual practices, and most of the time I have to explain how and why I prefer to test for STI to my providers.
With the discouraging statistics and disappointing personal tales, we as a community will benefit from knowing how to advocate for ourselves and sharing safe community resources. Advocating for ourselves includes sharing with our healthcare provider our sex assigned at birth, our gender identity, our sexual orientation, the gender and number of our sexual partners, and our sexual practices with said partners. Not all healthcare providers achieve queer health competency, and it is not our job to educate them. It IS our job to ask them to refer or connect us with a healthcare provider who IS competent, OR to ask our community with which healthcare providers they have had positive experiences. Speaking of our community, where can we get testing for sexually transmitted infections? Check out the King County HIV and STD testing resource page at www.kingcounty.gov/stdtesting. They offer sliding-scale, walk-in, site-specific, self-administered STI screening at their clinic in the 9th and Jefferson building, and their website has other clinic locations as well. Gay Cities has a page with LGBTQ friendly healthcare providers listed at https://www.gaycity.org/clinics-medical/. Yelp even has a page, as does Facebook.
Debauchery creates a safe space for queers to be queer and sexy. Let’s continue that conversation in our community and in our doctor’s offices by being proactive in our sexual health through STI testing and advocating for ourselves!