A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

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@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

grindr1

I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

grindr2

Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?

More letter writing, this time to the council

There’s a proposed development for a plot of land with a house currently on it in our area. I read the application, and I was very much “don’t care either way”. Then yesterday, a flyer found its way into our mailbox that was littered with racism and NIMBYism, and that pushed me very quickly from “don’t care” to “fully support”.

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SAY NO! – TO 28 ROOM BOARDING HOUSE

Chinese developer, Jiankai Pty Ltd wants to demolish the historic old home and gardens at 154 Welbank St, North Strathfield and replace it with a huge 28 room boarding house.

The boarding house, designed by architect firm Ghazi Al Ali, could be housing 60 or more renters on this small residential block.

This boarding house would be on an unprecedented scale for this area and if allowed could be the beginning of a tidal wave of similar developments destroying the value of our homes and the character of our beautiful and safe suburb.

Please contact Canada Bay council to submit your objection to this proposed development.

I was unable – and unwilling – to respond to this directly, as it did not say who it was from, and in any case it seemed more productive to take action against these people rather than engaging them in an ultimately pointless argument. But here are my objections to their objections:

  • Highlighting the Chinese name of the developer and Arabic name of the architect (when those details really are irrelevant) is out-and-out racism. We should oppose racism whenever we see it, even (and especially) when it causes some inconvenience to us.
  • The house and gardens are not historic. Neuschwanstein is historic. Taj Mahal is historic. Westminster Abbey is historic. An unremarkable three-bedroom house built on stolen land is not. The history of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation (of which I am, woefully, largely ignorant) is the history of this piece of land, and this house plays no real part in that history.
  • Change is good. The house is old and tired, and the architect’s previous projects are beautiful.
  • House prices falling would be a good thing for this area. More families being able to afford to live here.
  • This area is perfect for this sort of development. It has good transport links and is perfectly situated for access to Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.
  • This area is modern and multicultural, and this sort of development is in-keeping with that. Opposition to it is not.

In honesty, the development will cause a bit of inconvenience. It’ll be noisy and annoying, and the people who end up living or staying there might be noisy, rowdy or generally irritating. But the choice between that and supporting the cause of people who push a NIMBY agenda using racist rhetoric is a very very easy one.

So I wrote to the council to register my support for this project.

Dear General Manager
I write regarding the development proposal for 154 Wellbank Street, North Strathfield, and and I would like to register my full support of the proposal.
I have lived in the vicinity of this property with my boyfriend for three years, and I have never been particularly fond of the appearance of the 20th Century house that is on the block and I am irritated by claims from some in the local community that it has any historic value.
The property was sold last year for $2.25m, which is an outrageous price for a family home in any area. Some members of the local community have said that this development will lead to a drop in the value of homes in the area: given the astronomical price of this property at its last sale, a drop in house prices is certainly a good thing. Further, a $2.25m property being occupied by a single family seems to me to be a case of excessive under-occupation and I welcome the proposal to use the land more economically to house more people.
Although I have not seen the type of intended occupants of the proposed boarding house, developments of this kind tend to be marketed to either students or tourists. The location of this property is a perfect location to house either students or tourists. Its proximity to North Strathfield station would make it attractive to intended residents, giving a boost to the economy of the area.
There have been other developments in Wellbank Street recently, some of which are ongoing, and disruption and disturbance has been minimal. I am confident that the proposed development would not cause any excessive disruption to me or to other residents in the area.
I have researched the architect linked to the proposal, Ghazi Al Ali, and have found the other projects they have worked on, especially Omar Mosque in Auburn, to be modern and beautiful. The proposed development would be a welcome replacement to the tired, ugly building which is currently on the block.
North Strathfield is a modern, multi-cultural, and forward-looking suburb, and this development is exactly in keeping with its character. I hope council will recognize this and approve this proposed development.
Yours,
John Avocado

Here’s a fact sheet about the Wangal People, produced by Canada Bay Council. [PDF]

Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.