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.

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Internalised Homophobia

my latest blog post on six months in sydney included this aside:

Even as a student I would splurge on tea, buying only Tetley’s (quite the opposite of a prospective romantic partner I once had: all thought of romance was lost when I discovered he bought Asda Smart Price teabags, and dried them out on the radiator so he could re-use them!).

it took my a long time to work out how I was going to word that, mainly because i wanted to try to avoid giving any indication of the gender of this prospective romantic partner. i tried various ways of phrasing it, but they all sounded unnatural.

i’m angry at myself for re-wording it and re-wording it again, all to try to avoid using the word ‘he’. perhaps, i thought, if i avoid using a gendered pronoun readers might think it was a woman, and think i’m straight and continue reading. if i give any indication i’m gay, they’ll stop reading, and might send me hate mail.

honestly, that’s what was going through my mind. it’s ridiculous. i’m not in the closet; i’m one of these proud queer people, except i never actually want to tellanyone. it’s stupid. i love my gay life, i love my same-sex relationship. to put it bluntly, i love cock and i’m not ashamed to say it, but stirring inside is this fear of it, and an in-built feeling of shame.

it’s internalised homophobia of course. that’s society. it gets drummed into us from such an early age. usually not even deliberately. heterosexism does it. heteronormativity does it. not being able to find a news article about gay men’s mental health without an AIDS charity being quoted for no other reason than gay men = AIDS does it. still. in 2014. still.

so it’s hardly surprising that while i was writing that, my head was telling me that being gay is way worse than drying out teabags on a radiator, re-using them to make tea and serving it up to a potential fuck.