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.

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.

nicotweet
@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.

Three times I didn’t have sex

I was going to write something about anxiety and social anxiety, and about how I have real difficulty telling people that I like them. But then that led me to thinking about a time I told someone another emotion that they made me feel, and that ended strangely, and then I thought about some other relationships that were just strange and never really went anywhere, so I thought it would be more fun to tell a couple of stories about hook-ups that just didn’t happen.

2002, October probably I was a fresh-faced student, living by myself in a room in student flats, having left home about a month before. There was this guy who lived in another flat in the same complex, and I developed a bit of a crush on him (goodness knows why, I am horrified at the thought now, years later). We became friends, and we’d go out a fair bit, clubbing, drinking. One night after we walked home together (we usually did), we stopped outside his block, and he asked if I’d like to come up to his flat for coffee or something. At the risk of over-explaining, I didn’t take this as an invitation to actually drink coffee. I was wrong. We got up to the flat and he put the kettle on, and he asked if I wanted tea or coffee. I said coffee, but then he said that he didn’t have any coffee and was tea alright? I’m not sure exactly at what point I realised that this was not going to go anywhere ever, but I definitely knew by the time, after I had said that yes tea would be okay, he went over to the other side of the kitchen, took a used teabag which had been drying out on the radiator, and made me a cup of tea with it.

2008, February-ish I think a short one! This was after a long-term relationship had ended, and I was out with friends. And friends had other friends and one of them was this guy, and we were hanging out together at the club. And I really fancied him. On the way out he asked if I wanted to share a taxi, and I said yes but could we go back to his (I never had this sort of courage when sober!). He said yes that sounded like a good idea (I remember those words) and he got in the taxi, but I said wait! and that I wanted a burger from the dodgy burger van that was outside the club. So I went to get a burger and I got him one too and made him eat it. We held hands in the taxi back to his, and then we both fell asleep. I’m sure we had other intentions, but nothing came of that.

2009, January I think I was on a ship in the Caribbean and I was in the crew bar with this guy who I had had a crush on, like, forever (4 months), and somehow I found myself in his cabin. We ended up on his bed in a state of semi-undress. He had the bottom bunk. I went to kiss him, but he said no, he doesn’t kiss. Then he put his hand on my chest and pushed me up, pinning me against the underneath of the top bunk and held me there. He let me down and then we chatted for a bit and then I went back to my cabin. About a week later he asked why I had been avoiding him – I said that I hadn’t been, but honestly he had frightened me. After he left the ship a few months later I was talking to one of his friends in the disco who told me that he’d left me alone after that because he’d frightened me, but he really didn’t want to.

In conclusion, I quite like the stability of being in a relationship.