The medical field is presented to us as an archetype of objectivity and nobility. However, as many of us have experienced first-hand, this is often far from the realities of everyday experiences with medical professionals. The dismissal of women-identifying and non-binary people’s pain and concerns is a widely experienced phenomenon, and for those of us who lie along the intersections of various marginalised groups, such as queer* folk and people of colour, such prejudiced treatment is often amplified.
Three queer* Bossy contributors reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of seeking medical help.
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It is 1997. I am 35 years old and living in Sydney. I am working hard – IT consulting – drinking hard, and smoking a pack or more of cigarettes daily. Eating maybe once every couple of days, I am 54kg and a size eight. I get a migraine and, oh boy, is this one a doozy. I’m out of migraine medication so I go to my GP and they prescribe me a new migraine medicine. I take one tablet on the way home and retire to bed.
The next morning I wake up and my right side is gone. I find out within half an hour of being down at the hospital that I have had a stroke. I’m put on blood thinners and the next day the eminent neurologist A/Prof comes to see me. He surveys the chart and says: “Ah, a transwoman. Sex worker I presume? Bad IV speed?”
– Jenni Atkinson
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I am a local Canberra parent who manages a bunch of disability conditions. As well as being genderqueer, I really dig gardening and making painful puns. I happen to have a uterus, which I have chosen to use to gestate in the past – much to the confusion of the midwife attending my family antenatal appointments.
“But if you don’t identify as a woman, how can you be in here to birth a baby?” I recall her asking, following up with a quick identity and trans101 Q&A session right in the examination room.
It was awkward for everyone and made me feel like an anomaly, when to me, I was just explaining my ‘normal’ for the sake of basic safety and respect during our time in hospital. I’m thankful for the work of LGBTQIA+ advocates and education resources reducing the need for DIY ally building during vulnerable times of sickness.
Trans and non-binary people like me, we have a lot of the same parts as everyone. And we need the same care and high level of respect from our medical teams as everyone. A gonad, an ovary, a breast and prostate tissue all face the same issues and I wish more medical providers could simultaneously understand that and still have a kind of cross-cultural respect.
Fast-forward a few months and I wanted to check I could cope with menstrual unpredictability and needed contraceptives to cover the time between weaning my child from our chest-feeding and me accessing medical transition options. I’m honest with the doctor at SHFPACT and a Mirena IUD is inserted as the reversible option that would work the best for my body and mind.
At the check up a few weeks later, I recall a different doctor snapping incredulously: “So you want to de-feminise yourself? Is that it?”
I was never feminine and have nothing to prove to her. My toddler plays with a Sippy cup in the pram on the other side of the curtain, and I leave my favourite blue beanie behind in my rush to get us home.
A year later, I find out my uterus is fabulous at expelling things and I have to get the IUD removed to avoid further damage. The first doctor, who remembers me and I trust more, talks during the brief minutes about my cervix with female pronouns specifically for that part of my trans body. I fight the urge to flinch. I lean into the pillows and the mercy of painkillers. I am worried that if I say or do anything it will distract the steady, slimy hands I am in. We talk later about my healing and I extract an apology but I will never know if the next patient like me will be treated better or worse.
Friends from the trans-masculine community recommended a GP who is known to be aware of the trans101 basics and I finally went to see them, exhausted from my own efforts and mixed experiences of the last three years. I don’t identify with being a trans man, and was hesitant to intrude on the small safety network those guys have built. However, so far it’s been great to have a holistic doctor who understands the facets of my overall disability, mental and transgender health, and helps me find specialists that are accessible and trustable. The state of public and free health care is precarious and it’s heartening to know that some of the people on the inside are genuinely fighting to improve things for all of us.
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I’m gay and for the most part I have had fairly positive experiences with doctors and nurses, that is, they have been accepting and inclusive. When my partner and I wanted to achieve a pregnancy we received great advice from a number of Canberra general practitioners and fertility specialists. It took us quite a while, but eventually I got pregnant through IVF. As soon as I got pregnant, however, I was hospitalised with severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation (OHSS).
A few weeks after everything had calmed down, we visited the fertility specialist and asked him if we could have sex. He shrugged and said: “Yeah, why not? You girls don’t get up to anything too vigorous.” I was shocked, trying to work out how he knew what on earth we got up to!
Now that we have a family, our doctors have been wonderful, only asking about the biological mother when it’s important, accepting the two-mother role, and even asking us what our children call each of us and using those names to talk to the children. We are grateful, knowing that the experience could be awkward with medical professionals who don’t ‘get it’.
– Rachel Jones