Why I'm Glad I Came Out to My Doctor
When I was 14, I came out for the first time. I’d recently been able to put a name to my feelings — asexual lesbian — and was grappling with whether I wanted to tell anyone, and if I did, who and when and most importantly, how. I was waiting for a ride home in one of my school’s upstairs hallways, thinking about all of this, when an openly gay acquaintance of mine walked by. After he greeted me, I blurted, “Your parents know you’re gay, right? How did you tell them?” He looked puzzled for a minute, then said, “Are you gay too?” I nodded, and suddenly, it had happened. No fireworks, only a few tears, and nothing but support and love. Suddenly, everything seemed a little brighter, and I felt much more comfortable approaching coming out to the rest of my loved ones.
It’s been over two years since that conversation, and a little over one year since I finished coming out to the people in my life. I’ve received that same support and love over and over again, become more comfortable with my identity, and overall, changed into a happier person because I’m open about my sexual orientation. However, as my friends were trying to set me up with other girls, I’d forgotten another group of people who needed to know: my doctors.
Now, I’m closer to my doctors than most people. From my physician to a handful of specialists to the revolving door of nurses and students, I see medical professionals at least once a month. I’m used to filling them in on my medical history and personal details with no reservations after 17 years of practice. Somehow, though, when I thought about explaining my orientation to everyone close to me, they slipped my mind, and for a while, I thought it wasn’t important enough to bring up the next time I stepped into somebody’s office. However, research shows that your identity plays a large role in your health.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community experience higher rates of serious conditions both mentally and physically due to social stigma, discrimination, and lack of civil rights, education, and access to reliable care. While each individual in the community is unique and experiences differing health risks due to factors such as family history and lifestyle, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that this minority can face increased chance of heart disease, certain cancers, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, injury and violence from others, and mental illnesses.
Because of these increased risks, it was incredibly important for me to come out to my doctor. If they realize I’m a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, they can watch closely for symptoms of these high-risk conditions and possibly catch them early enough to keep their severity low. They’ll know that if they need to refer me to a specialist or another doctor for a second opinion, they should recommend someone who’s friendly to my identity. They can also answer my questions and prescribe my treatment with the most accurate information possible, which is a major factor in quicker and higher rates of recovery. This becomes especially important when you’re chronically ill or facing a rare disease, as your doctor(s) are likely very involved in your life and extremely necessary to your well-being.
Despite knowing the benefits, I was still hesitant because I don’t know much, if anything, about my doctors’ beliefs regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. However, I finally faced my fears for the first time while visiting my gynecologist to discuss my birth control options to fix severe period symptoms I’d been having. I still remember tearing up as I told her, and being so scared that because she’d only known me for about five minutes before this deeply personal announcement, she’d immediately stereotype me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her reaction, either.
“OK,” she said. “Well, if you ever have questions or want to talk about anything related to your sexual orientation, just let me know.”
I almost burst into tears, again. My fears were completely ungrounded, and I felt so safe with this doctor despite this being early on in my first appointment. While I know this experience might not be duplicated with the rest of my doctors, and certainly not everyone’s doctors will be so positive in reacting to this news, I still encourage every LGBTQIA+ person to take that step. Doctors can be kind and compassionate people even if their personal beliefs conflict with your lifestyle. It may be difficult for you, and you may need time to adapt to this new knowledge about you, but once you begin the conversation, it may help improve your care. If your doctor truly does not support you in light of your sexual orientation and it causes you discomfort, you can and should look for a new doctor — you deserve someone who will help you on your journey towards better health. You as you are, without changing or hiding any part of yourself, and help without judgment or prejudice. And if you have gained a new ally in your doctor, you’ll be better equipped to face your conditions through the lens of your sexual orientation with them.
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