A recent survey has suggested that Britain’s National Health Service is not succeeding in providing appropriate care to gay and bi men. Fortunately, 81% of gay and bi men say their current general practitioner is “good.” However:
- A third of gay and bi men have had a negative experience related to their sexuality and the NHS.
- A third are not out to their general practitioner or other healthcare staff.
- More than half have never discussed HIV with their general practitioner.
- A third have never had an HIV test.
- Of those who have never had an HIV test, 70% said it was because they hadn’t put themselves at risk, while a third said that they had no symptoms.
- Only 1 in 11 have been asked directly about their sexual orientation.
I can attest that it’s not much better in America. When I go to meet my gynecologist, she asks how many men I’ve had sex with. As a bisexual with a girlfriend, I find that incredibly erasing of my experiences; I can only imagine what it’d be like for a lesbian. And frankly, if they don’t ask the short-haired, hairy-legged butch who binds zir fucking breasts about whether zie likes girls, you know they don’t ask femme, cisgendered lesbians.
Gay and bi men, in particular, are at incredibly high risk of mental and physical health consequences. Gay and bi men are more likely to kill themselves than straight men (and we already know that men have a disproportionately high rate of suicide), more likely to self-injure, more likely to be abused, more likely to contract HIV, more likely to drink and smoke and take illegal drugs. All of these are important things that health practitioners need to take extra care to screen men who have sex with men for. But it’s impossible to do that if you don’t know who does.
Queer inclusion in the health system is simple. Intake forms should have a place for trans people to indicate their preferred pronoun, and a place for everyone to say whether they have sex with men, women, both, or neither; if you’re having someone fill out the forms for the patient, they shouldn’t just assume that the patient is straight and cis. Staff and general practitioners should be trained in queer sensitivity: for instance, if a man has indicated that he has sex with men, you should not assume that he has a girlfriend, and for fuck’s sake you should not call gay people “the poof.” General practitioners should be aware of issues of greater concern to queer people, such as HIV, mental illness, and the effects of queerphobia. This is not rocket science, people. This is basic care.