LGBTQ Health: NYC Doctors Will Be Trained to Stop Assuming You Have a Boyfriend

"this is what the inside of a lesbian looks like"

For the past few years the chuckles inspired by writing “homosexuality” as my “method of birth control” on medical forms was enough to override the annoyance of being asked at all, but with each new doctor it gets progressively more perplexing how casually heteronormative so many  doctors/nurses are, even in cities like New York and San Francisco. (Planned Parenthood is a rare exception!) I’ve probably come out to more doctors and nurses than I have family members at this point. It can be particularly uncomfortable for bisexual people and super-super-super uncomfortable for transgender people which is all part of the giant issue of why LGBTQs smoke/drink more, visit the doctor less, are less likely to have health insurance, are more likely to have mental health disorders and so forth.

Well someone is hearing our cries of pain — not the cries from getting a speculum jammed up your vadgeholes! The cries of internal pain inspired by  ‘the feeling of saying no you don’t have a boyfriend but not knowing if you should volunteer subsequently that you do have a girlfriend.’ The New York Times reports:

[New York] city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs public hospitals, has decided that it needs to reduce the likelihood that such awkward, inconsiderate, questions will be asked. With the help of an advocacy group, the National LGBT Cancer Network, it has put together a training program that will be required of all 38,000 system employees, from physicians to clerks.

H.H.C. officials said that research suggested that gay, lesbian and transgender patients were more likely than others to avoid medical care because they feared encountering unsympathetic or even hostile health care workers. The training is intended to teach workers to be less judgmental, and to ask open-ended questions that make patients feel more comfortable talking about their sexual and romantic relationships.

This “landmark curriculum” was launched at Bellevue Hospital this week, where the new training video, “To Treat Me, You Have to Know Who I Am: Welcoming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Patients into Healthcare,” was screened to LGBT activists, healthcare providers and “elected officials.” We can only assume it received a standing ovation.

So what kinds of things will be addressed?

For instance, said Liz Margolies, founder of the National LGBT Cancer Network, a doctor examining a breast biopsy would be counseled not to ask the woman if she wanted her husband in the room, but rather to ask something like, “Is your partner in the waiting room?”

These seem like little things, of course, but a doctor’s office is arguably the one place on earth where complete honesty and full disclosure is necessary to guarantee effective treatment — where keeping things to yourself only hurts you in the end. Ensuring patients can be honest even about things unrelated to their health creates an honest environment wherein subsequent truths come more easily.

The National LGBT Cancer Network is a leading advocate providing this kind of training. Here’s a video from them:

It would be really neat if everyone in the whole country could follow New York’s lead, like they did with cupcakes.

If you’re in need of an LGBT-friendly doctor, check out this directory of providers from the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association. We talk about this from time to time here, mostly w/r/t gynecology but what about the rest of it? How are you treated by your doctor?

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3228 articles for us.


  1. great! now they wIll stop trying to force me to take a pregnancy test when i go to the E.R. how many times do i have to tell them, “NO!!! I’M NOT PREGNANT!!!”

    • They’re obligated to by law depending on the course of treatment they might prescribe / the procedure they might perform, and it’s also a nice little something to bill insurance companies for (provided you have one, of course).

  2. I’ve never been asked by a doctor whether or not I have a boyfriend. They just ask if I’m sexually active, which leads into the discussion of the sex of my partner.

    Also, as an aside, I accidentally came out to one of my friends (she guessed) who I originally was not going to tell because of her cultural background. She laughed off my anxiety by reminding me that she’s taken extensive LGBTQ training as part of her nursing program. Then I felt like an idiot for not trusting her to support me after that. Is this just a Canadian thing to have this training already in place?

      • I guess I just have more sensitive people around me in the medical profession.

    • A friend of mine replied “yes” to the sexually active question, and when it came up with the doctor that the sex was with another woman, the doctor informed her that she was not, in fact, sexually active! Medicine fail.

      • That happened to me too. Here in Canada a female doctor told me I was still a virgin, and wrote that word down on my record, after I said I was sexually active with a woman. Couldn’t believe it.

        • That’s nuts. I am so sorry that happened to you.

          I have easy access to free healthcare at the moment, so I have decided to just walk out on any doctor who pulls that one on me. Though not before I ask “so you don’t think dildos count as penetration, then? What about fisting?” ;)

          • Thanks. I was still in the closet and new to everything so of course I had no experience dealing with that kind of attitude, esp. from a doctor who I was supposed to trust. I didn’t know what to do or say, I felt very powerless. She also refused to give a pap because she didn’t think I needed it and because she thought my hymen would still be intact (TMI?) I was thinking WHAT planet are you LIVING on?

            Next time I know that I don’t have to put up with that shit, and WILL walk out.

          • Yeah, I was thinking that if I hadn’t heard of shit like this already, I’d have no idea how to deal with it if it happened to me. There are so many other times when someone has done something really offensive and I’ve just smiled and been polite because I go into some kind of shock, you know? And my natural instinct is to go along with the flow of the conversation, so I just find myself not reacting…

            I hope you’ve had better experiences since that time! I just don’t understand how a doctor could think like that. You don’t even have to be particularly up to speed on the ins and outs (ha) of lesbian sex. All it requires is a basic knowledge of how STDs are transmitted.

        • WTF??? That’s insane!! Omigod, that’s horrible… I hope these awful doctors get weeded out. I’d have a few choice words to any doctor that said that to me.

  3. i hate going to my doctor, first off she is a prude anywaysss ( about sex in general, but informs me everytime i went about the wall with birth control on it) and asked me if all my periods were regular…..

    – second off she is incredibly intimidating and i seriously dont think i could every be like “hey immm gay, so how about those pap tests ;) ” ….. not joking…

    – i think most of my doctor stress/ anxiety is about this sooo i only go when im dying with the flu or something of a cold/ infection issue.

    • yeah and she askes me everytime if i have a boyfriend… and then the conversation ends there. and she continues with the checkup and says bye or whatever haha.. its sad times.
      – and im sure there are horrible doctor stories so im not even that bad off.

    • I might be misinterpreting what you’re saying, but you should still get a pap test even if you only have sex with women! I somehow managed to find a really excellent gay-friendly doctor and she’s always telling me to tell my lesbian friends to go to the gynecologist because too many get sick because they think they don’t have to get tested for things.

      • hey no i know i totally need to get them… yeahhh.
        – yeah maybe i do need a new doctor. hmmm

  4. I feel a bit more hopeful. I hope this is another step toward changing hearts and not just minds. Tolerance without acceptance is almost worse – I’d like to be asked the right questions, but I don’t know if I want to give the right answers if I know that they are going to negatively affect how I’m perceived and therefore how I’m cared for. I have a similar anxiety about complaining about food at restaurants and consequently getting it spit in.

    • These are my feelings too.

      I work with food. The temptation. It is always there. Do not be mean to the people who make your food. If it’s legit awful, say something, but be super nice and apologetic about it, because it is generally not the serving person’s fault, and that’s who gets yelled at the most.

  5. I used to have this gp and everytime I went in for any problem at all she’d say ‘ ohh you have whatever problem! you’ve been kissing boys have you now?’ and I be like ‘no…’

    I don’t know if she was trying to be cutesy or trying to subtly impart that boys are really infectious.

  6. for this reason i prefer to go to an LGBT clinic even though I am lucky enough to have health insurance. the kicker is that getting an appointment is often a pain the ass. Thanks for the link!

  7. I had to get an injection from the school nurse recently: which the school had decided (cleverly) to situate in a room full of other kids.
    She preceded to ask me pretty personal questions, including if I was taking any birth control pills, was sexually active, or if I was pregnant. Eek.
    I just mumbled my way though and left hastily. It was super, super awkward.
    Also in my 6th form we have a safe-sex nurse who basically throws condoms at everyone.(creepiest part is she has a “menu” for the flavoured ones. oh.)

    • Yeah, that does not sound like a recipe for success in giving honest answers. Seriously, that is what forms are for–hand over a checklist, assure them you won’t tell anyone, have them tick little boxes, boom.

    • Crafty lesbos can easily transform condoms into dental dams for safer cunny. Save those suckers while people still throw them at you.

  8. I love my doctor so much that I would totally marry her if we both weren’t already. In addition to being totally hot, she’s also really patient, explains everything that she’s going to do (and why, and discusses the options so I can decide before she does anything), and also asks lots of general questions about my whole health, not just my lady-bits. But that’s what I get for going to the gay health center. I wish doctors this awesome were everywhere.

  9. I’m so glad whenever I see this addressed.

    Most recent personal incident: I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when I was 14, and have been seeing a specialist for it since then. However, that specialist is associated with the pediatrics wing of a local hospital and I (being 23) recently had to find another doctor for this. My new doctor insisted on having my mother stay with me in the room while talking to me about my most recent bloodwork (I am currently staying at home before I start graduate school and my mother had driven me to the doctor’s.) She pointed out that I may have a secondary condition that would cause me to have serious problems if I had children with someone else who had the same condition. I replied that that wouldn’t be a problem; I don’t plan to have biological children. She then turned to my mom, flabbergasted, and asked “how could she possibly know that?” I told her that I was gay, and she then proceeded to angrily accuse me of elevating my male hormone levels (part of PCOS, which, as I said and as this woman knew, I have known I have had since I was 14) by taking testosterone injections without informing anyone (??) I was too shocked to muster anything other than a “WHAT? no,” before she started going into a rant about how terrible it would be if I were doing that. I interrupted her to tell her that I was a lesbian, not transgender, and I wish I would have gone off on a rant about how inappropriate and transphobic and offensive her actions were, but I didn’t. I think the worst part of this is the fact that she did this after insisting that my mother be present. I’m very out to my family (and in general) and so it didn’t really phase me, but there are a number of scenarios where that could have been extremely harmful to someone in my position, especially with a close family member present. It baffles me that doctors– you know, scientists– aren’t able to better inform themselves and prepare themselves for these situations.

    • How sad and disgusting that this sort of thing still happens in this day and age. Aside from being a huge ass, this doctor violated basic rules of confidentiality. I would encourage you to find someone else and report this person to the local college / governing body for physicians.

        • It’s not just an ethics “code”. This type of transgression, the breach of physician-patient confidentiality, is a serious offence and at least where I’m from (Canada), it could lead to a serious warning or other such action from our physician governing body. That doctor had no right to force an individual over age 18 to have someone else present. It’s not just a code, it’s in our law.

      • Yeah. Well, I mean, she didn’t force me to have my mother present– more like pressured me. I entered the room alone and she asked me where my mom was (she had met her at an earlier appointment.) I mentioned she was in the waiting room and she asked a co-worker to go get her. I didn’t want my mom to be there but I didn’t exactly say, “no, I would prefer for my mother not to be present” (probably because I have issues with direct confrontation.) In any case, I wouldn’t have really minded that my mom was there, even though it was bizarre and I never have my mom sit with me during doctor appointments, except for the fact that that later incident occurred.

        • You were still coerced to have her present, which is just as inappropriate as being blatantly forced into it. Don’t blame yourself for this person’s actions! It’s like explaining away sexual assault by saying, “well, he/she insisted, and I really didn’t want to, but I didn’t technically say NO…”.

  10. When I went to medical school (in Canada), we were taught to approach sexual histories in a gender and orientation neutral way. But no one does these workshops for doctors already in practice, so it’s nice to see an initiative like this to target the old farts out there. Now if only someone would do a workshop for patients so they’d stop asking me what my boyfriend/husband does…

  11. I only go to the doctor when I’m in too much pain to self-medicate. No insurance means: I don’t get a lot of the things that I need. It also means no HRT, or the counseling that the state requires for me to change my driver’s license :(

  12. I feel like they shouldn’t be asking these questions anyway. It isn’t really a doctor’s business, and it could even potentially be offensive to straight people who are nonmonogamous and/or have never dated and are insecure about that fact.

    • Actually, it does matter. According to the Institute of Medicine, “lesbians, as a group, may have higher risks for certain types of cancer based on higher rates of some specific risk factors. Lesbians are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, and be overweight, which increase the risk of cancer. They are less likely to use oral contraceptives, bear children or breast feed, and to go to the doctor regularly, which can decrease the risk of cancer. Lesbians and bisexual women are also significantly more likely than heterosexual women to have never had a mammogram and to eat fewer fruits and vegetables daily.”

      And that’s just cancer. There’s all sorts of health issues we deal with: mental, dental, etc.

      A great resource on lesbian/bi/trans*/queer women’s health is The Mautner Project (based in DC). The Mautner Project works to improve the health of women who partner with women including lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, through direct and support service, education and advocacy.

      • I agree that sexual orientation matters; I meant more that doctors should not be asking if a patient has a boyfriend.

        When I was a teen and still going to a pediatrician, she would ask if I have a boyfriend as a code for asking if I was possibly pregnant or at risk of getting pregnant. Nowadays, that seems like a rather narrow-minded and irresponsible way of going about it; there are plenty of single women out there who still have sex with men and get pregnant from it. Including teenage girls.

  13. Also, has anyone else noticed that in the blank on your form that says “sexual orientation,” doctors put you down as “heterosexual” if you don’t say anything – they don’t even ask? I saw it and was SO offended, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t completely out yet. When I go back, I am planning to say something, though.

    • Sure, this is so wrong. But, please, don’t get mad AT THE DOCTOR, these are standardized forms. I’m a doctor and we, lesbian doctors, get a lot of shit from patiences too. I hope every day of my life we can gradually change that…but this is not, obviously, a medical issue, society still sucks.

      • Yeah, it was an electronic form so I figured the doctor may not have a choice in what the “default” is.

    • I never noticed any space on my form for sexual orientation! Do you think that’s a standardized thing? Are doctors’ forms even standardized at all?

    • you’re lucky! i’ve been to a lot of doctors and filled out tons of forms, and i don’t think i’ve ever had the opportunity to put my orientation on a form.

  14. dude, thank you SO MUCH for that list of lgbt-friendly doctors and thank you to everyone else freaking out here, it drives me nuts how many doctors IN NEW YORK FUCKING CITY have been werid about shit. especially ladybusiness doctors, who all seem eternally convinced because of the fact that i am a girl who sleeps with ladies who used to sleep with men (not even both anymore! i can’t imagine what bi-identified ladies have to put up with!) i must have 927371 more diseases and need to be slut-shamed and eyerolled at and treated really, really awkwardly. it drives me NUTS.

    the worst is also when it’s sort of not relevant to my sexual health at all but just makes whatever stressful thing i’m going through even worse — like when i’m at the dentist and my dentist asks me if i have a boyfriend and i don’t want to talk about being gay while he’s drilling my mouth and has some republican stickers around the office, and then when i just say “haha, no, i don’t have a boyfriend” he goes on a 15 minute thing about how why is a girl as pretty as me single? SO FUCKING AWKWARD

    • Ok. The NYC lady doctors have a thing with me where they’re like…. “oh, so it’s been four years since you’ve had sex with a man? And you’ve been here since then? what are you doing back in my office?”

      And the first one was like, “oh awesome, so we don’t really need to worry about much anymore then, do we?”

      And I’m like…. um. yeah probs not pregnant but…. EVERYTHING ELSE APPLIES, still having sex, here.

      Maybe all the obgyns in nyc just really think that men, and only men, are the evil germ and baby spewing parties responsible for everything bad that happens to women. So they think, “yay, lesbians. safe from cooties.”

      So it’s weird they have the opposite response to you. And I’m not sure which is worse. Being congratulated for nonexistent abstinence or slut shamed. hm.

  15. Yeah.. I’m at my second year of medical school, and we’ve been taught A LOT about ethics, how to appropriately talk to patients, and show professionalism even in the most awkward situations, etc.. but still nothing about dealing with LGBTQ peeps.. sigh.. *shakes head*

  16. I’ll never forget the time I went in to a new doctor and, in the middle of going through the checklist of intake questions (any history of family illness, do you smoke, do you drink, etc.) the doctor asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said “no,” and she said, “ok, so you’re not sexually active…” and checked off ‘no’ in the sexual activity box. I mean, even if I were straight, that would be a terrible thing to assume!
    Then a few months ago I went in to the doctor (a different one, thank god) to get one of the HPV shots. I was seen by an intern, not a full-on doctor, and she was asking me about my sexual history, etc. She asked me if I was sexually active–“yes.” “So what do you do for birth control?” “I have sex with women.” And then she says “OH! Oh…” Then, after a couple of seconds of processing this information, she said, “I don’t know if you even need this vaccine! Let me go ask the attending physician.” This woman, in training to be a doctor, didn’t even know enough about lesbian sex to know that we, too, can get STDs.
    One can only hope that they hadn’t gotten to that part in medical school yet…

  17. I’m a med student and I think the problem is that doctors are essentially awkward geeks who find it hard to talk about sex/sexuality in general. Also I’ve found that’s lots of med students at least, are arrogant self-rightious twats, who have a tendency to judge. One guy on my course said gay ppl were on par with paedophiles! And another guy thinks that women make shit doctors because they are women!

    • This might shock you, but we are not all awkward geeks and there are some really good doctors out there who know how to talk to patients. How sad for someone who is going to be a physician to make such harsh and sweeping generalizations in one sentence, then accuse others of being arrogant and judgmental in the next.

    • Well, I’m a Med student too, and I haven’t had such experiences here where I live.

  18. I’m lucky enough to have a primary care physician who didn’t bat an eye when I came out to her, and a gyn whose waiting room is filled with queer women trying to have babies. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a negative reaction to coming out at a doctor’s office, but I know it happens all the time.

    • That’s a whole hell of a lot easier said than done. There are lot of people for whom changing their doctor is either not practical or not possible (and that’s ignoring all the people who don’t have a doctor because they don’t have insurance)

      • This is true. I have a friend who lives in a small town and has to go to the one psychologist who practices there, who happens to be a total assbag. But what else can she do?

  19. My original comment was meant in jest regarding doctors being awkward geeks, however I feel my sweeping generalisations must be based in some truth for the fact that it is felt that doctors need specialist training to deal with lgbt patients. In addition to this medical communication is seen to be so lacking that it is now a core part of the medical curriculum. You can hardly say that doctors have a great reputation for communication, we need only look to our seniors who favoured the doctor centred model.

    But yes of course there are exceptions to the rule. However the fact that medicine is restricted to the privileged few that can afford it, who have no understanding of the world their patients live in does not help. And quite frankly me saying my colleagues are geeks is hardly as bad as them telling me I’m going a be a shit doctor because I’m a woman and that I’m a paedophile because I’m gay – and maybe you should be more saddened that homophobic chauvinists are entering your profession.

  20. There are more exceptions to the rule than you think. Maybe it’s just that where I come from, medicine is available to everyone and sensitivity toward LGBTQ people IS part of our curriculum. I AM saddened that your medical school allows students to make these kinds of ignorant, hateful statements. Where I’m from, anyone who said such things would not only have a serious meeting with the Dean and face major repercussions, but they’d be entirely ostracized by the rest of the class. 10% of the girls in my med school class were out lesbian/bisexual and we had a couple of gay guys as well. I remember one time a classmate got sloppy-drunk and publicly uttered a (rather mild) homophobic statement – people were shocked, his girlfriend was so embarrassed she immediately shut him up and took him home early. He didn’t live that down for months. So before you make generalizations about all doctors and medical education everywhere, please remember that medical cultures can be quite variable depending where you are. And if you don’t like the culture you’re in, who better to change it than yourself? Take a stand against those chauvinists, make a stink, make them embarrassed. You’ll be doing them a favour.

    • “And if you don’t like the culture you’re in, who better to change it than yourself? Take a stand against those chauvinists, make a stink, make them embarrassed.”

      Having recently fled a toxic racist-sexist-homophobic-generally-disgraceful work environment, I can say that there are many circumstances in which taking a stand would not only be completely useless, but expose someone to serious repercussions. And it’s very hard to make someone tacitly embarrassed in the context of a power structure that condones or permits their behaviour. Cultural change requires more than just one queer.

      My experience of doctors’ treatment of unmarried female sexuality, with men and women, has been mostly negative. Others I know have had a different experience. I am not sure the discussion about ‘rules’ and ‘exceptions’ is useful here.

      • But cultural change CAN start with one person. As homophobia becomes more and more socially unacceptable it is up to every one of us to continue to dispel myths and normalize our lifestyles. I guessed from the way she speaks (and maybe I’m wrong) that Em is a medical student in the USA, and American medical schools are a totally appropriate and important environment for an open battle against both sexism and homophobia. Given the current political and social climate, I would be SHOCKED if Em’s medical school did not support her in the harassment she is facing.

        • In some circumstances it can, in others it just opens the person up to discrimination without advancing the cause. Also, running a campaign about something so personal is both emotionally taxing and time-consuming, even if it goes well. It’s up to the individual involved to decide whether they want to take that on, I don’t think it’s a duty for anyone, though I commend those who do.

          I tried to do activist stuff while at law school, but I found that in between the jobs I took to support myself, my studies, and some difficult family circumstances, I just couldn’t do it.

          Also, if Em is in the US, it really depends where she is, no? There are some states and institutions where homophobia is the norm rather than the exception.

          • I’m not saying she has to be a martyr for the gay cause, but letting these guys get away with statements like “you’re going to be a shit doctor because you’re a woman” is absolutely unacceptable in this century ANYWHERE and has nothing to do with being gay! I’m not surprised there are homophobes all over American med schools, I’m surprised there is open sexism like this. You can’t get acceptance as a gay woman if you’re not even accepted as a woman. My point about taking a stand and embarrassing the chauvinists was about this (hence I said stand up to the chauvinists, not homophobes – one thing at a time!). Even if you don’t want to be an activist, I feel like women have a responsibility not to let men get away with sexist harassment.

          • Ok, but you first started specifically talking about LGBTIQ issues, not just sex discrimination? Anyway, we seem to be speaking from vastly different experience bases, there are plenty of environments in which open sexism is the norm and there are limited options through which to seek redress.

            For example, when a supervisor of mine complained about sexual advances made by her boss, she was immediately shifted out of her (legal) position into an administrative one, he kept his role as a senior lawyer. In other example, a colleague used to get called a dumb cunt to her face, and her complaints fell on deaf ears by reason of who he was friends with. And that is sadly not the only workplace where shit like this goes down.

            And yes, there are human rights complaints, but they take years, are stressful, don’t offer much in the way of redress, etc. Easier to shut up and use your good reference to find something better, which is what I did, and I haven’t looked back.

            I guess what I am getting at is that it is the control implied by the concept of “letting them getting away with it” that I have a problem with. There are still so many circumstances in which it’s not a question of “letting”. It’s a question of some people having power over others and those others not being able to do very much about it. I get that you personally seem not to have had these experiences, but from what I have heard from discrimination lawyers, they are frighteningly common.

            In conclusion: if Em feels like she can and wants to do something about what she’s experienced, that’s super great and I wish her all the best. If she doesn’t, that is totally understandable, she will get through med school and go on to be ten million times more awesome than the douches she encountered there.

          • Haven’t had those experiences? All of us have. The difference is, if a classmate of mine said something like that to me I would start a fight. And he would know not to do it again. There is no power difference in this scenario, and it’s not a workplace, unlike your examples. My statements are directed specifically at the situation of medical school classmates. Wouldn’t you want perhaps your future physician to be told off while a dumb, ignorant med student that it’s not ok to put women down like it’s the year 1911? While he’s still young and impressionable? We’re basically talking about a high school scenario here. It’s VERY easy to report someone to a dean and say “hey, anonymous tip, someone needs to talk to this douche, he’s going around putting down women and it’s not appropriate”. DONE. And if it doesn’t work, hey, at least you tried. But chances are he at least has to explain himself to someone, which is plenty embarrassing. That’s all I meant.

  21. Some of us can’t change our doctors. Some of us are VERY EFFING LUCKY to not be harassed every time we go to the doctor. Some of us are lucky to be able to go to the doctor. Some of us have had really rotten things said by doctors.

    • Sure …but if one day you have the opportunity then…please try to change your doc =)

  22. Here in Spain they don’t usually ask you anything about this, unless you’re going to the shrink (psychiatrists usually ask if you’re married or if you have a significant other). Normal doctors may ask if you think you can be pregnant, but they don’t usually ask anything else. At least that’s my experience AND what I’m being taught at Med School… lol

    • This is my experience too. Doctors here in Puerto Rico usually ask whether you’re sexually active, or whether there’s a chance you might be pregnant.

      However, I shadowed this OBGYN who went a good way about it. She first asked the patient if she was sexually active, and then asked if she was sexually active with women, men or both. Usually, the patients replied with a giggle, or a nervous laughter followed by a big “OH, NO, MEN, of course”.

      As a pre-med student, this gave me a taste of what I could be facing in the future as a queer OBGYN. Someone above commented that doctors get a lot of shit. That comment reminded me of this experience.

  23. It’s getting better! We are trying to educate the masses of women’s health professionals! Really. Last year (-ish) ACOG issued a press release supporting gay marriage and how it benefits health. A few years ago, ACOG released info to docs on how to better serve lesbian/bi/trans patients. We are catching up! Or at least trying. This NY thing is a spread of those papers/literature/ideas. Yay progress!

  24. There are so many hideous stories here, I just want to share that I have a really amazing doctor. I’m in Australia, so as a student nearly all doctors are free under public health insurance, so I was able to shop around until I found a really compassionate, witty, respectful doctor. She always takes care to explain what she’s doing, ask non-presumptive sex-related questions, and give me the chance to make my voice and concerns heard.
    <3 good doctors

  25. These articles about doctors being insensitive to LGBTQ patients are true. And it’s exactly why I HATE going to the doctor. Yep I know I should get checkups but I’d rather not deal with it. It’s not easy switching doctors in Canada, and no way to screen them beforehand either. I’ve seen the LGBTQ-friendly doctor list for Ontario, and there were like 15 people, and they were all located in huge cities.

  26. This is good, I’m lucky I already have an awesome LGBTQ friendly Dr., but I’m super glad other people…at least in NYC can get the same respect. ‘Bout time!

  27. I actually wasn’t present when the comments were made, they were said to friends of mine so I didn’t have the opportunity to challenge them. But I’m on a post-graduate medicine course in the UK so the men who made these comments weren’t ignorant young men, they are both 28+! I would think that educated people would be more enlightened. But saying that a lot of people on my course are also conservative supporters so its not that surprising.

  28. An actual thing that happened to me once: I thought I had TSS my freshman because I was new to using tampons and I had a case of the tummy bug at the same time. I called the night nurse for my GP back home and had this conversation:

    Nurse: So you’re vomiting? Nauseous?
    Me: Yes.
    Nurse: Are you sexually active?
    Me: Yes.
    Nurse: Are you using any kind of contraceptive?
    Me: No, but…
    Nurse: *in a really snooty voice* Well, one and one make two, don’t they?
    Me: I’m sexually active with a woman.
    Nurse: Oh. I guess one and one don’t make two.

    (Well, more like one and three don’t make two, but whatever.)

    I drive half an hour to see my doctor when there’s a practice literally a five minute walk from my house. Obviously it is because she’s awesome.

  29. Talk about traumatic! I cannot count the number of times I have had to come out to my primary physician and gynecologist since I came out at nineteen; I am now forty nine. Why it never occurs to NYC physicians that some of their patients may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is beyond me. By simply adding sexual orientation to their intake form clinicians can avoid an awkward situation. I work and live in Queens and have to travel to the village to access healthcare that respects the true diversity that is NYC.

  30. I like it when doctors go, “really? you are? really?” and then, while putting his/her hands all over your body “examing” you, going, “you don’t look gay…you know, you’re pretty and have long hair.” and then, you, the patient, is in the position of having to educate your doctor (like you’re on gay sesame street or something) about how “all gay people don’t look the same!”, who should probs be the one educating you, bc you’re a responsible member of a “minority.” ohhhhh doctors.


    i suggest we start a list here of gay-aware and “don’t make it a big deal” doctors. i’ll go first! Dr. Cynthia Pegler in NYC. I used to go to her. She’s awesome. Go for it!

    • ..or, when you have to tell a doctor that you’re gay and they reply “Oh. I see, well, you’re quite young you can’t know that for sure” excuse me ma’am I know.

  31. Does anybody else get Condom Face?

    Health Care Provider: Are you sexually active?
    Me: Yes.
    HCP: What kind of birth control do you use?
    Me: None.
    HCP: …Well, do you use condoms?
    Me: No.
    HCP: *rictus of horror that I can only describe as (dun dun DUN)… Condom Face*

    Usually I explain that I have sex with women, after which I get a lecture about sex toys (usually without being asked if I use sex toys, but points for knowing that it’s a thing), but on my most recent doctor visit to a brand-new gyno, she just moved on and casually mentioned STD testing every 5 minutes. If she had asked, she would know that my partner and I have been tested for everything under the sun. I’m just glad she didn’t try to sell me on any of the lipo/plastic surgery services her clinic also offers. I can handle “slut” and I can handle “ugly” but not both at the same time, thanks.

  32. I live out in the sticks of the US and have a wonderful doctor. She’s straight and very lgb aware and friendly – I don’t know anything about her trans* experience. She’s very receptive to me forwarding her articles I come across about queer wellness issues (not disease so much as things like bullying and risk factors).

    The biggest problem with her is she is constantly pressed for time. Because she is a fantastic doctor she’s got an 18-24 month waiting list for new patients, 10-14 month wait to get a physical, etc.

    I’ve seen her for 7 years and she knows I’m a monogamous homo. She’ll still rarely ask me a “straight” question at which we both bust out laughing and crack a joke about the immaculate infection/conception. I assume it’s a result of mental habit because so much of her practice is straight. When she’s field training the baby docs that rotate through her practice, though, she’s very careful not to presume anything about orientation, partners, or sexual practices.

  33. Even LGBTQ-friendly doctors can have preconceived ideas about what their patients’ medical histories should be.

    When I was 21 and picking my first post-pediatrician doctor, I went on the GLMA website and chose a lesbian-friendly doctor near my house. I filled out all of the paperwork honestly, feeling that I had nothing to be ashamed of, as this woman was not only a doctor, but a lesbian herself. Once in the exam room, we discussed my medical history. After telling her that I didn’t need birth control because I was in a monogamous relationship with my girlfriend of two years, the doctor looked at my history and said to me, “I see here that you had an abortion a year ago, so are you bisexual or non-monogamous?”

    I looked her in the eyes and replied, “I am a lesbian and I was raped.” I then proceeded to gather my belongings and walk out of her office. It would be 4 years before I attempted to seek medical care that wasn’t in an ER.

    Even once I established a good medical team for myself, I still had to remind my gynecologist every year that I was a lesbian and THAT was why I wasn’t on birth control.

    I appreciate on so many levels what this training is meant to achieve.

    • I read this and my eyes nearly popped out. I am SO sorry you had to deal with that. I am in awe of the class and strength and dignity with which you responded to her ignorance.

  34. Wow, I’m one of the lucky ones. I came out to my doctor before I even came out to my mom! Her reaction? “Well that makes sense!” I was going through the breakup with my first girlfriend and I was depressed, losing a lot of weight, couldn’t sleep or eat…the usual. I was sobbing while telling her the whole thing. She hugged me and told me that I’m never allowed to wait that long to see her again when I’m in that state. She’s been my doctor for about 7 years and I refuse to see anyone else.

  35. As a gay lady doctor I will still ask women if they are on any form of contraception if they come with any gynae concerns, as it helps to direct my differential diagnosis. And yes as a line of questioning it’s not very elegant and it’ll occasionally come up against problematic cases such as my wife who technically uses being a homo as her form of contraception but who is also on the combined pill for period control. But I think she would understand the intent behind the question and not be entirely literal if asked.

    I have also before now done pregnancy tests on women/girls who assure me there is no chance they could be pregnant as their symptoms could fit with e.g. ectopic pregnancy and not doing a pregnancy test is indefensible, and because I have before now had a positive result in such circumstances. I always explain what I am doing and why.

    If you have been offended by something your doctor has said, please write to them/the practice manager, and let them know. We are all human, we can all make a mistake, talk without thinking etc. But if you don’t ever let them know they have made a mistake, how are they to learn.

    And Em, medical students who make such comments, especially on a graduate entry scheme (where the -flimsy- excuse of being an adolescent still maturing their ethical thought processes cannot apply) are inexcusable. Your medical school should have a whistle-blowing/fitness to practice scheme in place, especially if signed up to the 2006 BMA medical students charter. It is arguable that you have an obligation to report them to your dean/subdean in charge of fitness to practice if you have such concerns about their comments in a professional capacity.

    • Thanks for trying to do right as a doc. I personally don’t get offended by the questions unless they are totally moronic. I think this is because I only go to the doc when it is truly necessary, and I don’t have the attitude that the doc is somehow in charge. When a lot of people go to the doctor, they act like they are children, and the doctor is some kind of authority figure. That’s bad. If the doctor asked me something odd, well, I would just ask why they were asking, or tell them it’s none of their biz, etc. I don’t have any obligation to the doctor other than to pay for their services.

  36. ugh

    i have to go to the VA because it’s free.

    psyche dude was askin questions, and then straight up asked if i was “not heterosexual” i replied that i didnt think i was allowed to answer that, he said it’s fine, i’m a civilian, so i said yeah, i’m a lesbo, and he said “well, this is just a formality, we make everyone do this, but we’re gonna need to have you take an AIDS test”

    are you kidding me??? and he tried to make it be like it wasn’t cuz i’m gay, but yeah, he asked right after the homo question.

    and i have a gyno appt next week. joy. not looking forward to this shiz.

  37. So, Thanks a lot Riese for this post. Definitely will be sending it to my ethics professor.

    We had one panel on how to treat the LGBTQ community which I thought would be super awkward for me because I’m surrounded by really smart people with strong opinions and I thought they would be attacking me and these LGBTQ patients that were sharing their stories. I was completely wrong except in a few select cases (crazy christians).

    The questions everyone asked showed they really cared about getting enough information from the patient in order to make a good diagnosis. No one was being rude they were showing concern which is what everyone deserves I think. To be shown that we care, it’s health CARE.

    Basically I’m trying to say we’re working on it but my classmates are some of the most openminded people I’ve ever been around so I see hope for the future so don’t fear the white coat it just wants to help and don’t automatically go to another doctor if the first encounter is awkward. We try to have a plan/questions lined up to ask if a patient presents with X,Y, or Z and when those plans have to be chunked because you’re not gonna get pregnant from finger babies well expect things to get awkward. Maybe next visit will be amazing and completely confortable.

  38. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I just got a new doctor about a year ago after moving too far away to continue to see my previous doctor. So when I went in for my first physical with my new doctor, he started talking about about pap smears and at one point he said, “You need to get checked no matter what, even if it’s female/female,” I was shocked and delighted. After that conversation, I felt pretty good about him being my doctor.

  39. That’s funny because today I went to a lab to have some bloodwork done for my Grave’s disease. I’ve been chronically seeing medical folk since I was 11 and have blood work done so frequently that I developed a fear of needles. I can get piercings and tattoos, and but I hate that medical needles are so invasive.

    My phobia makes it impossible for me to get into the lab without my mother or partner of 3 years present. We’re getting “married”, so she might as well get used to it.

    Every time I go to this lab with my mother, they allow her in with me. I have never taken my fiancee’ in to this particular one, but I went today. Upon signing in, a young 20-something and her boyfriend went into the back and he held her hand while she squirmed.

    My fear was so bad, I was shaking as I asked the girl doing my vials, “Can she come with me?” as I motioned to my partner. I rarely even click that I’m a minority anymore, as she’s my entire world basically so I forget that I’m seen as “unusual”. I also have a family with a mother and father who affectionately call us “the girls”.

    She looked at femmish me, then my soft-butch partner, made a grimace, and stammered out, “I… well, *sigh* *tsk*… I… yeah, I guess.” She seemed completely unsure, and I was shocked because I’ve never had a response like that before. It’s always, “Yeah, sure, come on back.”

    I didn’t go to another lab because it often serves military personnel, and last time I went with my mother to get both of our blood work done and my fiancee’ came with us to have lunch after. We sat down and I laid my head on her shoulder and my mother was horrified as a woman in Army garb stared at me and my girlfriend like we were lepers and proceeded to another seat all the way across the large waiting room and continued to look disturbed. My poor mother was disgusted but I had to remind her that it happened all the time. I hadn’t even noticed until she’d said something.

    But these things happen everywhere… don’t they…?

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