Coming Out to my New Doctor for the First Time
Coming out is something that never stops for most LGBTQ people, even as we live out and openly in our daily lives. After not having a primary care physician for years, I finally got one, and decided I wanted to come out to him, but the decision still caused a lot of stress and anxiety.
Finding a New Doctor via my Sister
Growing up, I had a pediatrician that I saw regularly for being such a sickly child, but by the time I moved away to college, I’d outgrown most of the sinus infections and other bacterial bugs I caught all throughout K-12. And if I did catch something, I mostly accepted stayed sick for a month because I was too anxious to go see a new doctor. But by the time I moved back home, I needed a new PCP. I couldn’t keep avoiding it.
That spring, my teenage sister, Manda, fell ill with a mystery fainting issue. (While mostly managed now, she can sometimes unexpectedly faint due to a vasovagal syncope, which is a reaction in the nervous system caused by a range of triggers she hasn’t quite figured out yet. Simply put, she’s a chronic fainter and we can’t pinpoint what causes it.) Her diagnosis required lots of doctor visits and testing over the course of several months. She switched her PCP to our dad’s doctor, and I went with her to her first appointment. The whole thing went as such:
She filled out her paperwork. The nurse took us back and asked her if she drank or smoked, made jokes about partying, asked what kind of birth control she took, wrote down her preferred pharmacy, the usual.
The doctor came in, said hi to both of us, asked about our dad, and took a seat on the stool across from my sister. He first asked Manda about herself, did she work, did she go to school, what were her hobbies, etc.
She talked about tutoring kids in an afterschool program and studying psychology at school. She talked about binging Netflix and her boyfriend and running a lot less since she left for college.
The doctor asked about the times she’s fainted.
Manda started with the more recent set of two, which happened at her boyfriend’s house. She explained how she felt before she fainted and after regaining consciousness. She described what she ate, from what she can recall, and other activities she did those days.
The doctor asked her more about her hypoglycemia, and how that’s affected her in the past.
She mentioned the other two times she’s fainted as a child, but was long past the point of having this seriously affect her. Eating like garbage gives her too much of a headache for her to develop a bad enough diet to faint over regularly. Plus, after she fainted the first time, her boyfriend keeps the protein and sugar in check with gentle reminders.
After thoroughly explaining some possibilities of what she has, telling her what to look for, and assuring her that he will find a solution to this mystery, he asked about her last medical physical and if she had an OBGYN doctor. He advised her to make a checkup appointment and explained that the office offers OBGYN services there if she wanted to switch OBGYN doctors.
I know what you’re thinking. What’s this all got to do with your coming out exactly? This all seems like a pretty standard doctor’s visit, right? Maybe you noticed that my sister talked about her boyfriend three times at this point, maybe not. The doctor did. He said, you’ve mentioned your boyfriend a lot now. I can see he’s a really important part of your life. Tell me more about him.
I love my doctor. I love that he picks up on small things like this and wants his patients to feel comfortable with him on a personal level. I love that he wants to know us as people, not just patients.
But this small exchange had me on edge for months.
Coming Out to my Doctor Anxiety
For several years, I dealt with mild wrist pain, sometimes extending up to my elbow and into my hands and fingers, in both wrists. I wear wrist braces at least four nights a week and have been for about a year now. But with finishing school, typing blogs, and taking on writing projects for work, the pain has reached an all-time high by the time summer rolled in. I wore the braces every single night and all day during work, and the pain still continued. Yet there I was, still avoiding that doctor’s visit.
I called to make the appointment in August, but they never called back to tell me the office had accepted my insurance, so I waited three more weeks to call again and check. By the time I actually got around to it, I couldn’t get scheduled for another month, landing me in mid-September. As the date drew nearer, the fear of going spread like a thriving parasite, feeding on how nervous I was. Even so, the fear seemed so stupid in my head. So, that’s where I kept it.
It wasn’t until my friend’s birthday party, where I found my lightweight drinking take over after downing just a couple spiked seltzers, did I start thinking about the why of all the fear. After consciously thinking to myself that I don’t need to tell anyone about this, I immediately turned to my friend, Tessa. I’m really scared to go to the doctor’s next week, wanna know why?
I already met this doctor because he was Manda’s doctor when she was fainting all the time and I went with her to her fainting appointments. He was super cool I really like him, like he’s so nice and stuff and that’s why I’m scared. Because like he asked Manda so much stuff about herself and she talked about her boyfriend three times and the doctor was like “aw he must be so important to you since you talked about him so much” but like I automatically censor Jas out of conversations like that and I don’t really say like ‘my girlfriend’ I just say friend because like I just don’t know what I can say but that’s sad because now he’s not going to know that I have someone just as important to me as Manda’s boyfriend is to her. And like, I’m sad about that.
I stared away at the party after spilling out the things I didn’t want to say. Tessa patted my arm, maybe she told me she was sorry. I leaned my head on her shoulder. I thought about it every day until the appointment came.
Pre-Coming Out Jitters
For some added stress, I kept thinking about the OBGYN doctor too. Being an anxious wreck, I’ve avoided ever making an OBGYN appointment. And being a lesbian who’s never been concerned with birth control in my life, I never found it necessary either. And yes, I was that dumbass lesbian, assuming PAP smears are not that important to me. Unfortunately, lesbianism is not immunity. Y’all need to make sure you don’t have cervical cancer okay. Go get screened.
Anyway, I avoided all the research before going to the doctor’s strictly because I feared discovering via google that I somehow attained HPV after not having sex for the past 12 months and developed stage: deadly cervical cancer because of it. (We love all this overreacting, don’t we?)
After my drunken rant of fear to Tessa, I talked about it to a number of people before the visit. Mostly, I reduced the issue to: I’m scared of coming out to my doctor. Instead of the longer version, which is: I don’t want to pretend that I don’t have a girlfriend who means the world to me, but I don’t know how to get myself to talk about her when I know my brain is going to jump in and censor her out completely or revert to calling her my “friend” because I’m scared of people reacting badly to knowing I’m gay.
Most people reasonably suggested that I don’t have to come out to my doctor at all. An obvious solution, but I wasn’t having it. At that point in my life, I really, really wanted to stop done doing that. Shrinking myself to make others comfortable exhausted me. I hated letting others think that I didn’t have a special person that I expected to spend the rest of my life with just because I was scared of their reaction.
But I hated making guesses too. And I feared it. I liked my doctor. A lot. And I felt like I could have a good relationship with him. Maybe with that doctor, I wouldn’t be so anxious about going and making appointments. But I would anxious if I didn’t tell him this right from the start. If it didn’t happen in the first appointment, then it wouldn’t be happening at all. Without airing it out in the first go, he assumes I’m straight, and then it becomes even harder to change someone’s assumption about you. I disliked shattering that picture for people almost as much as I disliked people holding a false picture of me. Coming out to my doctor was now or never.
Coming Out to my Doctor during the Visit
On the day, I put on a t-shirt that read “Pico de Gayo” with a picture of some chips and a rainbow-colored bowl of pico de gallo. I thought about the waiting room lobby and pictured some older people sitting in the rocking chairs. I changed my t-shirt before I left.
The nurse called me back and asked me the same kind of questions from Manda’s appointment. Do you drink? I exhaled, thinking about the party and my drunken rant. Only like, a little. Socially. She took some notes and made some jokes. I liked her a lot too. But not enough to calm my nerves. Your doctor has a med student shadowing him today, is that okay? I swallowed. Sure. I swallowed again.
The doctor and his student sat in the room with me. The student stayed mostly silent while my doctor asked how I was and how my family was. He first asked me about myself, did I work, did I go to school, what were my hobbies, etc.
I talked about finishing school and contract writing for a textbook company. I talked about blogging and writing and gardening. He liked to garden too. We talked a little about what kinds of vegetables we grew this year. I didn’t talk about my girlfriend. Strike one.
After I talked about my wrist pain and answered all his questions, he gave me some exercises to try and advice to keep in mind going forward. All through the conversation, I still didn’t mention her. Definitely counts as strike two, and the meeting was coming to a close.
He asked about the last medical physical I had. I told him I couldn’t remember. He said I should make an appointment for that, and I explained that I would be abroad in the UK after this month, and wouldn’t be back until February. He said the physical could wait until then.
He asked if I had an OBGYN doctor. No. He asked if I ever had a PAP smear test. No. He asked if I was sexually active. In the past. Not really right now. He explained that I should probably have a PAP test since I’ve had sex before and was over 21.
Now or never.
I mean, I said, committing to speaking this thought in my head as I drew in a breath. Does it matter if I’ve only had sex with a girl?
He didn’t look down at his clipboard or his laptop. He stayed looking at me. That does matter, but I understand why you delayed it. He glanced at the silent student beside him, as did I. We can talk more about this during your physical appointment.
He stood up then, handing me a slip of notes he took for me. I gathered my things. He asked me why I was going to the UK. My girlfriend lives there, I told him. He asked how long we’d been together. Almost four years.
That’s so sweet. He opened the door for me. I hope you both have a great time.
Coming out to my doctor proved to be as unbearable as I’d imagined, but following through relieved me enough for it to be worth it.