In 2006, I was still presenting as a man, and I was juggling 5 sexual partners. I was Nick’s sidekick. I idolized him because every girl he dated was model material, and he did it all without money or celebrity status, and all with just mediocre looks. The Mother in the Sky blessed him with one gift: the ability to talk, and that’s all he needed.
You and I, or anyone else for that matter, would appear to have a handicap when placed next to him and forced to talk or tell a story. The man, despite being a womanizing asshole, was a great schmoozer and talker.
Being a desperate “disciple” of his and utilizing many of his strategies got me merely a small percentage of the success he pulled in…which landed me at 5 women I was intimate with simultaneously.
I was concerned for my safety so I got tested for STDs often. When I went to see Dr. Li, his nurse drew my blood and asked me to check all the STDs and symptoms on the clipboard so the lab would know which tests to run.
Needless to say I checked them all, including, of course, HIV.
I sat in the waiting room, shaking my leg with a cadence that matched the inner twitch caused by my anxiety.
Dr. Li came in and my rhythmic twitch came to a halt.
He looked at the clipboard , and after a few seconds, said something that shocked the shit out of me:
“Are you gay? Do you have sex with men?”
I was caught off guard and totally spinning. I knew where this was going, and I couldn’t believe he was so misinformed on a topic that he should have been an expert on, a topic that I was paying him for to understand thoroughly, more so than me. I ended up incredibly frustrated and disappointed.
“What? No, of course not,” I said with vehement denial and nervousness.
“You put a check mark next to ‘HIV.’ Unless you have sex with men, you don’t need HIV checked.”
I had an internal nuclear bomb go off when he said that. The conglomerate cluster-fuck of emotions that were set off inside me, to this day, is still indescribable.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to shake the shit out of him so he would talk some sense.
Had he no clue what he just said? Had he no idea how ignorant and misinformed he was? Had he no idea the risks he just put out there to me and possibly countless other patients that came before and would come after me? If I hadn’t been informed about the real nature of how HIV and other STDs functioned, I could have seriously been put at ease when I was actually a candidate that could potentially be at risk.
I knew from 7th grade health class with Ms. Finn from my Dodson Junior High days that HIV was not an isolated virus attainable only through gay sex. It was spread through blood and other means. Anal sex, being more prone to stretching sensitive tissue, was merely more susceptible means for transmission but not the only means in which HIV spread. Furthermore, last I checked, straight people and women had HIV and also had anal sex too.
Moreover, even though I did have sexual intimacy with men in my life, I had anal sex more frequently with my cisgender women partners than men.
Both his question of asking me what type of sex (straight vs gay) I had and his assertion that I didn’t need to test for HIV (under the assumption that I was straight) totally cast him in a new light for me.
I realized he was misinformed, and that his misinformed disposition could result in endangering a straight man (or woman) patient that was cheating on their partner and had HIV but went home with the erroneous assumption that they were STD free when they could possibly be infected due to Dr. Li’s association that HIV was a gay related virus, and hence misinforming his patient.
I yelled at him.
“Keep that box checked,” I said loudly, while pointing at the HIV box on the clipboard.
“But you don’t need it and each test costs extra in your co-payment. You can save money by dropping the tests you don’t need,” he said.
“I’m not here to save money, I want a thorough test, and just because I’m not gay doesn’t mean I don’t need that test” I said in frustration.
He left it the way it was and instructed me to take the clipboard up to the front desk.
I came out to Dr. Li as transgender in 2012, when I got sick and needed antibiotics. Just so you know, he’s a good guy. Despite his 2006 fuck-up, he does return calls, he will make exceptions to open the office on Saturdays, and he is professional with his demeanor and time spent with patients.
And despite his obvious Christian background (bibles in the waiting room and verses on the wall) and ignorance about HIV, he has been my doctor since I was a kid and he is good for regular checkups.
But his reaction in 2012 to my transition news told me just how uncomfortable he was with the GLBT topic.
He acknowledged my situation, but couldn’t look at me in the eyes as he quickly took my blood pressure and looked at my ears and eyes and throat. He did see enough out of the corner of his eye to see that I truly was presenting as a woman, and he had no choice but to treat me as such because my legal documents, including insurance policy, all reflected that of a woman, and I was on hormones and my blood levels reflected estrogen levels that matched that of a cisgender woman.
I could tell he was uncomfortable because his very next question was: “So did you get the surgery yet?”
“Let’s just say I live fulltime as a woman and am on hormones. Whether I had surgery or not isn’t important right now, and if it medically is at some later junction, I’ll inform you of my status then.”
I then tried to explain to him how I respected his work ethic, and how I wanted to stay with him as my primary care physician because he’s been caring for our family since I was a little kid, and how much I appreciated his professionalism throughout the years.
He moved right along and wanted to get things over with as he said “yeah yeah” real quick and went right back to business by pulling out the stethoscope and asking me to breathe deeply.
I went to see Dr. Li yesterday for a pre-surgery appointment. He took my info and started filling out my chart. He took my blood pressure, a blood sample, and checked my eyes and made me say “ahhhhh” with a tongue depressor that tasted like old cardboard lacquered in varnish.
“So have you had any prior surgeries in the last five years?” he asked me.
“Just my right knee in 2009, meniscus tear,” I said.
“How about for down there?” he said pointing to my genital area.
“Just my knee is all I will answer right now. That’s all that is relevant for this discussion.” I said curtly.
He got flustered. Clearly, he was uncomfortable whenever the topic of transgenderism was brought up, as he began clicking his pen, fidgeting with papers, and physically blushing. I saw the whole thing, and it was a like an emotional litmus paper being lit up by a bright wave of chemicals. It was hilarious.
Then he took out the light and checked my eyes, and made me say “ahhhh” again with the tongue depressor.
I laughed and he quickly looked down at the clipboard.
He literally performed what he had already done just a mere 30 seconds earlier. He was flustered. It was cute in a not so cute type of way.
It was a funny combination of anxiety, awkwardness, discomfort, forgetfulness and him being droll all in one. He was an older man lost in his emotionally cloudy moment, not knowing where to place me in the gender binary, which was the only internal vocabulary he had to categorize me. It was unsettling for him that I didn’t fit in somewhere.
People are typically flustered when put outside their comfort zone. Questioning people’s preconceived notions makes them think outside the box, outside of their comfort zone. That’s why activism eventually gets through to people, because once people step outside their comfort zone enough times, or better yet, have loved ones they really care for be the ones that trigger their discomfort, inevitable cognitive dissonance takes place and plants the seeds for opportunities for self reflection.
I’ve quickly learned that just being me, everyday, is a great way to do activism without even trying. Just existing is activism for transgender people.
I could tell being outside of the gender binary, existing in a nonexistent, non-defined category to take hold of my gender placard, for Dr. Li, left a weird and unfamiliar taste in his mouth.
Well, at least we are even, and it was a fair trade. That tongue depressor sure had some funky chemicals on there….I can still taste the wood…..blechh!!!
I’ve had men who left tastes in my mouth that lasted shorter…