Raise your hand if you’ve ever been worried about disclosing your sexual orientation to your doctor. If you just raised your hand then you are not alone (even if you are reading this by yourself). There are many stories out there of people in the LGBTQIA+ community who were fearful of revealing their sexual orientation to their physician and sadly there are also stories of the mortifying outcomes that resulted in them doing so. And as I flipped through the abundance of articles recounting these stories I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the accompanying statistics, facts, and figures that summarized the health and well-being of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, some of the poorest health statistics are about bisexual women.
According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, bisexual women have the highest rates of alcohol use and alcohol-related issues in comparison to heterosexual and lesbian women. They also have the highest rates of tobacco use compared to other sexual orientations. And these disparities don’t stop at physical health, there are mental health disparities too. About 45% of bisexual women either attempted or considered suicide and Womenshealth.gov reports that both lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of depression and anxiety.
These facts are hard to ignore and obviously reveal a problem in the way that the health of lesbian and bisexual women is handled. But what exactly is the problem? Well, there are many factors that can contribute to the existence of health disparities in minority groups: stigmas, accessibility to resources, lack of awareness. But the one common factor that stood out in the stories I was reading about was the weak, or sometimes absent, doctor-patient relationship.
Going to the doctor is not exactly an activity that people get excited about in the first place. We’re talking about cold waiting rooms, old magazines, and piles of paperwork. Add to that the fear that your physician will judge you or make assumptions about you based on your sexual orientation and suddenly the motivation to see the doctor becomes almost nonexistent. And if you’re someone who gets the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and exercises regularly then you might not be concerned with going to the doctor anyway. But that’s the problem. In some cases, people are already deterred from seeking out preventative medical services because they think they don’t need them. And having to go through the hassle of disclosing your sexual identity in order to receive medical services you don’t think you need causes a lot of people to want to skip out on that annual check-up all together.
I wish that resolving the health disparities among lesbian and bisexual women was as easy as urging them to go to the doctor, to get their annual gynecological exam and receive a mental health screening each year, but it’s not. The LGBTQIA+ community can encourage its members to be proactive about their well-being but that encouragement will fade if people run straight into the offices of homophobic and biphobic health providers. The bottom line is that your sexual orientation should not be a barrier to you seeking the medical services that you need to stay in good health. You should not have to fear being discriminated against by the people who took an oath to look after you. The doctor-patient relationship goes two ways, that’s why it’s called the doctor-patient relationship. If we do our part by seeking out their help and taking an interest in our own health then we expect them to do their part by helping us and treating us with the same respect and level of care that they would treat our heterosexual counterparts.
The good news is that there are people and organizations actively working toward making healthcare providers more culturally competent and socially aware. There are also many campaigns and organizations like the National LGBTQ Task Force advocating for the health and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community. So while it may still seem awkward and off-putting to have to come out to your doctor remind yourself that you’re doing it for a cause worth fighting for: your health. Perhaps you taking the step to be open with your doctor will help them learn how to be more accommodating to non-heterosexual patients. But remember, don’t take shit from anyone. They may have Dr. in front of their name, but it doesn’t give them the right to make you feel uncomfortable about your sexual orientation.