Friday, October 7, 2011

I Go to the Doctor

I like my new doctor.  First, he's gay, and that definitely makes a difference.  For instance, he acknowledges the importance of my relationship to Steve, and asked me yesterday why I hadn't invited Steve to join me in the exam room.  Though I've had non-gay doctors who did affirm us as a couple, and were wonderful in that regard, our last doctor never once adverted to our relationship in any way.  In fact, he never seemed entirely on board with the gay thing.

And that makes a difference.  I learned long ago, reading moral theologian Stanley Hauerwas, how central the relational aspect is to healing.  We don't heal effectively, when we don't reach over the chasm that separates us from those in pain, those who are ill, and affirm the humanity we share with these folks.  All my life, I've found doctors, doctors' offices, hospitals, clinics, off-putting.  I can walk through the door of a doctor's office, blood pressure fine, and by the time the assistant takes my pressure, it will have climbed significantly, though I try all those nifty tricks to induce calm that are recommended by health professionals--deep, slow breathing down into my depths, imagining places I enjoy being.  White-coat syndrome still grabs hold of me, the moment I enter a doctor's office.

It makes a definite difference, as you sit chilled and anxious in those little exam rooms, skimpy gown baring your unattractive hinder parts for all the world to inspect, to know that the person you love most in the world can, if you wish, sit with you as your worry.  Though I didn't ask Steve to be with me through yesterday's exam, it relieved my anxiety to have the doctor tell me I'd have been perfectly welcome to bring him back with me.  It healed to hear those words.

I like my doctor as well because the two times I've now seen him, he's talked each time about the quandary in which I find myself with no health insurance.  "We've got to find some way to get you insured," he said to me yesterday.  And, as he had done when we first met, he also observed that it's more than a little inconsistent for Steve's employer to make proud public statements about how it doesn't discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation, when it offers no partner benefits.

This, too, is healing, this affirmation that there are aspects to me as a patient, as a person, that transcend the bare facts of this medical challenge or that one.  This affirmation that I am a person with a significant relationship in my life, which is often not acknowledged in the important public situations of my life, and which may even be a liability in some of those situations . . . . And this affirmation that I'm an economic person, one who pays bills and frets about making ends meet, and who would find it much easier to maintain health if our social institutions made it easier for me (and for many others) to receive basic medical coverage that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

I'm not by any means a gay separatist.  I've never been allured by the idea of those gay ghettos in which one deals almost exclusively with other gay folks.  I live in a city in a backwards, evangelical-dominated area of the country in which there's not much gay culture to speak of, in which there aren't many openly gay folks.  I rub shoulders with many kinds of people on a daily basis, and I find the encounters with those who are not precisely like myself enriching. 

But it does make a difference, having health care professionals who understand, who acknowledge, and who affirm me as I am, and my most significant relationships.  My positive experiences with my new doctor make me all the more determined to keep working with others to build a world in which young gay folks don't have to worry quite so much as gay folks of my generation did about who knows what when, and whether they'll be accepted or rejected if they let their doctor, or priest, or teacher, or whoever, know that they're gay.  And have a significant other.

It does make a difference, being given a place in the world in which you can breathe freely and be yourself.  And I'm determined to keep trying to make that possible for the generation of younger gay folks who will come along when I shuffle off this mortal coil.  I'm determined to keep trying to make that possible for the young man I saw in the clinic waiting room yesterday, who both Steve and I concluded was gay, who could have been me forty years ago.

He had alone written all over him.  The wary self-containment, the watchful posture and gaze, the way in which he communicated without intending to do so that the weight of the world was on his shoulders: all of this told me how solitary and frightened that young man feels.  How little respect and affirmation he may be receiving from his parents and other family members.

The world needs to change, and change now, for younger gay folks who continue to have to live that way.  And I intend to keep poking and prodding for that change.

The graphic is a Currier and Ives print dating from abt. 1877 to 1894.

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