As A Queer Man, I Find It Necessary To Have A Gay Male Doctor
The following is a republished version of #WeNeedAButton ambassador Zachary Zane’s March 25, 2019 WaxOh article:
“If you settled down with a nice woman, you wouldn’t need to take Truvada,” the doctor said to me, shortly after acknowledging he had never heard of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) prior to my office visit. I didn’t reply. There was nothing I could say.
For one, he should have absolutely known what PrEP is as a primary care physician. It’s horrifying to think that in 2017, this healthcare professional had never learned about the commonly prescribed antiretroviral. I, a patient, needed to explain its purpose and myriad of benefits. Mind you, this wasn’t a doctor from the middle of nowhere. His office was located in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. I likely passed multiple ads promoting Truvada on the bus ride over to his practice.
Second, that’s not how bisexuality works. I don’t choose who I fall in love with, and I have zero desire to deny my attraction to men just to decrease my likelihood of acquiring HIV.
I ultimately left the office without a prescription. He refused to prescribe me PrEP because he “fundamentally opposed” the drug after learning about it during our conversation. I had spent weeks trying to get insurance after moving to New York and had been looking forward to this doctor’s appointment to start taking control of my sexual health. I quietly cried on the bus ride home.
About six weeks ago, I woke up with a burning sensation and green discharge. Immediately, I knew the culprit: gonorrhea. There’s an urgent care near my apartment that I usually try to avoid, but I wanted to get treated ASAP.
The straight, female doctor not only spoke to me pedantically like a toddler, but thought the best approach to discussing my sexual health was to repeatedly shame me.
“You were in here two months ago for STI related issues,” she said. I explained that I had been exposed to syphilis, and my doctor wasn’t available for another week, so I wanted to get tested.
She then proceeded to tell me that I shouldn’t be coming in to get tested this often, and that I needed to wear condoms every single time I had sex with a partner. When I said I understood, her response was: “You clearly don’t. You’re back again, so what I’m saying is falling on deaf ears.”
She told me I needed to wear condoms probably a dozen more times, and that what I was doing was “irresponsible” and “damaging.”
Maybe I’m crazy, but I thought going into a doctor’s office to get tested after I’ve been told I’ve been exposed to an STI was responsible. And last time I checked, getting treated and telling your partners who consented to not wearing condoms that they should get tested was an adult move.
The thing is, most doctors are painfully inept at treating and discussing STIs, and they’re even worse at discussing prevention, treatment, and care for queer patients.
In an ideal world, queer patients wouldn’t need to seek out queer doctors or specific sexual health clinics to receive care. It should be the healthcare professional’s responsibility to know the different needs of their patients and to be up-to-date with the most recent methods of care.
That’s why, for primary and specialty care, I’ve only begun seeing queer male doctors. I think it’s necessary. I was able to find my new gay primary care physician through Facebook friends. I wrote a post saying I was looking to find a gay male doctor and responses flooded in. For specialty care, I use Lighthouse, which is an incredible site that links queer patients with providers that provide specific LGBTQ care.
While my primary care physician encourages me to wear condoms, he never shames me. He is a single gay man who uses Grindr. As such, he understands that my desire to not wear a condom extends past “being lazy,” or this notion that “condomless sex feels so much better.”
Like many queer men, I feel that condomless sex confers a sense of freedom. A large part of my sexuality is how I have sex, and as a grown man, I can make the decision of how I have sex with my consenting partners.
During the height of the AIDS epidemic, condomless anal sex was a huge issue, fiercely debated by great gay activists, journalists, and thinkers.
Michael Warner, an English professor at Rutgers University, was one of the founders of Sex Panic, a radical 90s activist group that worked in diametric opposition to activists like Larry Kramer. Warner argued that promiscuous sex is the essence of gay liberation, and any attempt to fight AIDS by changing the culture was doomed.
”It is an absurd fantasy to expect gay men to live without a sexual culture when we have almost nothing else that brings us together,” Warner told the New York Times in 1997.
Kramer, on the other hand, argued on the side of assimilation. ”The whole culture has to change. We have created a culture that in fact murdered us, killed us. What you can’t help but think, if you’ve got any brains, is don’t people ever learn anything?”
Now the conversation has changed. HIV isn’t killing us like it once was. We have a drug, Truvada, that decreases the likelihood of acquiring HIV by almost 100 percent. In fact, when I am on Truvada as PrEP and my partner has an undetectable viral load, meaning copies of HIV cannot be detected through standard tests, I am more likely to get hit by lightning than acquire the virus, even if we’re having sex without a condom.
In the height of the AIDS epidemic, I likely would have been more on Kramer’s side, but now the argument is moot because we have drugs that prevent the transmission of HIV, and people living with HIV can have long, healthy, normal lives.
So for me, it is worth it to have condomless anal sex. I accept the risks of acquiring other STIs. When I explained this to my gay doctor, he understood and accepted my decision. As a healthcare professional, he wasn’t thrilled by it, and he warned me about the increase of new antibiotic resistant strains of certain STIs. Still, he recognized the choice was mine.
After my experience with my new gay doctor, I won’t go back to seeing a straight doctor. My physical health and mental well-being are simply too important to put in the hands of so-called professionals who refuse to understand perspectives other than their own.