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An LGBTQ+ Person’s Guide to Navigating Conversations at the Doctor’s Office

doctor and patient talking

Photo by Wavebreakmedia

Let’s face it, a trip to the doctor’s office is rarely a treat. Alongside the concerns about your health, the simple prospect of having a conversation with a medical professional can be anxiety-inducing. This can be exacerbated if you live in an area in which queer folks aren’t often made to feel welcome or comfortable.

You have the right to expect the same high level of care afforded to any other member of the community, so, let’s take a look at some ways you can effectively and comfortably navigate your interactions with primary healthcare providers.

Prepare in Advance

Often, your best approach to difficult conversations with your doctor is good preparation. You aren’t going to be able to predict all circumstances or questions. But you can certainly maneuver into a position in which you won’t feel on the back foot during your appointment.

Some considerations here include:

A list of questions

When you’re nervous or hesitant about visiting a medical professional, it’s easy to get flustered. This can lead to you forgetting to ask important questions, gaining clarity on certain elements, or asking for all the resources you need. Write these out in a clear checklist that you won’t have difficulty reading during the appointment. You can also find this creates a certain emotional distance from difficult subjects because you’re treating them in an administrative way.

The limits of disclosures

One of the more difficult elements of seeing a doctor surrounds making disclosures about various areas of your personal life. This isn’t just about coming out to your doctor, but also the dreaded question of whether you’re sexually active. Confirm for yourself what boundaries you want to set here. You may want to understand the relevance of the questions you’re asked before you make significant disclosures. Remember, this is your body and your health; you make the rules here.

Be Your Own Best Advocate

One of the most important steps you can take is to commit to being your own best health advocate. Stand firm in getting the treatment — medical and personal — you deserve.

Some useful ways to approach this include:

Be clear about your needs

Don’t minimize the way you’re feeling about your health and the assistance you’re seeking as a result. Even if the solution will be relatively simple in the end, your feelings are valid. Be clear and firm with your physician about what is informing your concerns regarding your health.

Communicate the medical challenges

While your healthcare provider may well be empathetic, this doesn’t mean to say they’re always fully informed. In certain communities, doctors may not understand how LGBTQ+ individuals can experience specific health challenges. For instance, lesbian women tend to be at increased risk of some forms of cancer. Medical professionals are fallible humans, too. Not to mention that you have more nuanced perspectives on what you’re experiencing. Don’t hesitate to provide more informed insights if your doctor makes assumptions based on stereotypes or on the medical standards of heteronormative patients.

Seek Relevant Resources

You should expect a high level of support from every physician and provider. However, seeking professionals with experience assisting members of the queer community often saves a lot of time and energy. Not to mention you can be relatively certain of reduced potential for stigma.

One of the particular challenges here is there’s a distinct lack of experienced trans primary care providers. It’s certainly vital that trans women are able to communicate openly with doctors. But this can be daunting if you can’t be sure you’re working with a trans-affirming provider. These types of experiences aren’t unusual for individuals across the LGBTQ+ community.

As such, an initial phone call to your intended provider can be a good first step. Ask about whether they already treat queer patients and how long they’ve been doing so. However, a more useful resource here can be the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). The organization has a provider directory that can help you identify relevant resources in your area.

It can be difficult to navigate medical appointments, particularly if you live in an area that isn’t exactly LGBTQ+ friendly. But it’s important to remember that you have a right to expect high-quality care. Performing some preparation can help you gain some confidence in your approach. Empower yourself to gain the care you need by being your own best health advocate.



Adrian Johansen
Adrian Johansen
Adrian Johansen lives, writes and thrives in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing, which often focuses on sustainability and social justice, has been published on Abilities.com, The Biomimicry Institute and elsewhere.