Navigating health and healthcare as a 40-something queer person




June is Pride month and it is observed in several countries to commemorate the struggles and victories of the LGBTQIA+ communities.


We reached out to someone from the queer community to share their health experiences with us and they were brave enough to do so.


When we first approached them, they instantly said - "I have nothing to say" but experiences and thoughts started to unravel when the pen was put to paper.


It is incredible how much cisgender take for granted and how healthcare is unequal not only for women but also for those who identify differently.



That is why stories like this one are important and we think it must be shared.

 

My body image


I have had a very apathetic relationship with my body, and this apathy is very much related to my queerness and has influenced the way that I’ve navigated the healthcare system. As a young AFAB (Assigned female at birth) person who did not identify as feminine, and who did not want to attract male attention,


I took a lot of trouble to not take care of how I looked, and hence, I did not take care of my body.


I was quite sporty as a younger person incorrectly associating sportiness, physical strength, and agility with masculinity. Additionally, I also associated these qualities as ‘natural’ rather than as something that requires regular training and practice. So, when I started feeling inadequately skilled in sports in comparison with my male peers, I thought I wasn’t talented enough and stopped participating in sports. As I’ve grown older and have engaged especially with disabled, particularly queer disabled perspectives, I’ve realized the inherent ableism in taking my body for granted as well as in thinking of my ability or lack thereof as ‘natural’ rather than as shaped by our interactions with (dis)abling environments.




The apathetic relationship I’ve had with my body has meant that I put on a lot of weight, and have resisted taking up health care routines that were focused on weight reduction because my fatness has been inextricably linked with my non-binary gender identity. This includes not paying attention to how I dressed.


For instance, I’ve never enjoyed shopping for clothes because clothes follow a strict gender binary. Besides, my dressing style is about not having a style or a resistant style of being messy and careless. I have particularly been attracted to the idea of the ‘grotesque’.






What I mean by this is that I actively rejected gendered notions of beauty, challenging people to interact with me beyond the way I looked.


So, if fatness was associated with ‘ugly’, I embraced it as part of my identity. This affected my self-esteem both positively and negatively. On the one hand, I pushed myself to improve my self-esteem by developing social skills, relationship skills, and nurturing my curiosity for knowledge in different domains, and by creating a mostly woman-oriented community that affirmed me as a whole person. On the other hand, while I had successfully managed to make myself invisible to the male gaze, I also felt unseen and invalidated by the continued abuse I experienced as a fat non-binary person. In the context of conventional health care systems, this meant that doctors invariably commented on my weight and recommended weight reduction as a solution. Every well-meaning friend or family member who knew that I was opposed to weight reduction because of its association with beauty standards would clarify that they were advising me to lose weight on health grounds.



How I learnt to accept myself?


In my thirties, I actively sought a queer-affirming life coach and later a therapist who helped me develop a more intentional and loving relationship with my body. While that’s still a journey, the emphasis in my interactions with both of them was around making me feel sexy and attractive within my body. This included making stylistic choices with respect to clothes. It included learning a dance form that was very sensuous and participating in theatre activities where I got my body to move in spontaneous ways and broke routinized patterns that my body had learned over the years. These activities helped me feel more visible, confident, sexier, and attractive to myself. While I did not lose weight, I felt physically active and energetic.


My functionality improved in that my chronic knee pain and GERD were significantly reduced and better managed. In other words, I’ve found ways to get physically active and feel sexy in ways that affirm my gender identity as well as my sexuality.



Addressing these aspects of my identity was crucial because I had repressed my sexuality for so long, and have been sexually inactive for most of my youth. Interestingly, I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosus, an autoimmune disorder characterized by itching in the vulval region which was very intense. I had to apply a steroidal cream every night to keep the itching under control. Believe it or not, since undertaking psychotherapy, and actively expressing my gender identity and my sexuality, I no longer have any such attacks and have completely discontinued using the cream.


It really feels like magic, although it certainly didn’t happen overnight and it took several years for me to recover.


The itching I experienced in the vulval region was not metaphorical but a real psychosomatic condition.


Dealing with gynecologists


Since I became more sexually active, I do want to be able to speak to gynaecologists who do not use marriage as a code word for sex. While for a significant part of my life, I could say I’m unmarried and sexually inactive, this is no longer true.


I want to be able to go to gynecologists and say that I am sexually active and unmarried without shame.



Secondly, as a polyamorous lesbian (attracted to cis, trans, and non-binary people who are woman/femme-identifying), I want to be able to get myself frequently tested for sexually transmitted diseases without shame, and also to make sure that my gynecologist knows of risks I’m likely to face due to sexual practices that rarely involve PIV (“penis in vagina”) sex.


Perhaps, it is for this reason that I rarely visit a gynecologist unless I want advice on stuff related to what a cisgender heterosexual woman might ask such as related to a pap smear and breast lumps.



Read related: Healthy aging and sexual health


Finally, I have flirted with the idea of getting low-dose testosterone therapy or chest reduction surgery that would affirm my non-binary gender identity. But, I have no idea where to go and whom to ask just to know my options.


While I have learned to accept and love my body as-is for the most part, I also entertain the possibility of creating the body I want.


After all, isn’t exercising also a way to craft one’s body for better overall health?



The author prefers to remain anonymous.

Reach out to us via email at miyara.women@gmail.com if you want to share your story with us


 

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