Even though I do it often, I hate writing about bisexual health disparities. I hate that in order to justify our sexuality, I have to discuss how bi people suffer from equal, if not higher, rates of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, drug abuse, and physical health issues.
It’s not just that I find it depressing; I don’t think that we should need to be validated through our trauma. People should accept bi folks because we’re human beings, just like everyone else of all other sexual identities.
While research has shown that bi folks suffer from higher rates of mental and physical health issues because we experience “double discrimination” from both gay and straight communities, it also has to do with something that’s not often discussed: our discrimination in healthcare settings.
Bi folks are constantly mistreated in doctor’s offices, which makes receiving proper care difficult. In some situations, our healthcare experiences are so awful that it discourages us from seeking future medical care.
Take Jenny O’Connell, who identifies as bisexual and is attracted to all genders. She remembers going into her doctor’s office when she was 18 after losing her virginity to two women.
“I remember the doctor saying that threesomes were something that only dirty old men did,” Jenny says. When Jenny explained she had sex with two women, the doctor no longer “counted” her virginity as lost. “During my exam, my doctor looked at me like I was disgusting. When I did get the negative results back, she was surprised.”
But this is just one of the many, many insensitive things that Jenny has heard at doctor’s offices over her lifetime.
She had a doctor lecture her about sexual safety after having protected sex. Even though she used a condom, the doctor insinuated she was going to get HIV because her sexual partner was a bi man. The irony is that she then had another doctor question her desire to start PrEP.
Jenny’s also had doctors judge her for the amount of sex she’s having because she gets tested regularly. I’ve had this happen to me too, and frankly, was shocked when it occurred. It’s preposterous to get judged for doing what the CDC recommends. Doctors are supposed to encourage people to take both their and their partners’ sexual health seriously. Yet, they shame patients for doing the right thing.
Then of course, there are doctors who simply do not believe their patients are bisexual.
“This flippancy on me identifying as bisexual has existed with healthcare providers ever since I can remember,” recalls Sarah Doneghy.
When she was younger, doctors would constantly question if she was bisexual, saying things like, “Are you sure? You have a boyfriend,” as if having a partner of a different-gender somehow excludes one from being bisexual. Disregarding or simply not believing Sarah’s bisexuality has been a common theme in her healthcare experience. In fact, one doctor said, “I never would have thought that,” when she said she was bi.
“Why?” Sarah remembers asking herself. “Is it because I’m femme? Do I, for whatever reason, ‘look straight’ to them?”
Jarry Lee says they are often recommended to “pick a side”. One doctor even said that they wouldn’t need to worry about birth control side effects and getting pregnant if they chose to see women exclusively. “I found suggesting I ‘pick a side’ and stop taking the birth control I’ve taken for over five years pretty offensive when I was inquiring about side effects I have experienced.”
Jarry continues, “There are definitely a lot of people [doctors included] who don’t ‘believe’ in bisexuality and view it as a binary choice.”
At the end of the day, all this biphobia takes a toll. It doesn't matter if the biphobia is intended or even if it’s “just” a more subtle remark. These consistent micro-aggressions affect how we perceive ourselves, what we confide to our doctor, and the care we receive.
This is why I’m hoping you’ll join a new queer sexual health campaign, for which I’m the ambassador.
In short, I'm working with Dating Positive and WAXOH.com, a sex-positive online magazine, on a campaign called #WeNeedAButton. It's a call to major patient matching sites (think ZocDoc, Yelp, and Oscar Healthcare) to include a button that lets people know that a provider is queer-friendly and up-to-date on LGBTI-specific issues like PrEP, anal pap smears, hormone replacement therapy for trans folks, and more.
The idea behind the campaign is simple. As queer folks, it shouldn’t be hard to find a doctor who understands who we are sexually. We shouldn’t have to see a doctor who says biphobic remarks or judges us for getting tested for STIs. We should EASILY be able to find a doctor who understands and believes bi folks when we say we’re bi. And it shouldn’t be our job to find these qualified doctors. It should be their responsibility as healthcare professionals.
#WeNeedAButton is also a call to doctors to educate themselves on how to better serve our community. But, we need your help. Instead of a more traditional campaign, we’re spreading awareness by harnessing social media and letting people do what they love to do online: show off. In lieu of signing a petition, we ask everyone who is with us — allies and members of the LGBTI community — to post a belfie (a butt selfie) in solidarity, using the hashtag #WeNeedAButton. Simple and fun, right? True, but if enough of us do it, it can also make a huge impact, making it easier for LGBTI folks to get qualified and dignified care, so we no longer have to deal with all the regular bullshit that comes from being queer in a hospital setting.
BIG NEWS: I'm the Campaign Ambassador for #WeNeedAButton! Queer people should easily be able to find doctors who are knowledgable & sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ patients. Join me, post a belfie with the hashtag, & let's make it easy for queer folks to find competent doctors! pic.twitter.com/5M3GqBlmYr— Zachary Zane (@ZacharyZane_) June 25, 2019
For more info on the campaign, head over here to Waxoh.com and of course, make sure to post a belfie with #WeNeedAButton. Also, if you tag me on Insta (Zacharyzane_) I’ll make sure to share you to my story!