Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Planned Parenthood: Healthier

by Fannie, Shaker and author of Fannie's Room.

When I was 22, I received my first Pap test. It was at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Midwest. I was uninsured, a recent college graduate, and a lesbian.

Given the, erm, intimate nature of the exam and horror stories I had heard of other lesbian and bisexual women who discussed their sexual orientation openly with insensitive pap-smearers, I was a bit apprehensive. Although I have sinced learned that women who have sex with women are less likely than heterosexual women to have had pap smears due to a lack of insurance, previous bad experiences with providers, and a mistaken belief that one doesn't need the exam if one isn't having sex with men, back then I was still overcoming some internalized homophobia.

I didn't know yet that I deserved medical care from doctors and nurses who wouldn't condemn my "lifestyle choice." I thought it was okay for medical providers to alienate patients who deviated from some hypothetical Default Patient.

Due to my finances, Planned Parenthood was my only option at the time for getting the dreaded Pap test and so I scheduled my appointment and hoped for the best. In the days before my appointment I tried to build up courage by telling myself that maybe being a lesbian at a place that provides abortions might be, like, a relatively minor shenanigan? (I also had internalized a lot of anti-choice rhetoric, too).

So, the day of my appointment, after making my way past three abortion protestors and their gruesome signs, I entered the lobby and began filling out the intake forms. Although this was a good decade ago, I remember that the forms asked me whether I had sex with men, women, or both. Not only is this information pertinent to gynecological exam, but I found it refreshing and validating that it was not assumed that all patients engaged in heterosexual sex.

Then, when I told the nurse who did my initial screening that I was sexually active, she asked me what sort of birth control I was using. Unfortunately, she did not seem to have read my answers on the form. I told her that I wasn't using birth control since I was in a relationship with a woman. She seemed flustered, perhaps because it was obvious she hadn't read my form, but then said something along the lines of, "Well, that's okay. Just make sure you clean the sex toys" and proceeded to give me safe sex tips.

It wasn't a perfect interaction, but it wasn't a traumatic one either. In fact, she raised good points about the need for women who have sex with women to think about STI risk. I'm not sure that I knew, at 22, that such risks existed. And, in turn, I like to think that I reminded the nurse that, yes, non-heterosexual patients too utilize Planned Parenthood. I'll take that over judgmental bigotry any day.

Because of Planned Parenthood, I developed a healthier relationship with the US medical system, a system that I had thought was not entirely open to me because of my income and sexual orientation. Because of Planned Parenthood, I am now a healthier person.

Read the rest of the My Planned Parenthood Carnival posts here.

[Cross-posted.]