There is so much to say about Queer Fat Femmes and medical self-advocacy. In honor of Lesbian Health Bloggy Such A Day or whatever (thanks to Sinclair for bringing it to my attention and for the gorgeous masthead up above my entries), I am going to relate a little story and some free advice.
In early 2007, right after the passing of one of my heroes, Heather MacAllister, from ovarian cancer, I had my Heather MacAllister Memorial Gyno Appointment. This is the missive sent out from her loved ones by her side at her death:
Heather’s last wish for you, what she wants for us all, is to love each other, and to love ourselves. To take care of our minds and bodies, without fail and against all odds. And to know, beyond doubt, that we are all beautiful, amazing beings. Never forget. This is what she lived for. Take care of yourselves, you beautiful beings.
I felt it was imperative to look after my health and to take steps to prevent the stuff I was able to prevent. Despite being covered by insurance for the duration of my twenties, I hadn’t seen a gyno since grad school, mostly because I was really lazy about finding one who I felt safe with.
I did some research and made an appointment. The doctor was fairly nice and the process was streamlined, but I was a bit taken aback that she started up with the fat stuff* immediately. In fact, this was a new tactic. “You are fat, I think you might have a wheat allergy and I am going to run a blood test.” And almost immediately blood was drawn and I said meekly Uh, can you also do a full STD screening? That’s why I’m here, too. You know, gyno health.
Two weeks later I got the dreaded phone call from the gyno office requiring me to come in for a follow-up (and another $50 co-pay). She looked at me gravely. “It says here you are allergic to wheat and corn. You need to stop eating those immediately and start losing weight. You might have a heart attack.” And she actually said to me, “You have such a pretty face, you’ll look so gorgeous if you lose weight.” I was in tears and thinking God, are you my mom circa 1994?
I demanded a copy of the results so that I could bring them to my fairly fat positive primary care physician and show to one of my besties, Kelli Dunham, stand-up comic and published nurse.
My PCP recommended I get a second opinion from a gastroenterologist. Since this was the American health system in the Hateful Bush Economy (TM), this all took place over the course of months, since it took forever to get appointments and cost me $50 a pop.
The gastroenterologist did an upper endoscopy, a colonoscopy and another full blood work-up. In the meantime, I gave up wheat and corn and later dairy. Seriously, it is extremely hard to eat without wheat or corn, as corn is in pretty much everything, especially gluten free stuff. I remember declaring to my besties When they tell me to give up bacon I’m just going to go for a diet of supplements.
To top it off, the last part of this eight month ordeal occurred while my fiance and I were breaking up. Imagine being told “Hey, I think we need to move apart for awhile on account of my intense depression” the day before you have to have a colonoscopy. I was wheeled into the operating room wracked with sobs because of the whole “emergency number” question.
But, the great news is that I am not allergic to wheat, corn or dairy! That gyno was a quack and I am totally glad I advocated for myself and got that second expensive opinion. And it turned out my gastroenterologist is in the same office suite as another gynocologist. While I was waiting for my many appointments, I read the complimentary cards from her clients and I decided to do my next year’s gyno screening with her.
I was really glad I did. I had to ask them to do a full STD screening and they seemed surprised–I was a 29 year old sexually active lesbian and they didn’t seem to jump right to the conclusion that it meant I should be screened.** Despite that, I still felt cared for and my weight was not an issue.
I published Episode 4 of FemmeCast about the concept of Health at Every Size, which really addresses fat people and the consequences of un-fat positive diagnoses. I’m sure we’ll come back to it again in future episodes.
Fat phobia from medical professionals can itself be a health hazard in that it inhibits fat people from seeking out routine and other medical care that they need. All people, regardless of size, shape, age, race, class, gender, ability or sexual orientation deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in a health care setting and to have their health care needs addressed in ways that make them feel safe and comfortable and not attacked for who they are.
The day that I found out that the wheat and corn allergies were misdiagnosed, I had a tasting fleet of beers, a cupcake and really hot rebound sex. I think Heather would be proud.
*Typically this involves a medical professional saying “OMG YOU ARE FAT YOU ARE GOING TO DIE ONE DAY ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR FAT.” I will note that almost every doctor I have encountered who told me that said “Otherwise you are in perfect health.”
**Dude, always always ask your health providers to screen you, just to be safe.