With today marking the end of Pride Month, a member of both PhiDE and the LGBTQ+ community takes some time to celebrate discovery of identity, while also outlining the unique intersection between Medicine and Sexuality.
Written By: Preetam Vupputuri, Website Chair & Blog Head
As Pride Month draws to a close, we at PhiDE wanted to take some time to recognize and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Within our fraternity, there are several LGBTQ+ members, and as someone who’s bi, I proudly can say I have always felt at home in my time in this organization. Identity, with all its intersectionality, is so deeply tied into medicine, and I’m thankful I am able to fully embrace, express, and connect mine in the context of this organization — and hopefully, with the tools and practice I’ve gained, my future career as well.
When first looking into different health related organizations, I was worried about rushing a fraternity. My preconceived notions, formed from years in a culturally conservative hometown and from exposure to pop culture stereotypes, told me sexual identities deviating from norm were to be kept under firm wraps. Already I was struggling to confront my sexuality while socializing and adjusting to college, and long-standing institutions like professional fraternities, or even medicine as a whole, seemed like more concentrated versions of the same social pressure to compartmentalize it. Just becoming more comfortable embracing my cultural identity in contexts outside the immediate sphere of family and religion, I couldn’t imagine approaching medicine or a community devoted to it from a lens outside of my experiences with health. Much less from a stigmatized part of my identity I hadn’t even begun exploring.
Despite my qualms, I rushed PhiDE and began attending events. Imagine my surprise when one of the first chapter talks I attended had a guest speaker presenting about gender and sexual minorities in medicine and gender affirming surgery. Not only were the members around me engaged throughout, but active participation in the form of questions and continued discussion showed genuine care. From then, I’ve noticed this openness and emphasis on embracing intersectionality was a mainstay in most conversations, only strengthening the discourse. With the new perspectives and understandings gained, it made the possible future role I’d been gearing up to play feel more meaningful. I began realizing that the barriers I’d put up between parts of my identity were actually hindering my ability to grow, limiting the care I could provide to my future patients and even the internal peace I could have myself. I started looking towards role models in PhiDE who had already claimed their sexuality, their “otherness” or “queerness”, as part of their own complex identity in medicine, trailblazing the path for me to start too.
But as I began embracing my identity moreso, I also started reflecting more on why I was so hesitant to do so. I realized my preconceived notions on how sexuality and gender play into long-standing organizations with attached prestige or weight, like fraternities and medicine, were far from unfounded. In a more abstract sense, these notions stemmed from treatment of sexuality in American society at large — an overreaching institution where casual hate is normal. Where parents and family disown children regularly, and where the ability to buy a cake becomes a supreme court case. After all, only six years ago, after decades of litigation and tears, was it guaranteed that anyone could legally marry the loves of their life. The discrimination commonplace in health only continues to reflect this wider discrimination accepted and pushed by society at large, but often with more insidious results. Historically, LGBTQ+ patients have been refused care on top of imposed social ostracization, the community’s specific mental and physical health issues being undermined and ignored leading to significantly worse health outcomes. This was and continues to be evident with the handling, or rather the intentional mishandling, of the AIDS/HIV pandemic and its ongoing long-term impact — one that wiped out entire swaths of the community and left an entire generation of LGBTQ+ youth without guidance.
Even in medicine today, there lies a plethora of practices to confront and change. One area of improvement is ensuring future physicians have enough competency in LGBTQ+ care and understanding varying identities. For example, education revolving around reproductive health and safe sex also needs to undergo a shift, as well as the screening routines for different populations. Similarly, education for physicians around trans care needs to increase, as well as how to give guidance. At Umich, Med 3 students are working on creating supplemental courses to try effecting change, but it’s up to future and current physicians to educate themselves as well.
Despite these hardships that our community has always faced, because of the plight of people before us and our community now, things in society are changing, and changing fast. What started with riots at Stonewall, has blossomed into a more inclusive America, where Pride is celebrated more openly. Supportive communities have sprouted up physically and even online as Social Media has expanded, normalizing LGBTQ+ discourse and creating platforms for words like this. Institutions and organizations have been prioritizing inclusion. Even in pop culture media, representation has gone from flat stereotypes to fleshed out, complex portrayals of LGBTQ+ people, and this representation has spread from the screen to daily life — in teachers, in pastors, in legislators, in doctors, even in cabinet heads, like the Secretary for Health. With strong role models, I am able to talk today about my identity and issues revolving around gender and sexuality — something I couldn’t imagine doing even five years ago. While the quintessential experiences for anyone branded as “other” still exist — fear of acceptance, of disownment from loved ones, of finding community, all while traversing a world largely built for a hetero gender binary — strong resources are in place to try catching those who were left behind before. For youth growing up now, the world is a much different place than before.
There is much to celebrate as this month wraps up, but for allies and advocates like us, the continuous drive for change does not end when Pride Month passes. As I’ve continued reflecting on identity, especially how it manifests and needs to be acknowledged in context of medicine to drive change, I’ve come to realize it works the other way around as well — namely, medicine’s driving philosophy and core commitment towards care for the community should drive physician involvement in change outside of medicine’s realm as well. Said short, through social activism, a tradition long backed up with work of physicians past. Currently, as Trans care becomes more politicized, work on caring for patients both physically and mentally is essential. As gender affirming care has been linked to better patient outcomes, therefore causing a logical shift towards it in medicine, a similar but opposite shift has been taking hold in politics. As matters are taken to court, it is essential that physicians’ voices drive conversation.