There have been several times I’ve cared for homophobic patients. And staff. And friends. Let’s talk about a few.
I used to work with a member of the treatment team who was also gay. She and I ended up interviewing a patient together on the inpatient unit. The patient was slightly manic, history of bipolar. Overall rather pleasant and not too irritable but then they started in on politics. We did not bring up politics to be clear. The patient did. There was another patient on the unit who identified as Queer. The patient we were interviewing could not quite grasp that term and went on a long rant about the “Fucking gays”. The other clinician and I sat quietly with no observable response positive or negative to this diatribe. It went on and on. We sat there and listened to a hate rant. Meanwhile I am looking at my wedding ring and my engagement ring on my ring finger. So was the other clinician. The patient never assumed they were talking to two lesbians. Because we didn’t fit the “butch” expectation I guess.
We both had to care for that patient for another week before discharge. The Queer hate never came up again thankfully, because the first thirty minute hate rant was quite enough for us both. We treated the patient the same we treated all our patients. We briefly discussed the hate rant afterward and both acknowledged that we were uncomfortable but that we both also were just going to let it go.
Thinking back I’m like but why? Why did we have to just let it go? Because that was the expectation of healthcare workers? Because that was the expectation of women? Because we didn’t want to draw more attention to our minority status? It would have done no good for us to address this with the patient in that moment as there was a level of irrational thinking that comes with a manic episode. But why do I remember it vividly? Because it was uncomfortable. If I’m being very honest it was scary. I felt like there was a big fucking elephant in the room and at any time the patient would figure out we were both gay and lose their shit even more. I don’t know why because that’s also totally irrational.
One of my best friends from nursing school had a baby shortly after we graduated. I went and stayed with her and her husband for a few days. The husband and I never really got along. For many reasons. It happened at some point during my visit that he called me a dyke. Something along the lines of him not wanting the new baby to be around a dyke because then the new baby will be gay. This sounds really calm, but it wasn’t. It was angry and mean.
This was not me as a nurse obviously, but it was a connection I had due to nursing school. I remember I cried. I remember my friend cried. I remember I didn’t leave early though. Because she was my friend. I also remember he stormed out, then he came back in and saw us both crying. It was weird because I could see he felt bad and he didn’t know how to fix it. What man likes to see two women crying? But there was no fixing it. He couldn’t take back what had been said.
We did grow apart over the years because of him. Because I never forgot him saying that he didn’t want his kids around a dyke.
Well now that I have my own kids I can say I don’t want them around hateful people. I want them around loving people whether they are dykes or not.
These are two separate incidents years apart. Every time I experience discrimination it brings up all these past experiences. I have reasons why I fear making new friends who are straight. Will they have homophobic husbands? Will they want their kids around two dykes? I have reasons I keep my inner circle tight. Because I’ve been hurt and I’ve felt the sting of hate. I do not want that passed onto my children.
What do we let go? So much. I did not confront my friend’s husband about his hate. Because I didn’t want to destroy my friendship. I didn’t confront the patient because it was not appropriate as his healthcare provider to confront it. But even writing this it feels heavy it feels like it weighs on me. It evokes fear for the future.
It’s taken me a long time and I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m trying to take a page from my sister’s book. Her resistance is quiet because she doesn’t come out and say she’s gay necessarily because she doesn’t have to. She does fit the butch description. And she owns it. She doesn’t give a shit when she is misgendered or called a dyke. She has never altered her appearance or her personality to fit others expectations. By being herself she’s sticking it to everyone who has attempted to discriminate against her.
So I will keep referencing my wife when appropriate in conversations. I will not stop my life or hide it. Because I’m not ashamed and I’m not going to be quiet. It’s just not me.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain or fear. I do. Nevertheless I will persist.