I am a Jewish, white, cis, queer, polyamorous woman who engages in BDSM and I am a mother of two. On the whole, I have had good experiences within the Australian healthcare system, although I believe that much of this is due to judicious withholding of information that I fear I would be judged for, possibly to the detriment of my care. Below, I provide two examples of instances where my identity has led to healthcare providers treating me in ways that resulted in shame and subsequent withholding of information.
Previously, I saw the same GP for more than ten years. Initially, she met my needs, but as my identities developed the mismatch deepened and I found that I wasn’t able to honestly discuss my lifestyle and risk factors with her. I was dismayed at first that she seemed unable to remember my primary partner’s name, and often cautioned me to be sure that I stay focused on the relationship so that he wouldn’t have an affair or leave me for someone else. As a result, when my primary partner and I agreed to try polyamory, I felt unable to discuss issues such as STI testing with her.
Anytime I mentioned any personal detail that she perceived as out of the ordinary, she would chuckle and say “You and [incorrect name] are such an unusual couple”. Initially this was amusing but it became less so as time went on, particularly when it was in response to decisions that I had made as an individual (for example, to travel extensively for work, or to take up a new sport).
This irritation came to a head when I sought assistance after unsuccessfully attempting anal sex with my primary partner (a cis man). I already felt very nervous bringing it up with this doctor, but as it was something my partner and I both wanted I pushed ahead with it. She responded as detailed in the previous paragraph, which made me feel very uncomfortable, like I was being judged by someone who should have been impartial. She did, however, provide me with a referral to a specialist physiotherapist. The physiotherapist herself provided excellent care, but I was deeply ashamed to discover that the GP had written about my concerns in more detail than I felt was necessary. This was then read by the physiotherapist’s reception staff. I had not read the letter prior to my physiotherapist appointment so I had no idea until I was actually in that appointment. I felt that the GP had not sufficiently protected my privacy, and that the physiotherapist’s clinic could have had more discreet processes.
After this, I resolved not to see this GP anymore and found a more appropriate replacement, with whom I have been able to discuss my relationships, manage my sexual health, and so on, without feeling like I’m being indirectly insulted to me face.
I have had one negative experience as a Jewish mother. This was after the birth of my second child, who was circumcised according to Jewish tradition. A midwife or nurse (I can’t remember which) came to perform a home visit and when she was doing his physical exam she said “I see he’s been circumcised” in a tone that I found deeply hurtful. My son is now eight years old and I can still remember superciliousness and judgement in her tone. Although usually I feel able to stand up for myself as needed, as a newly postnatal mother I was feeling vulnerable and certainly too tired to put in a formal complaint. I felt that the health service in this area, which has the highest Jewish population in Sydney, ought to have been more equipped to provide culturally appropriate healthcare. This experience made me fearful for future encounters, and more careful about which healthcare providers who I entrust my children with. As a result, I have been less likely to mention religion on medical forms except for when I felt like I had specific knowledge that made me feel safe to do so.
As I mentioned above, these are rare, relatively minor examples of poor experiences relating to my identity. Often the information I withhold from healthcare providers is not relevant to them and would merely serve as a distraction. However, I do feel that sometimes I am withholding information that I don’t feel safe to share, but that would be useful to the provider.