A few nights ago I was at the pub with some friends when the discussion turned to our GPs. A couple of years back I started going to a mostly-queer clinic here in Melbourne, and it changed my life. I grew up in the country, so I didn’t have some crusty old family doctor in Melbourne I could go to once a year who would silently judge my sinful lifestyle while prodding around my prostate. When I mentioned the clinic, eyes lit up around the table. It turned out every person sitting there went to the same place.
Admittedly, these were only moderately close friends, but I was reasonably sure I was the only queer at the table. My eyes narrowed. Who were these straighties to be taking all the appointments at my GP clinic?
Just last week I tried to book an appointment and was told there was nothing available for a fortnight. Even when I do manage to get in, I won’t be able to think about the place in the same way. I’ll be scrutinising everyone in the waiting room for hints of heterosexuality. Was the magazine in that guy’s hand BMX or Butt? Was the song bleeding out of that woman’s headphones Amy Winehouse or Ani di Franco? Any illusion I had of the place as a kind of queer paradise (albeit one swimming in STIs) was shattered.
That said, I wouldn’t want to begrudge a person having access to a decent doctor. I’ve been to a lot of crap GPs in my time, so I understand the value of finding someone you feel safe with.
So I find myself in a variation on the ‘Women In Gay Bars Dilemma’. That old chestnut goes like this: gay men complain about women in gay man bars because it turns the inhabitants of said bars into something like animals at a zoo—objects of fascination. On the other hand, women have a pretty shit time of it in a lot of straight bars, and sexual harassment and assault are probably less likely in a gay bar. Eventually it comes down to a question of competing needs: the need for a safe space for gay men is in this case directly competing with the need for a safe space for women.
In the queer-friendly GP clinic the conflict is even more heightened. It isn’t just about atmosphere — every appointment taken by a straight person makes it more difficult for queers to book in. Medical services from aware, understanding doctors are vitally important for queer people.
There isn’t an obvious answer. Everyone deserves access to safe, professional medical services. But in an ideal world, queers wouldn’t have to go to a specialist clinic to get them.