From the Editor: Love: In Sickness and in Health
It was no mistake that our Valentine Issue is also the one in which we introduce our Lavender Health Quarterly. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how health is about love. To love ourselves is to be healthy. To take care of each other is to love, in sickness or in health, ‘til death do us part, with or without vows. We have social contracts in this life to seek self-care by way of pairing up with others and striving toward being healthy, whether or not we fulfill the social contracts is up to us. Of course, we reach this discussion as we’re still probably in the throes of New Year’s Resolutions, or maybe we’ve already cast them aside for our personal state of homeostasis: how we tend to return to our most natural state of being. Oh, and it’s also no mistake that we’ll be introducing our Lavender Fitness Quarterly in the next issue, either. It’s a progression: celebration and resolutions, love and health, and then companionship and fitness.
It’s actually one long conversation about love based in a magazine built upon love. Have you noticed that? Lavender exists because this community exists and this community (primarily) exists because attraction and love exist between people of the same sex. We are evidence that love builds so much, globally and personally. And, this community and magazine exist (secondarily) due to fluidity in gender and sexual identities. What is key to gender and sexual identities? Self-knowledge and expression. What is key to love? Self-knowledge and expression. What is key to health? Self-knowledge and expression.
See where I’m going here?
In this first Lavender Health Quarterly, I wanted us to focus on what is happening now in our community in Minnesota as far as services and programs are concerned, but also what we should be focusing on as a community in terms of health concerns across the nation. As Shane Lueck talked to Rainbow Health Initiative about their programs and the state of this community’s health in Minnesota, it’s clear that we are working in an area of plenty of ambiguity. We’re closer to the beginning of the development of specific and tailored health services for people in the rainbow community than we are to the finished product (not that health care in the entire United States for the whole society is all that close to a finished product, either). But as Shane was also working on the peripheral material for the piece, the top health concerns that the Gs, Ls, Bs, and Ts of the community should talk to their health providers about, it’s also clear that plenty of this development relies on us, on our self-reporting.
Self-reporting starts with coming out.
“Coming out” to health care providers is given different importance ratings in each of the three lists, only being specifically mentioned as something gay and bi men need to do, first and foremost. In striking contrast, transgender folks are first concerned about access to health care, as a group, which implicitly hinges upon coming out as transgender (because if someone isn’t seeking health as a transgender person, they apparently would have access to health care). Then, in an extreme shift in focus, coming out is not even mentioned in the list for lesbian and bi women to address with health care providers. At all.
I asked Shane why coming out didn’t make the list for women who are lesbian or bi and he said that there’s no explanation; there was never a note in the resources he consulted for the research. My immediate backseat-driver analysis was that this is yet another area in which women tend to be invisible, that lesbians and bi women just don’t register high enough to need to come out or don’t need to be defined as much as men might need to be. These could be true, but I won’t back up those thoughts with any empirical evidence at this point. Shane made a good point that while coming out for women might be important, not doing so might not be as big a health risk for them since there is more chance for health issues to arise for men who have sex with men than women who have sex with women. Excellent point, Shane, and I am grateful for his point of view on this editorial team. While health risks are crucial to consider for coming out purposes, it’s interesting to note how coming out does figure into the health experience for everyone, women included.
For the women who identify as lesbian or bi, anxiety/depression is listed as being the second most important health concern and probably due to the stress of discrimination (which causes people to hide sexual orientation) and/or the repercussions of revealing sexual orientation. In there, it’s implied that coming out is important, but that there are consequences to doing so–consequences that hopefully do not extend to health providers, should they be chosen carefully (see the RHI piece about finding providers friendly to this community). This such anxiety/depression was mentioned midway down the list of importance for gay and bi men, but is listed as just plain depression for the transgender community. Reading these lists made me anxious. Living these lists is worse.
What can allay this anxiety and depression to an extent? Being open and honest with someone we trust with our health. Finding someone with whom we can have a therapeutic relationship and continuity of care is a right, not a privilege. As we find people in our lives with whom we can share our fears and secrets as friends, family, partners, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives, we should also seek to have a similar confidence-sharing relationship with the people who are educated and trained to know us and our bodies, and to help us. Have you noticed how comforting it is to have a continuing conversation with friends and loved ones who have your history in mind when discussing your life? The same applies to doctors and nurses and all the health care providers out there. It’s called “continuity of care.” It’s a beautiful concept in terms of love, self-love, and self-care.
As you consider yourself and your loves this Valentine season, consider your self-care. How you communicate and express yourself is important to how your year and life take shape. I encourage us all to love ourselves more and to seek care, both for the concerns that made these lists in our Health Quarterly, and the concerns that are specific just to you.
With love and care,