NOTE: Writing about this topic in a public forum is a vulnerable and intimate act. However in light of where our country’s legislation seems to be heading, I feel compelled to share this story, especially given today’s March for Life and the upcoming anti-choice protests happening around the country on February 11. With this essay, my intentions are to help promote the important services that Planned Parenthood provides and to illuminate how we talk about our sexual health.
The first time I had an STI scare, I didn’t know where to turn. With no regular practitioner or grown-up insurance, I researched free clinics in Los Angeles but gave up after reading one too many Yelp reviews. I even entertained going to the ER.
In the swirl of my anxiety, several friends suggested I go to Planned Parenthood. For certain check ups and screenings, one friend explained how she often went there rather than her normal doctor because it was easy, non-judgmental and hassle-free. Together, we booked the first available appointment.
I have always trusted a woman’s judgment in the realm of health care. (But, let’s be honest, I trust women more about everything.) Navigating through HMOs, PPOs, co-pays, and other confusing insurance practices and policies is something they’ve had to figure out from a young age. From doctors and gynos to mamos and manis, my female friends know where to turn when you need to clear your mind about a nagging concern or simply have your cuticles trimmed.
As a gay man, I have rarely felt any sort of trust and/or understanding of the system. Maybe because I grew up in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, when the LGBT community was at war with the FDA and various regimes controlling the landscape, or maybe because I was dealing with my own internalized shame about having sex with men. Whatever the reason, for a long time, I always felt at risk speaking openly or safely with a physician about my experiences and sexual practices. I could barely admit to friends if I engaged in unprotected sex, let alone a man in a white coat who I just met five minutes ago.
I arrived for my appointment early. Thankfully there were no protestors outside the building (in today’s world, however, that’s not always the case). I took a clipboard and filled out my paperwork and waited anxiously for my name to be called. There was small talk with a nurse, and some nervous laughter. I peed cautiously in a plastic continuer and placed it on a metal shelf in the bathroom. There was a prick of blood taken from a finger, a shot in my thigh. I asked questions without feeling afraid, and I felt safe. It was like the grown up sex-ed class I never had. Before long, I was out the door and headed back to work. All on my lunch break.
That visit was well over ten years ago and still I continue to visit Planned Parenthoods around the country … just because I like to. You guys, I even went this week! I mean, is there a better time to visit your local branch than the week when our country’s administration signed legislation that will cut and/or restrict funding to international NGOs that provide family planning assistance to those in need.
Though most cisgendered, heterosexual men probably wouldn’t consider Planned Parenthood as a “go-to” when confronted with a health concern, I would say now is the time to make an appointment! (Why not!) We need more male advocates to visit and the doors at PP remain open for everyone — for queer women and men, for the trans community, for children, and for any other marginalized individual who can’t access health care on their own terms.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I was able to create a dialogue around my sexual health, including the value of having sex-positive conversations with my peers and health professionals. I feel I owe a lot of that confidence because of the foundation of support I received from #PP and that is why I stand with them today and always.
So, will you join me?
Here’s the link to how you can get more involved!