Coming Out To Your Doctor - Difficult & Private
Coming out to your doctor may be difficult, especially for if you are a teen. Often, a teenager comes out with a million thoughts running
through their head. Will my doctor accept me? Will my doctor help me? Does my doctor understand me? Will my doctor tell my parents/keep my secret? According to poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 18% of all LGBTQ Americans refrain from seeing a physician for fear of discrimination.
What If I'm Scared of Coming Out to My Doctor?
Coming out to you doctor may feel very scary and unsafe. Consider asking your doctor if their office is a safe office where acceptance is commonplace. Whenever the LGBTQ child is suffering, the most important thing I can say to them is, "You are safe. You are safe here." Because every child is special. After all, one of the best gifts a pediatrician can give to any child, especially the LGBTQ child/teen is letting them know they are special and wonderful just as they are. It is not my job to help the child/teen figure out their sexual orientation. It is my job to make them feel comfortable enough so that I can help them with any health issues they may have to date.
Come Out When You Are Ready
Coming out to your doctor can help you in many ways. However, given the difficulty that this may involve, you may want to consider calling your/any doctor's office first to ask if they care for any LGBTQ patients. Remember, you don't have to give your name out at the first call. Ultimately, this may help you feel more comfortable and ready.
How To Come Out To Your Doctor
There are many conversation starters you can use, such as "There's a conversation I need to have with you" or "How do you handle patient confidentiality?" Consider telling the doctor in a matter-of-fact way. Chances are, you are not the first LGBTQ patient they have ever had. Follow up with a prepared list of questions that you have for your appointment. There is a "Do Ask, Do Tell" brochure that may help answer questions about coming out to your doctor. It is also important to know that there are laws that protect you and your doctor, so that your information is kept private. Ask about confidentiality will make you feel safe as well. In addition, you may consider bringing a friend, partner, or family member for support.
Doctors Can Offer Support in Many Ways
I've had teens come out to me as their doctor, some have been painful to witness. Painful for me, because it incredibly hard to see someone suffer and be in such tremendous emotional turmoil and/or physical pain) for simply saying their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In the past, I reassured a transgender child in the midst of an immediate, intense, and severe panic attack by continually repeating, "You are safe. It's okay. You are safe here. You don't have to talk about it, but if you do, I'm here for you." I have had patients who became successful adults with great careers who thanked me for accepting them because I was the first person they came out to or that I cared for them and their issues with compassion and maybe even some tough love. Most recently, I held and rocked a child that I cared for over 15 years until they stopped their uncontrollable shaking because they couldn't face themselves and their sexual orientation. That child motivated me to write this blog. I want to help other LGBTQ youths know that they don't have to suffer, that their doctor can help them. Chances are your doctor cares and wants to help you in your journey to physical and mental health and peace.
Do I Have to Tell My Doctor I'm LGBTQ?
It's best if you do tell your doctor. Your doctor can't give you the best medical care if he/she doesn't know that you are a LBGTQ person. A doctor needs to know a patient's sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual activity history, to best help that patient and their medical and psychological needs.
Medical Help & Disease Prevention Available
Sexual history will help me test for, diagnose and treat STDs. Also, a pediatrician or internist will be able to teach you how to prevent HPV and offer the HPV vaccine to prevent this cancer and wart causing disease. In addition, if you are HIV negative, but at high risk for developing HIV, then your doctor may start PrEP medication. What is PrEP? Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is Truvada, which is a daily pill that when taken helps prevent HIV in people who are high-risk by up to 92%. Your doctor may start this medication, if you agree to take it every day and follow-up with appointments every three (3) months. Consider bringing a List of Top Ten Issues LGBTQ People Can Discuss with Their Doctor with you to your appointment. In addition, if you are a transgender youth or adult, your doctor, yes, even your pediatrician, can refer you to a specialist for hormonal treatment.
Psychological Help Available
A doctor will also be able to make some psychological recommendations, if needed. LGBTQ teens are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, have increased risk of suicide, abuse, may need referral to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and/or a support group, like the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), and GSA Network. GSA is a student-led or community based organization. GSA is an important resource on social media on Twitter (@GLSEN) and Facebook. GSA Network is also a resource available on Twitter (@GSANetwork) and Facebook. Local support groups area usual available for GSA and GSA Network on social media and in as clubs many schools. Lastly, your doctor is a source of support, simply be accepting you and caring for you.
Doctors Willing to Learn LGBTQ Issues & Needs
Your doctor may be comfortable with caring for you as a LGBTQ patient. However, we are not classically trained to care for LGBTQ patients, so there usually is a learning curve. However, if your doctor says, "I don't know how to care for that issue, but let me do my research; I'll get back with you on that particular issue," then you have a great doctor indeed. A doctor that's willing to learn, cares for you, and is honest is the best kind of doctor.
Additional Resources for LGBTQ Teens & Parents
• Coming Out: Information for Parents of LGBTQ Teens is a helpful resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
• How To Support Your Child Who is Questioning Their Sexual Orientation by Everyday Feminism which includes definitions of many LGBTQ+ terms.
• Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics by the Human Rights Campaign.
• Sexual Attraction & Orientation by Kids Health.