What Pride Month Means To Me
Last year, the New York City Pride March was two days after round 3 of dose-dense Taxol. I was wiped, but I slid a rainbow wig onto my squeaky bald head, drew on some eyebrows, and rallied anyway. My partner and I stood on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village. Streamers fell to the ground around us, withering in the 90 degree NYC heat. I felt a similar withering throughout my exhausted body, but we stayed for as long as I could manage, holding hands and cheering as the streets flowed with thousands of people. When I finally gave in we rode a rainbow-filled subway back home to Brooklyn Heights, where we climbed to the roof and listened to the music of the dancing in the streets. I am so privileged to be gay in a time and a place where my sexuality has never impacted the quality of the medical care I receive. This is not the case for everyone. We have much work to do to ensure that LGBTQ people and individuals of color receive the same quality of care that I, as a white, straight-passing woman have come to expect. Trans men and women face an incredible amount of prejudice and systemic oppression in medicine that directly translate to higher death rates, and a lower standard of care. Black women with breast cancer are dying at rates 40% higher than white women. We are failing our sisters; we are failing the womxn around us.
This year, as we celebrate Pride in a time rife with violence, racism and hate I am reminded of stories of the first Pride March, which was actually not a march at all, but a riot. Not like, “hilarious, that march is a riot!”, but a real riot, starting on Christopher Street just blocks from where we stood, after police raided the Stonewall Inn. “Pride” was started by queer, trans women of color, the very same population that remains the most vulnerable and systematically oppressed today. Pride must continue to be a march, it must continue to be a call for action, despite how far we think we’ve come.
To be honest, I hadn’t really thought much about what being gay with breast cancer means, or how my experience might be different than others. The fact that I didn’t have to think about it tells you all you need to know.
Being gay with breast cancer today means I held my partner’s hand at my first appointment. It means her name is listed on all my paperwork as my significant other. It means no one batted an eye when her name was written down as my emergency contact. Being gay with breast cancer today means doctors sat down with us and talked about our options for family planning in the future. It means I could sign a document giving my partner custody over my 17 eggs frozen somewhere in Manhattan, should I die from this disease and never use them. Being gay with breast cancer today means never having to think about whether being gay will make my doctors think less of me, or provide me with a lesser quality of care. It is a gift that so many women before me never had.
I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for gay women to go through treatment without their partners by their sides, fearing that they’d either be prevented from entering the exam rooms, or that acknowledgment of a same-sex partner would result in inferior care.
“Who all do we have here?” Dr. M asked as we crammed into the consultation room at my first appointment. I waved my hand meekly.
“I’m the patient. This is my mom” I said, pointing to my mother.
“Hello, mom” Dr. M said.
“This is my dad”
“This is my partner”
“Hello, partner” She said. And then she moved on. Next subject. No big deal. Not what we were there to talk about.
That simple interaction was a privilege, and was all I needed to realize that being gay wasn’t something I was going to have to be scared about during all of this. And that release of fear, that knowledge that you, as you are, are welcome here, is what we all need when we face this disease. We all deserve to know that we are safe, we are welcome, we will be healed. – Robin Goode