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Wed Jan 30, 2013, 10:57 AM

Lesbians and the Fear of the Forceps

So when a friend of mine, a lesbian-about-town everyone knows and loves, asked, “Can you help me with my Pap smear?” I joked that technically, no, that’s above my pay grade. But I soon realized she really needed help.

I work for Planned Parenthood of Southern Finger Lakes’ education department, where we’ve been bringing together activists in the LGBT liberation and reproductive justice movements to work toward the shared goal of equal rights for over 20 years. I also founded our LGBT Health and Wellness program, Out for Health, and I’m used to getting calls for referrals for everything from doctors to day care. Out for Health provides outreach, education, and information to LGBT people, their health care providers, and the community at large about the importance of inclusive, welcoming, and respectful care for LGBT people.

While I was a bit surprised by my friend’s request for me to be her wingman for her Pap test, it was an easy yes. Honestly, though, when she first started telling me her story I got pissed off. This woman has a great job. She’s generally amazing and politically astute and has her ducks in a row on everything from fracking to Proposition 8. Except she’s 46 and she’d never had an annual exam, a Pap, any exam whatsoever that involved her genitals.

But as I listened, I realized that she was terrified. Embarrassed. She’d learned early to be suspicious of doctors; they never quite respected her queerness. She’d never been sexually active with men; she’d never sought a birth control pill prescription for contraception or as a means of managing some of the other boatload of crap that some people with a uterus can experience with menstrual cycles. Instead, she’d gotten the message so many queer women have gotten: lesbians don’t need that kind of health care. Lesbian sex is safe sex — no risk of sexually transmitted infections? And really, who wants to endure a litany of birth control questions that are too often and too aggressively paired with a women’s health checkup anyway! So at 46, against that backdrop, she’d taken care of almost every other preventive medical intervention possible, but not the Pap test.


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