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"I want to get a tattoo or a piercing, but my parents won’t let me. How do I explain to them that this is how I want to express myself?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Allyee Whaley Says:

When I was 13 years old I wrote my parents a 10 page paper on why getting my belly button pierced was an expression of my true self, with lots of facts and research supporting my argument. My parents didn’t really know what to do with the paper, but they did end up letting me get my belly button pierced. Then my nose. Then my lip. Then my eyebrow (you get the picture). Tattoos were always off the table. Around 16, I went behind my parents back and got a tattoo anyway, and my parents felt like their trust was broken. Now almost a decade later, I am covered in tattoos and piercings, my hand is fully tattooed and all hope is lost that I will ever fit into mainstream society. And guess what? My parents still totally love me and support me. But not everyone grows up in Oakland, California with feminist queer parents who always encouraged us to be fully and authentically ourselves, so here are some things I would keep in mind when navigating this path:

1.     Always try and partner with your parents first. If you want a specific tattoo that means something to you, explain what it means and why it is important. My first tattoo was a quote (that I misquoted, on my arm), “For Failure Isn’t Falling Down, But Staying Down.” I was def a “wild child” who was committed to being the best at being the worst, but I was trying to turn things around. I explained to my parents this was the first quote I ever heard that made me feel like I could change, that I could be more, I could be happy. I explained that every time I wanted to give up, I couldn’t, because I would look down at my arm and be reminded of my commitment to betterness. As mad as they were that I lied to them, it was pretty hard for them to fight this explanation. I definitely don’t think tattoos haveto have meaning to be important, I think body modification in itself is a meaningful practice, and has been throughout human history.

2.     It is super important to weigh that people with tattoos & piercings still do face discrimination, especially if you count in other forms of oppression working with them (race, religion, ability, orientation, gender, location, etc).  Only in recent years has the culture around tattoos shifted in America, as they are becoming mainstream. Parents often don’t support their kin getting tattooed, not only because they don’t want them to suffer (from the pain of body modification), but because they often don’t want us to be seen as “society’s deviants”. A lot of people say this is why family can get initially spooked when LGBTQ+ young people come out, because they instinctively want to keep them out of harms way and they know by being LBGTQ+ they will live a harder life. The same logic can be applied for tattoos/piercings. If you let your parents know you have considered this reality, it can help them understand you are weighing all the consequences and still think it’s important.

3.     “But what if you regret it?!” – the number one argument against body modification. The most common response to this argument tends to be, “tattoos can always be covered, they can always be removed,” but I think it is important to point out to your parents that body modification can also teach us a hell of a lot about acceptance. I think it is pretty normal to have different feelings towards our tattoos/piercings as we grow. For years my lip piercing was such a part of my identity, my face, my reality, I never once thought to remove it. Now that it’s been out for years I laugh at old pictures of myself like “why world!!!!” but I don’t regret it. I appreciate how much it meant to me, it showed the world from the get go that I was different, I was badass. Body modification has taught me to not only accept myself, my past, my future, but celebrate each part of my journey as uniquely my own. Beyond regret, let your parents know that body modification can also be a tool for radical self love & care. Getting tattooed was one of the first times I realized what it felt like to actually love myself.  With each new piece, I stare in the mirror filled with joy thinking, “damn, look at how awesome I am!” Tattoos and piercings were also one of the first things to show me how to physically care for and nurture my body (because body modification takes lots of daily care, anywhere from 2 weeks-9 months, and beyond). Radical self love, radical self acceptance, those are things body modification can teach us if we let them.

4.     Not all parents are going to be okay with tattoos or piercings. Some might never be okay with them. Your safety and the value of your relationship with your parents are super important to weigh as you decide to embark on this lifestyle. I have adult friends to this day who hide their tattoos from their parents. Most of the time my friends hide their tattoos so they can retain their relationship with their parents, and therefore also their community/culture/religion. That is their choice and something they have considered the pros and cons of, so I encourage you to do the same. Some parents might say stuff like “if you ever get a tattoo, I will no longer speak to you.” This is something to weigh: is getting a tattoo/piercing right now worth losing XYZ?

5.     If all else fails and you decide to go behind your parents back and get one anyway, please consider a few things. Any tattoo/piercing shop that is working on someone under the age of 18 without their parents consent is doing something very illegal, and could lose their license for doing so. From my experience, these shops tend to also be doing other illegal things, including but not limited to, not being up to health codes, as well as not being very experienced at giving out tattoos or piercings. These things increase the chance of infection, injury, transmission of things like HIV through needles, and very very very worst case scenario can lead to death (usually from infection). Also, they tend to not give out very good tattoos, but hey, that’s relative, right? All this to say, I’m totally a harm reduction gal and if you weigh all these things and still think it’s worth it, then go for it. That is your choice. I know my first tattoo saved my life over and over again when things got dark– I wouldn’t take it back for the world. I also would have gone about it TOTALLY differently if I was to get it now, but whatever, that’s all a part of growing up, learning and changing.

Wanting a tattoo and/or piercing is totally normal. You may or may never convince your parents to let you get one while you live under their roof/they feed you or finically support you. They may never acknowledge, support or appreciate your body modification even after you move out. If you’re lucky, they may come around one day, but if that day isn’t soon enough for you, it’s up to you to weigh all the pros and cons and move forward. It is your life, your body, and your choice.

***
Allyee Whaley has long strived to create balance in the universe by listening attentively, advocating ruthlessly, and loving compassionately. She is an openly polyamorous queer based in New York City who will talk your ear off about anthropology, human sexuality, social justice, and mystical creatures. Please help support her and all of our incredible contributors here on Patreon.

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"My partner is Muslim, and though she has told her family she is a lesbian and has moved out, she is struggling with not having told her family she is seeing me. How can I support her when she says she feels like she is living a “double life” and help her tell her family?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Family is hard. We can tackle that bit in a moment, but before we talk about parents, I want to bring something else up. Family can be messy and complicated, and feeling like you can’t reconcile two intimate parts of who you are (pitting religion and identity against each other) can be especially painful. But. It’s important to remember that if you’re here for your partner and close enough to be living together, you’re her family too.

There are two sides to a double life. We can strategize ways to help your partner reconcile her identity with her family, but there’s a part of this that you have much more control over. LGBTQ Muslim identity doesn’t begin and end with our relationships to our birth family. If your partner feels like she’s living a double life as a lesbian and a Muslim, here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: “How am I making room for my partner’s Muslim identity in our relationship?”

We don’t leave our faith and our culture behind when we move out of our parents’ house. It follows us everywhere. For a lot of Muslims who are also LGBTQ, it feels impossible to “be both”—and this isn’t just because of hostility to gender and sexual minorities in the masjid. The difficulty reconciling our identities with our faith is also (maybe just as much) because of hostility toward Muslims in LGBTQ spaces. People like to create a narrative with a monolithic, oppressive Islam on one side and an inclusive, accepting secular society on the other, and never the two shall meet. Queer and trans Muslims are sort of caught in the middle, vying for acceptance from our families and our chosen communities at the same time.* Fostering an LGBTQ movement that is inclusive to people of faith is, in my opinion, a critically important goal we should have for today’s generation of activists. It starts with us.

When it comes right down to it, you can’t change a dang thing about your partner’s family. Maybe it’s better to focus on the thing that you CAN do—help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity within your relationship.So how can you help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity? I fielded this question to my ever-inspiring WLW** Muslimah fam in the groupchat and there was one thing that really stuck out: educate yourself.

Learn about the experiences of Muslims in the West. About our cultures and traditions.*** Don’t come from a place of judgment—realize that just because a tradition may be a little different doesn’t mean it’s backwards or oppressive. In this age of The War on Terror, many people are quick to look at Islam through a very skewed lens. Don’t let those little Islamophobic gremlins get in the way of learning the truth about what is ultimately a very diverse, dynamic, and fulfilling faith practice. More than just learning, find a way to practice together. Do you know how friggin’ FUN Ramadan can be? Sure, it gets strenuous at times, but fasting and feasting together can create an opportunity for strong, lasting relationship-building (kissing a person with fasting breath can be an exercise in true love, and you really come to understand who a person is at her core when you first experience her hangry 15-minutes-til-maghrib face).

Understanding the faith may help you understand your partner a little better. Find a way to ask her, what can I do to help you feel fulfilled in this part of your life? Talk with her about what you can both do to make her faith as much a part of your family as anything else.

~~~

Now. Dealing with parents. Alright. One of the most frustrating parts about this whole being alive thing is this: the things in our life that require time to get better are usually the situations where it feels like time is the hardest thing to give. When it comes to dealing with our parents, sometimes the best thing for growth and understanding between family is a little bit of space and a little bit of time.

Now, I’m an old lady so I have a little bit of perspective. I came out to my parents ten years ago. There were arguments. There were tears. In all honesty, there were a few bad years between us. And those years where we were estranged from each other? They hurt like hell. But I didn’t give up.

The strategy I took with my parents is one I come back to again and again when dealing with difficult people or stressful interactions in my life and activism: prove them wrong by living well. When things get tough, just live the best life you can. Let them see just how good the truth looks on you. As time went on and the overt tension began to ease between us, we began to talk, and with conversation we found a way to come together from a place of respect and understanding. They knew how unhappy and afraid I was in the closet. They could see how healthy, fulfilled, and whole I felt when I was able to be open with myself and the world. They came to understand how the person in front of them now was happy and confident and nothing at all like the depressed, anxious teenage wreck who left the house at 18. After some hard conversations, eventually my parents came around to understand I was still their child, and we still loved each other, and we could use that as a jumping-off point to understand each other. My personal relationship with my parents isn’t perfect, but it’s stronger than it has ever been and comes from a place of mutual respect and understanding. It took time and work, but it’s worth it.

~~~

So what can you do right now? Be there for your partner, no matter how those hard conversations go with her parents. Come from a place of compassion and understanding, and let her know you’ll be there to support her (all of her—Islam and all) no matter how things turn out. If it goes poorly and family relationships get even more strained than they are now, then do what we do best: Prove them wrong by living well. Time can be the greatest healer of all. Insha’allah****, love and understanding win out in the end.

~~~

* — To learn more about LGBTQIA+ Muslims (most importantly, how awesome we are) there are a lot of great resources online but a great place to start is at the website for MASGD (Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity). If you’re on Tumblr, a great place to start is at this Queer Muslim Masterpost.

** — WLW = “women who love women”

*** — It’s important to recognize that there is no universalized Muslim culture. Muslims come from all cultures and countries of the globe

***  —- “Insha’allah” translates to something like “if Allah wills” and will often follow whenever a Muslim makes plans or is talking about things in the future.

***

Mahdia Lynn is a writer, feminist critic and activist living on the stolen and colonized land currently recognized as the United States of America. When she isn’t working as as coordinator of the Transgender Muslim Support Network or helping organize the annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, she is a chef and comic nerd who enjoys eating pizza and taking naps. She has a website with previously published work and runs a sorta-messily curated tumblr if you want to check in on what she’s up to.

Also check out our resource list specifically for LGBTQ Muslim youth, curated as a part of Longest Days, Sacred Nights!

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“Hi, I am 17 and identify as bisexual. I’m wondering if any of the parents who write for The Parents Project could give me advice on coming out to my parents. I think I would be comfortable telling my mum, but I worry that she will tell my dad. I don’t know how he will react. He has been bad at talking to me in the past and is generally very confrontational.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Carmella Van Vleet Says:

Wow. What a great question. I know that many young people are in your same position. I’m honored to offer what advice I can as a parent of a gay teenager.

A little background: I’m a children’s book author and sometimes I do workshops with kids in schools. When I go into schools, I typically wear my rainbow bracelet to show students I’m an LGBTQIA ally. I’ll never forget the first time someone came up to me after a workshop to share his story.

As part of my workshop that day for a group of high schoolers, I’d read the opening chapter of a story about a girl whose brother is kicked out of his home for being gay. A young man your age cautiously approached me after class. He told me he was glad I was writing about queer kids and that he’d come out as bisexual to his parents the week before.

“How did that go?” I asked him.

“Not great,” he said. “My mom took it okay but my dad is still mad. He’s not speaking to me.”

I spent the next few minutes telling him what I’m about to tell you now.

First, what you’re doing is a brave thing. It’s especially hard when you’re not sure how your parents will react. Be proud of yourself and never, ever apologize for who you are and for living honestly.

Second, here’s something young people need to know about telling their parents they’re LGBTQ: it’s a journey for them, too. Parents, even the most accepting ones, are put on this new road once their kids come out. It’s like the GPS told us to take a sharp left into a corn field. Getting our bearings takes time.

Maybe you realized a long time ago that you’re bisexual, or maybe you came to this understanding recently. The point is, you’ve had time to process your feelings. But this is likely new (and possibly unexpected) information for your parents. Perhaps they will react strongly and hurtfully at first. If they do, don’t be discouraged and decide this is their final position on the matter. MANY parents who are initially upset come around with patience and education. Just remember that your parents love you and will do they best they can – and they can evolve past whatever their first reactions might be.

So. How should you come out at home? Only you know your parents and situation best, but here are some thoughts.

If you’re worried about how your dad will react, tell your mom first. Pick a time when the two of you are alone and aren’t likely to be interrupted. The “how” part is up to you. Are you a jump-in-the-deep-end person? (“Mom, I’m bisexual.”) Or a wade-into-the-water kind of person? (“Hey Mom, I was reading an article about famous people who are bisexual.”)

After you’ve told her, let her take the lead. Answer questions as best you can. (You may not know some of the answers, and that’s okay. You’re still probably learning, too.) Remind her you’re the same person she’s always known; she just knows something more about you now. Give her time alone if she needs it and revisit the subject later on.

Now, about your father. If you believe that you could find yourself in any kind of physical danger if your father were to find out about your sexuality, then you need to carefully consider if this is the best time to come out. Or you need to create a safety plan so you can leave if necessary. For example, you might need a place to stay. Can you find a friend who’s willing to take you in? You will need to consider how you will get to and from school or work. You may also need to come up with a way to pay for your own expenses.

If you don’t think you’re ready for your dad to know, talk to your mom about this. Explain your concerns and develop a plan together for how and when to approach the situation. It’s probably not reasonable to ask your mother to keep this secret from your father forever, but you are entitled to a say in how and when you come out to him. You might be surprised that she has some good ideas about how to approach your dad. Or maybe she’d be willing (with your permission) to break the news to him so you don’t have to.

If your father confronts you once he knows, then listen and answer questions the best you can. You don’t have to take emotional abuse. If things get heated, tell him you’re going leave to give him time to process things. Don’t say something like, “We’ll discuss this after you calm down,” or “You’re being irrational/old-fashioned/prejudiced” because these will likely make him feel defensive. And don’t get pulled into the yelling. You’re trying to defuse this situation. (Yes, you’re being the mature one here. Little secret? Sometimes parents can learn from their kids.)

If he gives you the silent treatment for a while (like the dad of the young man I mentioned earlier), that’s okay. It may hurt, but give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s working on it. Try emailing or texting him some helpful articles or resources. This kind of non-confrontational communication can be useful because it gives everyone time to think before they speak.

Again, coming out is a huge step for LGBTQ young people. Try to remember that it’s a huge thing for your parents, too. With time, patience, and love, you’ll all navigate this unfamiliar territory peacefully.

Good luck!!

***

Carmella Van Vleet is a wife, former teacher, and the mother of three young people (ages 22, 20 and 18) who she thinks are pretty cool despite the fact they insisted on growing up. Carmella is also a full-time children’s author who’s committed to including LGBTQ families in her work whenever possible. You can visit her at www.carmellavanvleet.com.

Help support our contributors here on Patreon!

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"What should I be doing, as a queer person, to support Planned Parenthood right now, especially in light of recent events?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Grace Manger Says:

You should be speaking up and fighting like hell. And most importantly, recognizing that even if attacks on Planned Parenthood do not directly affect your daily life, you still have a responsibility to see underlying connections between all oppression.

Planned Parenthood is too often framed as a place for cis-women who sleep with cis-men and absolutely no one else of any gender or orientation. For this reason, the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are all too easily seen as “a straight woman’s problem.” This, of course, is not true, and plenty of queer and trans folks go to Planned Parenthood for a long laundry list of reasons, like STI screenings and treatments for STIs, UTIs, and yeast infections; access to safer sex materials; and, at some clinics, even hormone replacement therapy. But but but! Even if they didn’t—even if Planned Parenthood offered abortion services only and nothing else—these attacks would still be a queer issue, and we would still have to voice our support and show up for the fight. Let me tell you why.

First, a little back story. This past summer, a series of illegally filmed videos were released online by a pro-life organization with segments cut and pasted together that gave the impression that Planned Parenthood clinics were profiting off selling fetal tissue. The truth quickly came out, including plenty of expert opinions that the videos were heavily altered and misleading, as well as a reminder that it is perfectly legal for a person to opt to donate fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research.

Republicans in Congress took this opportunity to introduce extreme pro-life legislation to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood. This loss in funding would have meant lack of access to birth control and family planning services for the most financially in need, among many other basic healthcare services Planned Parenthood provides. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed this bill, but, thankfully, President Obama vetoed it.

On the bright side, more and more people are standing with Planned Parenthood and sharing their stories of how Planned Parenthood saved their lives. Additionally, in a twist of the best kind of irony, the two people responsible for these videos were indicted for tampering with government records, and one of them was also indicted for attempting to purchase human organs. On the dark side, though, opponents of Planned Parenthood have become violent and aggressive, terrorizing staff and patients outside of clinics and sending constant physical and cyber threats. On November 27, 2015, an armed man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and shot 12 people, held others hostage, and killed three. It’s clear that these attacks are not ending any time soon.

In addition to all the many medical services Planned Parenthood provides, Planned Parenthood clinics are also community spaces where people can learn about their bodies—spaces where they are trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies. We live in a society that teaches women (in particular) that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies; Planned Parenthood is trying to turn that thinking on its head and defend what should always be ours to control.

Now, I know you didn’t ask for a current events lecture, but stay with me. Knowing the facts and educating yourself on these issues is so hugely important, because we can’t pick and choose whose equality is worth fighting for. We can’t say gay people should be able to get married and trans people should be able to safely use public bathrooms while looking away when black people are murdered in the street or when low-income women get kidney infections after repeatedly untreated UTIs. These injustices are related, and meant to divide us amongst our own personal struggles. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “None of us are free until we are all free.”

So, Anonymous, all of this is to say that you, “as a queer person” have a million ways to get involved. You can start by calling someone out if they make a callous and inaccurate joke about how Planned Parenthood “sells dead baby parts.” Arm yourself with knowledge on this issue so that you can confidently educate those around you. Spend some time thinking about how bigger themes on this topic relate to other queer and trans issues that maybe have directly affected you. You can also use the hashtag #IStandWithPP to acknowledge all of the life-saving services Planned Parenthood provides and show your e-support in this fight. When in doubt, you can just share this post with your friends and followers to pass the knowledge along through the Internet.

That’s a lot of heavy stuff I just threw at your face brains, but if you’ve read this far: Hello! And thank you! You’re great. Thank you for showing your support, and have the best day ever.

***

Grace Manger manages all content and development at The Parents Project. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon where she writes for Bitch Media and works as a case worker for Planned Parenthood. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger

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“hi, how do you handle being intersex when you go to the doctor? my primary care doctor knows that I’m intersex, but I never know if I should talk about it if I have to go to the school nurse, the ER, or see a specialist. do I have to tell them? does it matter if I don’t? thx”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Claudia Astorino Says:

Awww, booooo, Anonymous—having to go to the doctor’s is never fun, but having additional needs on top of your medical needs isn’t always intuitive to navigate. When I’ve chosen to disclose aspects of my body that aren’t normative for women—or even to say that I’m intersex—I’ve had results that range from really positive to really awful (like, eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s awful #chubbyhubbyforevs). Based on these various experiences, I’ve created a few rules for myself that tend to end up making my visits a bit more pleasant.

1) I only disclose information about my body that is (I think is likely to be) medically necessary. So like, if I have a sore throat and go to the doctor’s, it’s probbbbbbably highly unlikely that my XY chromosomes are the reason I’m hacking up a lung. If the reason I’m getting medical care CLEARLY has nothing to do with my being intersex, I don’t mention it.

Now, I’ve put “I think is likely to be” in this rule as a reminder that if I think that my being intersex might be relevant to my medical care, then it may be worth bringing up to my doctor.  For instance, if my doctor may say something to the effect of, “Well, [health concern] is highly uncommon in women,” I may say, “Well, that may still be worth exploring since I’m not a biologically typical female. I’m an intersex person, and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity. Is [health concern] likely to impact me?”

2) If doctors ask questions about my body that are medically relevant, I answer them (although I don’t have to give them all the details). I had an appendicitis scare, and the doctors performed an MRI of my lower abdomen to see if my appendix was inflamed. After doing this, one of the ER nurses said that she’d observed that I didn’t have a uterus, and asked me why.  I said, “I was born without a uterus.” In similar instances, I might follow up with, “I didn’t have a hysterectomy or other procedure you might want to be aware of.” These medical professionals are likely making sure that they’re ruling out any possible reasons why I may be having a set of symptoms, and answering these questions helps them to do that. However, I’m not obligated to provide further details. Read on, intrepid Anonymous!

3) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I’m not obligated to answer. So. The thing is, doctors are people. And we people are living at a time in history where intersex people aren’t highly visible or well-understood. Many people don’t know what it means to be an intersex person, and sometimes these people wear white coats and stethoscopes and hold medical degrees. Sometimes, it is clear that medical professionals are asking questions about your body that aren’t medically relevant, and you might feel really uncomfortable with this. Well, Anonymous, I’m here to say it loud and clear: YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS, AT ALL, EVER

Let’s go back to that appendicitis scare I had. After I stated that I was born without a uterus the attending nurse asked me, “Um, why is that?” Hopefully, this nurse was trying to ask me if there was other medically relevant information she should know about. In response to situations like this, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “That isn’t medically relevant in this case,” and state that I haven’t had a hysterectomy or other procedure they might want to know about, as suggested above. Another way to respond to questions like this is by asking another question: “Is that medically relevant?” or “Can you tell me how that’s medically relevant?” and wait for a response.

What doctors need to know is information that is medically relevant. That I’m intersex and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity and I have XY chromosomes and I was born with testes and blah blah blurgh blah is usually not medically relevant information. Under those circumstances, I don’t need to report this info. If I feel comfortable providing this information, I can choose to do so, but I’m not required to.

Occasionally, you may have an encounter that makes it clear that doctors are asking questions about your body out of curiosity, and that’s not appropriate or okay. You are visiting them to stop hacking up your lungs or prevent appendageddon—not to teach them about intersex people.

Let me tell you a story.  Several years ago, after I moved to NYC, I went to try and find a doctor to serve as my primary care physician. During my first appointment with a physician we shall refer to only as Dr. Doodoopoobutt, I was asked why I took a daily estrogen pill. Since Dr. DDPB was going to be my GP, I came out to them as intersex, and told them my form of intersex. Dr. DDPB responded by asking a series of inappropriate questions, including, “So, um, do you have a penis? Oh. *pause* So you have a vagina, then? Uh, what do you and don’t you have?” Later, when I was lying on the exam table, I was terrified that Dr. DDPB was going to try to insist I should pull down my pants so they could inspect my genitals.

Today, if this situation had happened, I would have the confidence to say, “Those questions aren’t medically relevant. Can we move on?” or perhaps to say, “Those questions are medically irrelevant and they’re insensitive. I’m going to leave now,” and walk out the door and buy a hot chocolate and sit on a bench in Central Park and watch the squirrels stealing soft pretzels right out of the garbage cans, because eff that noise you know? But at the time, I didn’t know these options were open to me. Dear Anonymous, know that if any medical professional acts in a manner that’s inappropriate or disrespectful, you don’t have to sit in that plastic patient’s chair and try to deal. You are fully within your right to let them know it’s not okay, to leave, to go get that hot chocolate.

4) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I reserve the right to lie about it.

Yep, you read that correctly, Anonymous. Real talk:  I may choose not to be truthful in answering questions about my body related to my intersex if I know it’s not medically relevant—and especially if I don’t feel comfortable with a particular healthcare provider. I have mixed feelings about this—I want to be clear about the fact that, in general, I don’t advocate lying to health care providers, and that coming out to medical professionals can be a positive experience. That being said, you are not required to come out. It can be painful when clinicians are less-than-sensitive about my body after coming out to them as intersex. I’ve dealt with a lot of damaging words and procedures from various doctors at multiple medical facilities during my childhood and adolescence—I value myself and my emotional health too much to put myself in a similar position again as an adult.

In what situations might one lie? There are often standard questions you’re asked to fill out on medical forms or asked by clinicians that you can’t answer truthfully without coming out and having a conversation about it afterward. For example, I’ve never gotten my period, but I’ve never had a medical appointment where I didn’t have to report when my last period was.  Although I tell doctors now, “I don’t get my period,” or “I have amenorrhea,” and go from there, I used to simply lie about it when I was younger because I didn’t know that, “I don’t get my period,” was actually an acceptable answer. My go-to was, “The first of the month,” and then sit there white-knuckling it because I was nervous they knew somehow I wasn’t fessing up.

Finally, I am fortunate that I have never felt truly unsafe when visiting medical facilities as an LGBTQIA individual. However, this is not always the case for LGBTQIA patients. If I felt that my safety was at issue by disclosing my intersex, I would not hesitate to lie to protect myself, and leave the facility if I was able to. Remember, you can always find a new doctor. Keeping yourself safe—even if you have to lie—is okay. #safetyfirst #always

Well, Anonymous, I hope that this helps you out! Before appointments, I’d recommend spending a few minutes thinking about what information you’re comfortable disclosing and how much—it will make you feel more comfortable during the appointment and feel empowered that you’re taking control of the conversation about your body (which is not what most of us have experienced being medicalized as kids).

Fingers and toes crossed that your next appointment goes great! <3

***

Claudia Astorino is an intersex activist living in NYC.  Claudia serves as Associate Director of Organization Intersex International’s USA chapter (OII-USA), coordinates the Annual Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) events in NYC, and writes for Full-Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome (her personal blog) and Autostraddle. Help support our contributors here on Patreon!

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