Christopher Leo Daniels.
I was a lucky kid: no broken bones, sprains, or cuts that needed stitches. So completely unaccustomed to hospitals and doctors, I took for granted that I could coast on good genes, good habits, and good luck. But as a kid, my healthcare was completely covered by my parents or the jobs I had in my 20s — that is, until I became 30, moved to New York, and became a freelancer, with no insurance.
That was 20 years ago. So, here I was, coasting again — this time with no backup. I was busy working, building dreams, paying rent, finding love, and all things a young gay man in New York does. Health insurance and doctors took a back seat to other priorities, like the gym. It was only scary when I really thought about it, so I really didn’t think about it. It was a precarious game, and at any moment my fate could have changed.
But hitting the gym and getting STD screenings did not represent comprehensive health care. In my 30s, I could pretend it was enough. New York City offers free STD screenings and treatments, and shots for flu, tetanus, and even hepatitis.
Then there was the prostate exam. We LGBT folks experience misunderstanding, judgment, or disrespect, both mild and overt, and learn to maneuver around it just to get through the next 10 minutes of our lives. Without getting too graphic, 10 years ago during an STD screening, while getting a digital (finger) prostate exam, I expressed to the doctor that he was being rough. Instead of empathy or a gentler touch, the physician told me that since I was gay, I should have no problem with how he was doing the exam. His words weren’t so polite. Not only was I feeling violated, but it was implied that I should’ve been enjoying it. Ouch. That was my last prostate exam — until this year.
In 2014, I stopped coasting. The Affordable Care Act forced my hand. I always wanted health insurance, but now it was affordable. So after signing up for the MetroPlus health insurance plan, I immediately felt a huge weight had been lifted that I’d forgotten was even there. I was energized and excited to take my healthcare seriously. After all, my parents are in their mid-80s now — one with hypertension, the other with early Alzheimer’s — so the writing’s on the wall. Nobody gets out alive, and almost nobody is in perfect health right up to the end. I was ready to pick a primary doctor again, after 20 years.
I then discovered that the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) was opening a Comprehensive LGBT Health Center at Metropolitan Hospital. Perfect!
“I could get a gay doctor,” I thought.
It didn’t matter that it was a new health center or that it was across town. What mattered was that I never wanted to feel the way I did during that prostate exam, 10 years ago — ever.
Here I am a few months later, catching up on 20 years of check-ups, and with the specially trained LGBT health center team, I’m free to discuss my most intimate concerns. The nurses are not just helpful but downright welcoming. My insurance kicked in a few weeks into my visits, but I was assured that whatever the situation, they were ready to work with me. I finally found a medical home.
I also realize that I didn’t need a “gay doctor” any more than a three-year-old needs a three year-old doctor. A three-year-old needs a doctor who’s skilled at working with and understanding three-year-olds. I needed respect, and I’m receiving it. I also need a doctor who’s going to ask me the right kinds of questions, and one whom I can ask questions in return. I am now a collaborator in my own healthcare. Apparently, I was walking around with hypertension. Well, not anymore, because it’s under control.
Luck is a wonderful thing — if you’re lucky, and I was for a very long time. But even I realized that luck can run out. I urge every one of us in the LGBT community to demand more respect and to respect ourselves. I finally respected myself enough to take my healthcare seriously as should you. My colonoscopy is scheduled for later this month. I’m 50. It’s that time. Wish me luck.
Christopher Leo Daniels is a freelance cinematographer living in Washington Heights. HHC’s Metropolitan Hospital Comprehensive LGBT Health Center (nyc.gov/hhc/metropolitanhospital), where he has been receiving care, is located at 1901 First Avenue at 97th Street, fourth floor. It is open Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by appointment only. To schedule an appointment or speak with a member of the LGBT Health Center staff, patients and families can contact 212-423-7292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.