It was often taught to us in medical college about how responsibilities of humane and unbiased treatment are on the shoulders of every aspiring doctor, however this notion hardly leaves the lecture halls in which it is taught. There exists a spectrum of bias against visibly queer individuals and to queer problems in the medical space and I am here to not conjure stories of how bad the situation is, I am here to tell you what should ‘not’ be faced by anyone in the doctor’s clinic or workplace.
The vicinities of private and semi private hospital and clinics in the metropolitan cities might be accustomed to see queer patients on a regular basis but in government hospitals and in small cities, if one is not careful enough to reveal his/her/their orientation, chances are that the bias will definitely not be in your favour. Let me narrate a personal story when I was working in a prominent government hospital in Delhi for my internship in 2014.
The dermatology department of most government hospitals have a separate clinic called ‘Surakhsha’ clinic which translates to ‘Protection’. It mainly deals with providing free of cost advice and treatment to patients who have sexually transmitted diseases, or providing counselling for HIV and its treatment. I was posted there for a week and I realised that most of the patient load were the kinnar (transgender), transvestite and sex workers’ community. They lived in a colony behind the hospital in a slum and often visited the hospital for OPD and emergencies. A certain kinnar, whom I would name Rani, was a regular patient at the Suraksha clinic.
One day, she came to the Suraksha clinic and brought a feeble looking boy with her as well. As soon as the senior resident doctor saw her, her entire demeanor changed. Her eyes started wandering here and there, so that she could avoid meeting eyes with Rani. After half an hour, when she finally saw her, her advice was tainted with disgust and judgment which was clearly not very subtle. She scolded Rani for continuing her sex work even though she was HIV+, to which Rani responded that her counts are undetectable. When this did not convince the doctor, Rani told her the actual reason why she was there. She explained that his friend was manhandled at the border and she needed a complete STD panel check for him. The doctor looked at this thin boy, who might have been 22 or 23 years old, and immediately blamed Rani for pushing young boys towards ‘her occupation’. Rani did not respond to this, and then calming herself, asked the doctor to help the boy. The doctor wrote a prescription and pushed it away towards her and asked for a few investigations. When Rani was gone, she started gossiping and taunting about Rani’s frequent visits to the hospital and how ‘such people’ have no shame.
In her high seat, the senior resident doctor even missed the point that Rani was undetectable and that sex work was her only way to survive. She even missed the point that the boy Rani brought was not any ‘worker’ and was her neighbor’s son, whom Rani chose to help.
This was one of the many stories that I had encountered during my one year internship in the government hospital after which I decided that I would not work in such an environment as a senior. However, as I started working in private and corporate sectors, I understood that discrimination at those spaces is more subtle and nuanced and even difficult to detect.
The cost of the medicine which Rani asked for was only fifty rupees. Surprisingly it was a pink colour medicine and just like the usual queer pill, it was not easy to swallow.