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Outside the tick-box

Your stories

Health services can be difficult to navigate for people who don’t identify as male or female. Here Amber Loomis (pictured below), Policy and Research Co-ordinator at LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, writes about what it feels like to go for a routine health check as a non-binary person.

Amber Loomis

By Amber Loomis

“Bring this paperwork back when you are finished, and we will be with you soon. Thank you so much, Ms.” The receptionist smiles at me as they hand over a clipboard and a pen.

I grimace and try to muster a ‘thank you’, but the words get caught in my throat, and I end up squeaking out a ‘thanks’, while slinking away to melt into a waiting room chair.

I quickly glance over the paperwork, and just as I expected, I’m faced with the dreaded question about my gender. There are two tick-the-box options – Male and Female – and it’s as if their presence is taunting me and asking me to declare something that is not my truth.

It’s certainly not the first time I’ve experienced misgendering in the health care system; unfortunately, I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’m here for a cervical screening test, which I know is important but also something I had been putting off, knowing that I would likely be misgendered throughout the process.

Being unable to access safe and inclusive health services remains a challenge for non-binary people, especially those living in rural areas and those living at the intersections of multiple marginalised identities.

It’s not just women who need access to services such as cervical cancer prevention, non-binary people may need this care too.

Private Lives 3, Australia’s largest study on LGBTIQ+ health and wellbeing, found that only 20% of non-binary participants rated their health as good or excellent. Only one in five non-binary participants reported feeling accepted a lot or always when accessing a health or support service.

Additionally, nearly 75% of non-binary respondents reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress, and existing research shows that these high rates have been associated with experiences of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination.

So, what’s needed to make services safer for us?

Using the 2020 ABS Standard on intake forms is one practical step that can help providers better understand the diversity of who they are providing services to. Asking for pronouns on intake forms can also help providers understand how to best refer to their patients.

Embedding inclusive language that goes beyond the binary can also help people feel more confident and comfortable in seeking care. For example, it’s not just women who need access to services such as cervical cancer prevention, non-binary people may need this care too.

Understanding the specific needs of each patient, no matter their gender can help get us one step closer to equitable health care outcomes. And of course, training for health care workers about the unique needs in our communities can play a significant role in changing the course for our health and wellbeing.

All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Non-binary people are no different in this regard when we are looking after our health.

I look forward to a day when we see the health disparities our communities experience decrease, and no one feels left out or stigmatised when seeking care.

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