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What happens if you don’t tick the right boxes?

Seeking medical care has never been straight forward. I have found myself lying about my identity. Ticking ‘woman’ or ‘female’ on forms. Ticking ‘white British’, ticking ‘straight’, and not revealing aspects about myself that should in theory help to inform the medical care and support I receive, but in reality have hindered that care.

By R. Aedh

From the minute I was born, I had less access to safe and fair healthcare than my peers. My position in the world has always been liminal, and not something that I’ve always been able to understand or had the language to talk about. 

I come from a long line of Irish travellers,  who have been both opposed to and subjected to discrimination by the system in many ways. This includes the health, education, policing, carceral and social systems in place in the UK. The impact of these systems on my family’s community have been harsh and damaging – and despite being removed from my culture, I am burdened with generational trauma. 

On the other side, my mother’s side, I am of mafia stock. Both are communities that have cultures largely fuelled by survival, and entwined with state, societal and interpersonal violence; communities that were largely separated from everyone else, with traditions or laws or ways of being that were (and still are) perceived to be anti-everyone else. And this is my bloodline, the position I was born into –  liminal. 

To further this, I am poor, nonbinary, queer, neurodivergent, a single parent, a survivor of sexual abuse and have chronic health conditions. Seeking medical care has never been straight forward. I have found myself lying about my identity. Ticking ‘woman’ or ‘female’ on forms. Ticking ‘white British’, ticking ‘straight’, and not revealing aspects about myself that should in theory help to inform the medical care and support I receive, but in reality have hindered that care. I hide my mind, my feelings, my thoughts, to avoid social service processes being triggered. 

Upon opening up about my gender identity to a medical professional, which I only did around a year and a half ago for the first time, I found myself in a position where I wasn’t taken seriously either way. If I exaggerated the impact it was having on my mental health, the previous diagnosis that I received 8 years earlier – Borderline personality disorder – was referenced. 

Doctors talk about difficulties with self-image and relationships, manipulating the system, a lack of sense of self. If I downplayed the impact it was having on my mental health, I was met with a questioning of whether or not I was trans. Having my history on paper, on those medical systems, has not helped. I am yet to receive any referral, or any HRT. But I have received a long list of mental health conditions.

I don’t buy into this, for myself anyway. I am not disordered, but society is. My responses, my reactions, my thoughts and feelings, are a result of my roots and my upbringing, and they’re natural and normal considering my experiences. I was raised to fight, anyone and everything; to oppose, to survive. But I wasn’t raised on the road or outside of the system, and those things didn’t work together. 

So when I am removed from my roots and placed into institutions, where I have to follow rules and structures –  or behave or think in certain ways in order to be accepted and tolerated – I will always fail. It is the same with my healthcare. I will be accepted and tolerated as long as I respond in the acceptable and tolerable ways. I might receive the support or care I need if I learn to tick the right boxes at the right time. It is a messed up art-form, a language to continuously learn, a skill to perfect, but mostly, an injustice. 

So long as these institutions remain tailored to cis/hetero-patriarchal, white-supremacist, middle-class concepts, bodies and minds – they will never possess the wherewithal to truly understand the gypsies, travellers, poor, brown, Black, trans, nonbinary, queer, mental, neurodivergent – liminal – bodies and minds. 

This article was funded by The LGBT+ Futures: Equity Fund in partnership with the The National Lottery Community Fund.