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Quick Escape

My queer, disabled body and the struggle for safety in healthcare

Torso level photo of three Black and disabled folx (a non-binary person holding a cane, a non-binary person in a power wheelchair, and a femme on a folding chair) raising their fists on the sidewalk in front of a white wall.

Content warning: References to abuse, transphobia, ableism, sexual assault, medical coercion, homophobia

Being queer, trans, disabled and mad is an experience of joy, beauty, community and safety. Despite this, I am yet to meet another person with the same shared identities that hasn’t also experienced abuse, violence, neglect or exploitation.

The Disability Royal Commission, an ‘investigation, independent of government, into a matter of great importance’ (DRC), didn’t initially include any spaces just for us as LGBTQIA+ disabled people – implying our intersectional experiences of the DRC’s themes were not ‘of great importance’. As queer disabled people, we were told our experiences would be listened to in the ‘women and girls’ hearings, because ultimately, the erasure of queer disabled people, and especially trans disabled people, is something we are forced to expect.

But it’s not inevitable. I was glad to hear that the DRC listened to queer disabled advocates and created a confidential LGBTIQA+ session. As a queer disabled person myself, I know opportunities to connect to others like me and communicate about our experiences can be devastating, but also healing. Sharing these experiences with the wider world can be devastating in a much less healing way – but it’s often the only way for our stories to be heard by those with the power to change how we are treated.

I want those outside of my community to understand how my queerness is inherently and beautifully intertwined with my disabled identities. How my trans disabled body can be home and safety and a jail and torture at the same time. How others, largely cishet white abled older male others, have on multiple occasions decided that these all-encompassing identities of mine were worthy of abuse. How the medical system, an institution I depend on to live, is one of the worst perpetrators.

A common theme disabled queer people often speak of is the queerphobia, and specifically the transphobia we experience around medical care related to specific parts of our bodies. As someone with multiple ‘reproductive health conditions’ that not only disable me, but are often a large trigger for dysphoria, whether I am treated or not, my experience is often distressing. I am yet to see a medical professional who treats my endometriosis, PMDD and related conditions without misgendering me. The trauma of this experience extends beyond the moment of my pronouns being ignored or my deadname being said. It is the dread of knowing that when I walk into a medical centre, to seek necessary healthcare, I will be seen as a woman, with a woman’s body, needing women’s treatment.

To add to this, I have been told by multiple medical professionals that treatment for my endometriosis is likely to be most effective if it is more intensive (ie. hysterectomy, laparoscopy, medical insertions, etc.), and yet, repeatedly, I am refused access to these treatments. It is always because ‘wouldn’t it be a shame if you couldn’t have children’ or that ‘it might fix itself if you just get pregnant’ – statements framed as consideration for my future, but ultimately telling me ‘our values are more important than your safety, than your identity, than your right to choice and control over your own medical treatment, than you’.

In a hospital, once, I told my psychiatrist at the time that my home environment was unsafe and that I needed to move out. He responded by suggesting I would get sexually assaulted in an elevator, and that I was ‘just a little girl’. He locked the door of the small meeting room we were in, and told me I was not going to be let out until I agreed to take a benzo. The person who ultimately had full control over my medical treatment, my safety, my life, in that moment, chose his own power and ego over my welfare – a decision supposedly justified by my transness and madness. When I share this story, my fellow disabled queers rarely respond with shock. Not because it isn’t shocking, but because as queer disabled people, it is experiences like these we are forced to expect.

Ultimately, my identity as a queer, trans, disabled and mad young person is something I wouldn’t trade for all the privilege and comfort in the world. It is beautiful, all encompassing, undeniable, transformative and right – and a fundamental challenge to the systems of power we are forced to exist under.

Is Hay (they/them) is a disabled, queer, trans and mad young person living, working and fighting on stolen Wurunjderi Woiwurrung land. They are a writer and advocate especially passionate about the layers of marginalisation intersectional identified people experience and breaking them down.

This piece represents the author’s views and experiences and not the views of any organisations they are connected to.

Click here to find out more about LGBTIQ issues and the DRC.

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