Where Truvada and Plan B Meet — Ian Stearns

Making my fellow gay men care about women’s health is the hill I seem determined to die on.

No matter how many times it happens - and it’s more often than you’d think - I don’t understand why this is a fight I have to have with anyone. The core of the argument is simple: not only are we obligated to work as hard on behalf of women as they did for us during the AIDS crisis and the fight for marriage equality, but we cannot demand sweeping healthcare reforms for ourselves, or a general “everybody”, while carelessly ignoring groups that have specific needs, namely women.

As Kayla Chadwick put it, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.” Arguments on behalf of women’s health stall out right around the time someone reframes it as a binary of choosing either queer rights or women’s rights, which is as casually sexist as it is lazy. Since the “just care because someone’s health is in jeopardy” approach doesn’t reach as broad an audience as one might hope, perhaps the back door to caring starts with stating the obvious; that queer rights are not exclusive of women’s rights since women can be queer, too.

The deafening silence from queer men on women’s health betrays the Ls, Bs, Ts, and others in our community. When we aren’t united, we fail each other and ourselves. And it betrays our allies, without whom things become exponentially harder. There’s really no two ways about it.

An attack on any marginalized group affects us all. Perhaps not directly or immediately, and certainly not in the same ways, but eventually it does. When we stay silent on women’s health – which includes access to birth control, the right to bodily autonomy, and unimpeded access to the same quality of care I receive as a cisgender man – we undermine our best efforts to keep each other and ourselves safe. Our silence is putting women, queer and straight alike, in danger. In refusing to say “stop” when someone else is hurting, we buy into the same system that allowed us to die for the last two decades of the twentieth century. We can’t forget it exists now that we benefit from it too.

Say the shoe was on the other foot. Say, specifically, that gay men’s health was under attack in an overt way that my generation has never seen in our adult lives; that we couldn’t get the medicine we needed and being told it was because of who we are. Imagine being told that the danger of losing our health was not worth the cost of keeping us well.

Surprise of surprises, the shoe was slipped onto the other foot with little fanfare outside of a post on a queer news site. In a pre-authorization response letter, United Healthcare denied a man in New York State coverage for PrEP on the grounds of it being used “for high risk homosexual behavior.” A major insurance company denied a queer patient access to a drug that all but eliminates the risk of contracting HIV based on a “behavior”. That sounds a lot like an employer denying birth control or abortion coverage if they object. What makes us think that if women’s health is on the chopping block, ours won’t be?

Fortunately for us, within 48 hours of the story breaking on LGBTQ Nation, United Healthcare issued an apology and completely reversed its policy. It was because advocates, allies, and members of the community banded together to demand change. That’s terrific, but it also begs the question: why don’t we respond like this when women’s health is at stake? It simply doesn’t make sense that there isn’t the same orchestrated push for women by queer men as there is for queer men by women.

Healthcare is an economic issue, a civil rights issue, and a human rights issue. We have to stand together and protect each other, because if we don’t, who will? Everyone deserves the same quality of healthcare, no matter where we fit on the political spectrum, what god we worship, or what body we were born in. We shouldn’t have to convince people that the lives of others are worth fighting for. Access to healthcare is one of the greatest battles we face, and we must handle it with equal parts urgency and compassion. 

I became a part of A is For because no matter how many personal stories I hear, I can’t speak on women’s issues from a place of experience. But I can help women be heard. I may not get to decide what my community deems worthy of its good intentions and best efforts, but I can hold it to a higher standard. That is the most any of us can do. And little by little, we make this place better by being better to each other.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people. What I can do is suggest that you make this personal, because it already is.

Ian Stearns is a Virginian by birth and a New Yorker by choice. He is an advocate, contributor, and erstwhile secondary lead of Victorian comedies. He prefers not to discuss polarizing issues like religion or who is the definitive Mama Rose in polite company. 

He believes women's rights and reproductive justice are non-negotiable and thinks you should, too. Ian is a proud member of the Board of Directors of A is For.

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