Home' LOTL : January 2005 Contents HEALTH
DYKE DOCTOR DISPELS MYTHS
Recently I attended the ALMA conference in Leura in the beautiful
Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Apart from the fact that
the food was a gourmet's delight, the weather was brisk and the sight
of my partner relishing her role as 'doctor's wife' was a rare treat,
one after the other the speakers were challenging and stimulating.
ALMA is an organisation founded by a couple of enthusiastic lesbian docs over a
cup of coffee in 1999. The aim is to provide support and advocacy for lesbian doctors,
medical students and their partners. ALMA also works to advance the visibility of
lesbian doctors and lesbian health.
One speaker who particularly caught my interest was Dr Katrina Allen, general
practitioner and Medical Education Coordinator at Sexual Health Information
Networking and Education (SHINE), Kensington, South Australia. She challenged us by
posing the question, "Is lesbian health an oxymoron?"
Katrina's idea is that many lesbian health problems are actually social issues that
have been pathologised, or turned into disease states. Western medicine is good at
this, especially when it comes to women -- of any sexuality. She gave the example of
PMT. What could be interpreted as a simple energy change has become a 'mood
swing' which needs suppression or control with medication.
Menopause is an even better example. She asked us, 'What is menopause?' Is it
an oestrogen deficiency state or an oestrogen deficiency disease? Is it a physiological
change similar to puberty, or the beginning of grandmotherhood?
Doctors now see menopause as an oestrogen deficiency disease, but it's a
'disease' which occurs in all women who live long enough. Once something is a
'disease', then in the medical paradigm, it should be treated. There is extensive
pharmaceutical company involvement in the development of new disease
classifications, Dr Allen said. 'Female sexual dysfunction' is the next frontier.
But, asked Dr Allen, if menopause is a 'universal disease' in women why do
women live longer than men, under poorer conditions? She would prefer to see
menopause considered a puberty equivalent. Like puberty, it is age specific, time-
limited, with measurable physiological changes between the starting and finishing
states. Like puberty, it is exhausting, exasperating and intermittent. She sees menopause
as an evolutionary advantage, freeing women from the rigors of childbearing in order
to be nurturers of young children and freeing younger women for work.
So if menopause is a natural, advantageous process, Dr Allen says we should
welcome it, and while we should treat intercurrent problems there is no need for
aggressive, continuous treatment. And further, we should relish the post-menopausal
zest. Mmm -- have to wait and see about that one!
So getting back to lesbian health, we need to ask who is studying lesbians and
why? Who gains from studying them? Are the problems social or medical? If lesbian
health 'problems' are actually socially induced, we need to change the society, not treat
the 'disease'. The majority of lesbians live normal, healthy lives. They have the same
health issues as all women.
By defining lesbian health from a disease point-of-view we pathologise it and
expose ourselves to the need for 'treatment'. It means we are the problem. Dr Allen
challenges us to challenge society's view of lesbians. Challenge our isolation, and
much of our 'disease' will disappear.
SO GETTING BACK TO LESBIAN HEALTH, WE NEED TO
ASK WHO IS STUDYING LESBIANS AND WHY? WHO
GAINS FROM STUDYING THEM? ARE THE PROBLEMS
SOCIAL OR MEDICAL? IF LESBIAN HEALTH 'PROBLEMS'
ARE ACTUALLY SOCIALLY INDUCED, WE NEED TO
CHANGE THE SOCIETY, NOT TREAT THE 'DISEASE'.
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