Sprawled out on a hospital bed last week -- barely clothed and feeling immensely vulnerable -- I found myself confronting a classic queer question: Do I have my lifestyle to blame for this?
It wasn't that being gay had made a potentially cancerous spot appear in my body, but being queer suddenly made removing it seem impossible. Because not only was I going to need surgery, but I would need an authorized representative to pick me up from the hospital. And I had no one.
I'm 27, queer and polyamorous, and while I have a couple significant others -- meaning, people who are more than friends -- I don't have a monogamous partner to call on for this. My parents and sister live hundreds of miles away. And, according to the doctor, writing down "Yellow Cab Company" as my representative wasn't going to cut it.
And here's the kicker: As an attorney at Whitman-Walker Health, I've been pushing for LGBT people to select a healthcare power of attorney to address this exact situation. Forget the reason I had come to the hospital; the irony alone was killing me.
Technically, I didn't need to name someone as a power of attorney just to be able to pick me up. But as the doctor was trying to explain the procedure to me, my mind was focused on what would happen if something went wrong. If I had a power of attorney, they'd be able to come into my room, hold my hand, consult with my doctor and call my family. How could I go into surgery feeling safe and loved if I couldn't even ask someone to pick me up if it went okay?
I had practically written the talking points on why LGBT people, who are often reliant on unrecognized relationships, need to plan through these situations in advance. But until I was forced to strip down and put on a hospital robe, I didn't realize I'd been hypocritically ignoring my advice to others. I didn't know how to get my queer polyamorous life to fit into old boxes drawn by an English barrister in a powdered wig.
On my walk home, fighting back my emotions with a protein bar and workout playlist, I seriously considered canceling my surgery. It was very unlikely that this was cancer. And now I'd need regular check-ups, anyway. Why not postpone an invasive procedure until I definitely needed it?
But then it hit me: This is exactly why LGBT people to have such sweeping health disparities compared to the rest of the population. I couldn't let being queer prevent me from getting care.
The truth is, I've created an amazing "family of choice" with friends and lovers who care deeply about me, and I'm not ashamed of my life. When push comes to shove, it can be difficult to reconcile queer relationships with the rigid boundaries of law and society. But while as an activist I need to try to change the law, as an individual I can only focus on what's in my control, and leave the rest up to fate. After all, someday we all meet our end. And I don't want to die alone.
So I bit the bullet and asked one of the dearest people in my life, who I'll call Ricardo, if he could pick me up from the hospital after my procedure. I promised that if I found a way to sneak out without having to bother him, I would. I didn't want to be a burden; I just needed to tell the hospital I wasn't alone.
"You shouldn't have to sneak out," Ricardo replied. "I'll be there."
Our relationship may not look like everyone else's, but I love him, and he loves me. So when we met for coffee soon thereafter, I also asked him to be my power of attorney, and he accepted.
A shy, sweet smile came over Ricardo's face as he prepared to make his own admission. "I've needed an emergency contact, too," he said to me. "Will you be mine?"