It was the Tuesday after Mardi Gras when I went along to the new CheckOUT LGBTIQ+ Sexual Health Clinic, which offers cervical and STI screening for our community. This is a tender time to do anything, let alone get your sexy tests done, and I arrived at the door already questioning my choices. Despite the text they sent me the day before reminding me to drink water before my appointment, I also managed to arrive dehydrated. Luckily, they have bottles of water waiting for you, next to the jar of vegan jellybeans and the bowl of pronoun badges.
Yes, pronoun badges(!), so you can declare your pronouns as easily as choosing a badge and pinning it to your clothes. With a he/him on my chest, I was offered a cup of tea, which was brought to me on a couch with fluffy pillows.
It was on the couch that I was given a form to fill out with my personal and medical details. It’s a one-time form for your first visit. There is a CheckOUT cover note asking you to use your chosen name. If your Medicare name is different, you are asked to disclose that to the nurse, but you can write it down for them if you prefer not to say it out loud.
I think this was the point at which I started to feel emotional. I’m not sure if it was out of relief that someone had considered a way for people to navigate chosen and Medicare names, or the accumulated angst of the many times no one has considered it. Early in transition, saying my birth name over and over in waiting rooms and busy receptions - and the inevitable confusion with the Are you sure? YES, I’M SURE dance that trans people do all the time - suddenly felt like something so easily avoided. I finished the form, looked up and saw a poster of a torso with top surgery scars draped in flamingo fairy lights, and had to pull myself together to halt the progression to full cry face.
It is difficult to find respectful and knowledgeable healthcare as a transgender and/or queer person. Queer sex education is also largely absent in school and university curricula. As a result, we queers are bad at sexual health (more on that here: 1,2,3,4,5). We also keep having sex, so improving our sexual health practises is an itch we need to scratch, so to speak.
‘Trauma informed care’ and ‘parts and practises’ are what Check OUT coordinator Viv McGregor talks about when I interview her. Trauma informed care acknowledges the trauma we may have experienced in the past, and creates a care model with that in mind. That is why the waiting room feels less like a hospital waiting room and more like a living room. A clean living room, generously stocked with condoms and lube.
It is also why there are peer workers that explain everything to you before it happens and ask you what language you would like used to describe your body; a level of control I have never experienced before.
Peeing in a cup is a skill. As I was doing so, I noticed the glitter that had fallen from my body into the toilet. There was also some on the seat. If anything is an under-treated scourge on the community, it is glitter. Unsure if I was handing over some kind of queer urine snow globe situation, I decided to tell the peer worker. They discussed it with the nurse, I double checked the contents, it was all ok, we could proceed.
The nurse used the language I chose for my body as I was asked what sex I do and with what body parts. This is the parts and practises approach, which assesses your personal STI risk factors without making any assumptions about you and your partner’s gender and sexuality. Questions relating to toys and blood play were asked, alongside oral and anal ones. At every stage, I was told I did not have to answer everything, but that doing so would better equip them to tailor my care.
The staff who work at the CheckOUT care deeply about our community that they are also a part of. If you would like things done differently for you, talk to them and they will do what they can to help. As I met them wearing their pronoun badges and handing out tea in feminist mugs, it was clear to see that the clinic is a safe space for them too.
If you are an LGBTIQ+ person who needs an STI test or a cervical screen, this is probably the best place for you to do it. In a world where not a lot is, this space is for us, for you.
The CheckOUT clinic is on the ground floor of ACON, 414 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills, NSW and is currently only open on Tuesdays. It is the result of a partnership between ACON and Family Planning and receives funding from the Cancer Institute NSW. All spaces including the all-gender bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, and the clinic exam table is adjustable down to a height of 43 cm. The service is free. For some tips on how best to advocate for yourself in a sexual health situation, listen to this interview on the Let’s Do It podcast with CheckOUT coordinator Viv McGregor. Additional advice: avoid wearing a one-piece.
Kaya Wilson writes both non-fiction essays with a personal narrative as well as scientific research articles. His pieces have been published by publications including Daily Life, Overland, Archer, Huffington Post and The Conversation. He is currently writing a book-length series of essays and working towards his science PhD.