Out of the medicine cabinet: an out doctor in a closeted country

Anirban Chatterjee
Dilshad Garden, Delhi
 
Earlier this year, having planned an interview- based analysis of the issues faced by transgender (LGBT) medical professionals acquiring medical education in India, I started contacting medical students and professionals in the LGBT community. Since I myself am a part of this community, I was able to locate them quite easily. But over the course of time one issue threw a spanner into the entire scheme of things, forcing me to terminate the research. Of all the individuals who had initially come forward to be a part of this project, most withdrew. The fear of being “outed”, and the stigma attached was too much for them to face.

In 1995, a gay medical student had written to student BMJ anonymously, describing the discrimination and stigma that he feared if he revealed his sexual orientation1. Two decades on, the situation, although better, leaves much to be desired. A fear of exclusion, stigma and discrimination keeps most medical professionals in the closet. In countries where same-sex relationships have been decriminalized, even though discrimination has arguably diminished over time, LGBT medical professionals still experience discrimination leveled at them, at their partners, and at other LGBT patients 2.Medical students have themselves been shown to be prejudiced against the LGBT community 3–5.As  an “invisible minority”,  it still remains difficult to discuss LGBT issues for  fear of being “outed” 6.

In India, it is illegal to have same-sex relationships. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes consensual same sex relationships amongst two adults7. In addition, the general societal attitude towards sexual minorities and same-sex couples remains intensely hostile8,9. This hostility is carried over to places of education, including medical education, thus effectively adding to the already inhibiting environment. It does not help that textbooks routinely provide misleading and potentially damaging information regarding homosexuals 10.

It took me close to five years to come to terms with my sexual identity. In the course of my interaction with other doctors from the LGBT community, I know colleagues who could not take the strain of such a burden, and chose to either emigrate to countries where being from the LGBT community was not a crime, or married into loveless, often violent relationships. One such incident was recently in the news, where the wife discovered, to her shock, that her husband was gay and closeted six months into marriage. She eventually committed suicide after trying to make the relationship work for five years, but to no avail. Both she and her husband were doctors.11 The few who are left choose to remain alone, their lives getting lonelier as time goes by.

There is an urgent need to modify Section 377 and legalize consensual same-sex relationships. Indian society has started to open up to the idea of LGBT medical professionals – many of my friends are hetero-normative and accept my identity without hesitation. A recently published paper found that medical students on the whole endorse a neutral stance, although have  inadequate knowledge about homosexuality 12. Decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships would go a long way in fostering a favourable opinion in the society at large.

 

References

  1. Brill D. Out at work: being a gay doctor. StudentBMJ. doi:10.1136/sbmj.h4102.
  2. Eliason MJ, Dibble SL, Robertson PA. Lesbian , Gay , Bisexual , and Transgender ( LGBT ) Physicians ’ Experiences in the Workplace. J Homosex. 2011;58:37-41. doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.614902.
  3. Florez-Salamanca L, Rubio J. Sexual prejudice among medical students. Med Educ. 2013;47:758-759. doi:10.1111/medu.12208.
  4. Arnold O, Voracek M, Musalek M, Springer-Kremser M. Austrian medical students’ attitudes towards male and female homosexuality: a comparative survey. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2004;116(21-22):730-736. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628643. Accessed October 1, 2016.
  5. Matharu K, Kravitz RL, McMahon GT, Wilson MD, Fitzgerald FT. Medical students’ attitudes toward gay men. BMC Med Educ. 2012;12:71. doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-71.
  6. Röndahl G. Heteronormativity in health care education programs. Nurse Educ Today. 2011;31(4):345-349. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2010.07.003.
  7. Indian Penal Code. LGBT Section 377. Lawyer’s Collective. http://www.lawyerscollective.org/vulnerable-communities/lgbt/section-377.html. Accessed June 12, 2016.
  8. Rao TSS, Jacob KS. Homosexuality and India. Indian J Psychiatry. 2012;54(1):1-3. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.94636.
  9. Chatterjee S. Problems Faced by LGBT People in the Mainstream Society: Some Recommendations. Int J Interdiscip Multidiscip Stud. 2014;1(5):317-331. http://www.ijims.com. Accessed June 12, 2016.
  10. Chatterjee S, Ghosh S. Void in the sphere of wisdom: a distorted picture of homosexuality in medical textbooks. Indian J Med Ethics. 2013;10(2):138-139. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23697502. Accessed October 1, 2016.
  11. Times News Network. AIIMS doctor kills self, says husband gay. The Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/AIIMS-doctor-kills-self-says-husband-gay/articleshow/46981221.cms. Published April 20, 2015.
  12. Banwari G, Mistry K, Soni A, Parikh N, Gandhi H. Medical students and interns’ knowledge about and attitude towards homosexuality. J Postgrad Med. 2015;61(2):95-100. doi:10.4103/0022-3859.153103.

 


 

ANIRBAN CHATTERJEE, MBBS, graduated from Medical College, Kolkata, in 2012. Subsequently, he worked for a few years as a junior registrar in various private hospitals in Kolkata, before relocating to Delhi in 2014. At present, he is pursuing a MD in Community Medicine from University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) and GTB Hospital, New Delhi and is currently in his final year of study.