Awareness · Opinion pieces · Placement

Being a student nurse who happens to be gay – a personal perspective

Please be aware that this is very subjective and this does not objectively describe what other students may experience.  

 
It is hard for me to imagine a life without being an out and proud gay man. After coming out at the young age of 15, overcoming prejudice and negativity in those early years to live the way I do now (17 years later), I am surrounded by amazing friends, a very accepting family and a loving boyfriend who has been putting up with me for almost 4 years. But this isn’t my life story, this is my experience of being a nursing student who happens to be gay, and some of the things that keep me busy from time to time.
 
Throughout my time as a healthcare professional, I have always been professional when it comes to my personal life. But I’m not saying it’s easy. Working in paediatrics there are many times when I’ve been asked ‘Have you got your own children yet?’. And I usually wish I could say ‘Yes’. Then they ask me about my girlfriend or wife, and I basically say I don’t have one, yet I also don’t correct them. When I do end up having a conversation which involves a bit more information about my life, I talk about ‘my partner’ and skip out gender nuances all together. Do other nurses share things about their boyfriends/husbands/girlfriends/wives? I have heard many nurses talk (albeit superficially) about their children, and husbands (I’ve mainly worked on wards with mainly female nursing staff), but I am yet to hear a gay or lesbian nurse talk openly.
 
One of my main things that I like to create is a sense of normalcy. Which for me means that if I talk about my life with a man in a normal, conversational way, the pressure for others to address this will become less and less (not necessarily a proven theory, but at least I’m trying). So far within my training, I have spoken openly about me and my partner’s relationship, our house, our lives and our eventual wish to adopt. And most of the time I have had positive responses. Especially the adoption conversation always attracts lots of ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’. And, even though I won’t be showing, as pregnancy will always have the need to involve a uterus, it is still something I am very excited about. I am also sure that once we have kids my life will be full of anecdotes and things those ‘darn kids said’. And I can’t wait for those moments to arrive!
 
Although I am lucky that most of my experiences have been positive, unfortunately not all of them are. Just the other day at university, someone actually said ‘Being gay is something you choose you are, not something you’re born as’. Now, the person did backtrack on  their comment and said they didn’t mean it that way. But, I couldn’t hide that it hit a nerve. I raised my  voice and objected fiercely. Just to say, I wouldn’t change anything about my life. But being gay is not a choice, and if I had been given one as ‘little 15-year-old-Ewout’ I might have chosen an easier path, but that choice wasn’t there. There isn’t such a thing as a magic ‘straight-pill’. And if other people think that because I’m gay I’m not normal, well, normal is overrated anyway.
 
The fact that in 2018  there is still a need for any of us to explain why we are the way we are, is upsetting. If a modern-day future healthcare professional thinks that being gay is a choice, then what do you say to that? I’ve been in situations where I had to continuously correct colleagues about the gender that I was dating. I have been in situations where I have felt uncomfortable when parents were discussing their feelings regarding homosexuality. I wonder, are we at a point where when presented with those situations we can openly discuss it? I would love to say yes, but I feel that to be too utopic.
 
Now, what about the men who are working as nurses and are constantly asked whether or not they’re gay, just because of the profession that they have chosen? Does it matter if a male nurse is gay or straight? Is a straight male nurse less caring or nurturing? In nursing we talk about evidence-based practice with almost every single decision we make. Well, I would like to see the evidence for those assumptions. It really doesn’t matter what gender or sexuality you are, if you have chosen this profession it was for a reason, and that is to look after, care for and listen to those that need our help.
 
I, in no way, understand what it is like to be a straight man, but I do understand what it is like to be a man. I also don’t understand what it is like to be a straight male nurse, but I do know what it is like to be a nurse. So, if anybody wants to criticise me, or my nursing colleagues for their sexuality (whatever that might be), you should be thinking by yourself: ‘Does their sexuality really matter once you’re their patient?’  
 
Well, does it?
 
(Ewout Van Sabben – student nurse)
 

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