By Joshua Smith, RN
This is the first Pride Month that I am ringing in as a registered nurse, and while I have been out and proud for 13 years or so, I’m experiencing a renewed connection to the importance of celebrating my community. As the corporate rainbows unfurled, we heard the familiar chorus of complaints and boycotts. From Bud Light to Target, an echo chamber of dissent emerged from those who oppose one of the core reasons why Pride is essential: Visibility. Sylvia Rivera, a pioneering Latina-American trans activist, and Stonewall veteran said, “We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We have to show the world that we’re numerous.” I didn’t fully understand until becoming a nurse that how we show our visibility can make or break a patient’s experience in a healthcare setting.
What does it mean to be seen? For a lot of us, we spent years looking in the mirror at a version of a person we manufactured for our own safety; to retain relationships, avoid social stigma, or protect ourselves from violence. I had a patient in the ICU who was recovering from a serious infection. After taking report, I noticed the legal name attached to her medical record was not consistent with what I perceived as her gender expression. As this was day one post-extubation, I was among the first to have a dialogue with her and decided it best to clarify, “Is there any other name that you to go by? What pronouns do you use?” Her answer reflected what I had intuited, and her entire demeanor changed before my eyes. She was seen. In a fearful situation compounded by beeping machines and masked faces, two simple questions helped to close the vast space between us as strangers. It amplified my ability to foster a meaningful nurse-patient relationship with her and tailor personal interventions to maximize her benefit from my care.
I am a novice in this profession and am soaking up information and experiences like a sponge. However, this patient was an indicator that I do possess invaluable skills and insight as a healthcare professional in the LGBTQ+ community. My experiences as a gay man as well as the myriad relationships I have with others in our community have equipped me with instincts and knowledge that I can use to better my practice and my workplace. As I continue to absorb wisdom from my older and more experienced colleagues, I’ve pushed myself to start conversations about topics like pronouns and gender-affirming care. It’s easy to forget that such subjects were not mainstream until recent years and can be unfamiliar even to the most experienced nurses in the profession. As this month continues, my goal is to be a visible and proud advocate for patients and community members alike. I see you.