Too Gay to Diagnose


Zackary Carpenter realized he had mono in early September after his liver and kidneys started to fail. Carpenter believes doctors are not given enough training treating gay men. Screenshot from Berkeley Lovelace Jr.


Guest Writer: Zackary Carpenter (@zackmacg)

Zackary Carpenter currently studies magazine journalism at the University of Missouri. He is from Blanchard, Okla. just south of Oklahoma City. Carpenter likes video games, science fiction, beat poetry and various forms of music. Opinions are his own. Place close attention when marked (ATT:)

When I was 19 years old, my liver and kidneys began to fail and my muscles started deteriorating. My blood was extremely toxic and I had a severe headache. I felt like a Centaurian slug was digging into my head, and I did not know where the hell Spock was. This is the story of how I learned that doctors know very little about gay men, and what they learned in five hours of training.

I am not HIV positive, and even though I am a gay male, I do not have any other STIs to my knowledge. I always use a condom during anal sex, and I am very careful about how I go about oral sex. I never mix sex with alcohol, and I have never used intravenous needles to take a drug.

I went to my primary care physician on Aug. 28, 2013, and within a few minutes he diagnosed me with possible meningitis. He also said I looked “real bad.” My primary care physician and I get along quite well.

He didn’t ask me about my sexuality. He didn’t ask me about my sexual orientation. He’s extensively trained in sexual health and LGBTQ health issues. To him, a massive, tear-inducing headache and looking like a sweaty corpse indicates just one thing: spinal meningitis.

It was the next three doctors across two departments that said otherwise.

Doctor one was something important in the ER. I don’t know what her job description was. All I remember is that, while my ex boyfriend was in the room, she took one look at my pride bracelet and asked me if I had AIDS.

Doctor two was surrounded by a phalanx of student doctors. He informed me that I was in a “high risk group” for developing HIV, and that he was going to order an STI screen. “It’s fine,” he elaborated. “I’m in a high risk group too, because I’m a doctor.”

I then got a spinal tap. After 20 minutes of cursing in the most elaborate fashion, it was done. A day later I learned that I didn’t have meningitis. I also learned that because they ruled that out, they were going with HIV as their best next bet.

My STI screen came back negative for everything—even HPV, which a quarter of all men ever have.

Doctors one and two were stumped. They figured it wasn’t meningitis, but not HIV? Isn’t this kid a sequined virus reservoir?

They stopped running tests at the hospital, and they focused on just trying to get my pain to below an eight. They also worked on stopping my kidney and liver failure.

When I was successfully off morphine and on lortabs, and when my organs went off strike, I was discharged from the hospital. I was told I’d be able to resume my class and work schedule in a few days.

I met doctor three about two weeks later, and she was supposed to run a screen for mono, among other common diseases. She went ahead and threw in a syphilis test, because “the one you took at the hospital might have missed it.”

Two weeks later (one month after being discharged from the hospital), I was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr Virus. It is a virus in the herpes family, so I guess my doctors were right. It is the leading cause of infectious mono.

(ATT:) If you’re a gay male, be sure you get tested for STDs once every few months. If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up being given the runaround by doctors who, quite frankly, don’t know you nor do they know your life. You won’t be accurately diagnosed, and it could end up ruining a whole semester of your college career.

Ask your doctor the following question: “How much training have you had with sexual health and LGBTQ health-related issues?” They’re professionals in charge of your health, and they really do love questions. If their answer comes in at less than 10 hours, you might want to begin doing some research.

If you’re diagnosed with a severe mono infection, make sure you talk to your doctor about what can happen later. You’re much more susceptible to lymphoma and one type of carcinoma now, which sucks because by virtue of being a gay male, you’re already 15 times more likely to get certain forms of ass and dick cancer. You’re also much more likely to develop depression and anxiety, which, again, is a double whammy with being a member of a widely despised group of people.


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