What it’s like navigating the monkeypox crisis as a Black queer man 

OPINION: The way media and medical professionals (knowingly or unknowingly) have fed into the stigma around monkeypox has been emotionally draining.

A sign announcing monkeypox vaccination is setup in Tropical Park by Miami-Dade County and Nomi Health on August 15, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

As conversations around monkeypox cases have become the new normal, so has my interest in how said discussions will impact those who live at the intersections of Black, fat, cisgender and queer. Since the height of COVID and knowing what I went through to get that vaccine, any time I hear anything related to accessing medical care, I instantly think about how the health professional industry responds to our needs—or lack thereof. 

In the first few weeks of hearing about the growing number of monkeypox cases and how these stories were reported, I knew immediately that Black, fat, queer, cisgender men and their stories about how they were dealing with the virus would be left out of the conversation. It wasn’t a hunch or a feeling because I saw it happen at the height of the pandemic—specifically when the Black LGBTQ+ community began talking heavily about the ways many of us who are immune-compromised were being shut out of quality care.  

However, I shouldn’t have been surprised. If there is anything that history has taught me about epidemics is how they impact Black LGBTQ+ people. Time and time again, the medical industry and media have proven that they have never cared about my health or my wellness. Considering it took James Baldwin’s and Bayard Rustin’s activism for anyone to pay attention to how serious the HIV epidemic was impacting Black cisgender men—I should have comprehended how the conversations around monkeypox would go.

It’s important for me to note that more than anything, my passion for wanting to write this article came from my frustration about the ways I see health professionals (not) talking about access to care and vaccines. Rarely do they consider the complicated history we have with the medical industry. Rarely does the media give Black, fat, queer, cisgender men autonomy to speak about their experiences in the ways that white cisgender queer men do. 

As a self-proclaimed Black, fat, feminine, cisgender man, anytime I have to reach out to my provider for anything, I immediately feel myself becoming emotionally drained by the thought of having to engage my provider because of the micro- and macroaggressions that live in the examination room. More, it’s the way medical professionals (knowingly or unknowingly) have fed into the stigma around monkeypox. Add racism, homophobia, fatphobia and the way we were treated during the height of the pandemic, and you have the perfect recipe for anxiety. 

As I have continued to watch media publish story after story about this virus and its impact on white, queer, cisgender men, I wanted to write something that could serve as a starting point for other Black, fat, queer, cisgender men who are navigating care.

I reached out to Dr. James Simmons, a medical professional who has spent the last few months covering monkeypox and its impact on the Black LGBTQ+ community. He, too has noted that we have to get comfortable first with talking about the uncomfortable. 

“While it can be triggering considering all the historical trauma around us, we have to become OK with talking about our sexual practices,” he notes. “But to be clear, the inherent mistrust we have of the system is valid.” 

Dr. Simmons goes on to state that more than anything, Black, queer, cisgender men need to follow the numbers while continuing to advocate for themselves and others who look and live like them.  

“Fifty-four percent of monkeypox cases in the United States are among cisgender Black and brown people,” he says. “Considering we make up 34 percent of the total population, this is not surprising in the least that we are going to be the ones most impacted by it, specifically since we were the ones hit hard by COVID.” 

So what can Black LGBTQ+ people do at this moment?  Dr. Simmons reminds us that now is not the time for us to shy away from the conversation. “We have to stay as vocal as our counterparts about the care we want and deserve,” he shares. “It’s not just about getting access to the vaccine, but about the ways we encourage our community to talk about the experiences we are having navigating these viruses that will help save us.”

Jonathan P. Higgins, Ed.D. (DoctorJonPaul)

Jon is a writer, educator and host of the Black Fat Femme Podcast.  is a writer, educator and host of the Black Fat Femme Podcast. 

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