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Accepted Paper:

"My sexual life is definitely not orthodox": Queer intelligibility and visibility in sexual health services in Cape Town, South Africa  


Shannon O'Rourke (RTI International)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnographic research conducted with queer women and health professionals in Cape Town highlights the lack of focus on sexual health needs of queer women. This research emphasizes the importance of sexual and gender diversity in health services and the need for further training of providers.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws upon ethnographic research conducted with queer women and health professionals about sexual health experiences in Cape Town, which was completed as part of a masters thesis in Visual and Media Anthropology at FU Berlin. Findings reveal a lack of focus on the health needs of queer women in both medical training and research, which often means that providers do not have adequate information and resources for their patients. The HIV discourse in South Africa has a strong influence on widespread understandings of sex and risk. Although there is little evidence, the prevalent notion that sex between women does not create risk for HIV has further marginalized the sexual health needs of queer women. This marginalization has resulted in a lack of discussion about queer women's sexual health and leads to issues around visibility and intelligibility within sexual health care spaces. In addition to facing erasure, participants express struggles of finding sexual health care providers who understand queer identities and diverse sexual lives. Discussing this challenge, one participant states, "my life is not orthodox, and my sexual life is definitely not orthodox. I need someone who is not going to judge these things." Findings from this research indicate that challenging the heteronormativity inherent in health care settings requires a multi-levelled approach. I discuss how health care providers need further training around sexual and gender diversity and the importance of opening a dialogue around how provider bias can impact a patient's sense of safety in health services.

Panel P182
Moving terrains in care and biomedicine: affective modes and vulnerable positions (MAE)