Anesthesiologist Sued for Gender Policing

A story in the Washing Post describes how a man successfully sued an Anesthesiologist in Virginia, after he accidentally made an audio recording of the surgery.  He had used his mobile phone to record the instructions his doctor gave him, so he would remember them, and left it on in his pants, which were underneath him during the surgery.

In the audio recording, the doctor is heard calling him annoying, and made repeated comments about needing to "man him up" by hitting him, calling him gay for attending former Women's College, Mary Washington, and in an apparent attempt to humiliate the patient through homophobia, lied and said that he had hemorrhoids, even though there was no evidence of such, and put it on his chart.  The doctor also lied and said the man had STIs, insisted that assistants lie to the patient so she could avoid him, and at one point called him "retarded" for not liking seeing needles in his arm.

The whole gist of her complaints against the patient reek of homophobia and misogyny. While it is impossible to know if she disliked him because he didn't sufficiently meet her hegemonic ideals of masculinity, or if she didn't like him, which caused her to use that kind of language to insult, it is present throughout the comments that have been made public.

The patient who brought the case, has chosen to remain anonymous, and is not surprising that he has done so.  While many individuals would no doubt sympathize with him, it is inevitable that others would immediately start questioning his masculinity as well, to see if the doctor was "justified" in her hateful critique of him.

This case perfectly illustrates the ways in which the borders of gender, and specifically masculinity, are maintained and enforced.  Gender isn't something that you inherently have, it's something that you have to perform.  The things that the doctor insults the patient for are things that he did.  He didn't like needles, he wasn't "tough enough" so she wanted to hit him to remedy it, he went to a "feminine" school, etc..  This was offensive to her, so she then used homophobic language as a way to attack him, and although she didn't mean to have it shared with him, this homophobic language is meant to compel men to change their behavior.  She mentioned hitting him, and physical violence is often used against men who do not display sufficiently "masculine" behavior.  She lied and said that he had hemorrhoids, most likely implying that he had receptive anal sex, and should therefor be humiliated, and she generally complained about "whiny" patients and wanted to avoid them.  I say that this language was also misogynistic, because homophobia against men is rooted is patriarchy and misogyny.  The root of almost all homophobic attacks against men is that they are offensively feminine, and that is super damaging to men, because in the patriarchy, the worst thing to be is a woman.

This harassment of the patient is what Michael Kimmel refers to as Gender Policing.  It is when other individuals watch, and more importantly "correct," the behavior of other individuals when it broaches established gender norms.  Every time a boy is told to "man up" or "boys don't cry" he is being gender policed.  This is also one of the main reasons why men comply with "masculine" behaviors that are so harmful to themselves or run counter to actual human nature.  It's not only that men get privileged for complying to hegemonic masculinity/patriarchy, it is also that they get actively punished if they do not comply.

This case is also an excellent illustration of how misogyny, homophobia, and patriarchy harm all men.  Although the patient in this case might be gay or bisexual, the things that the doctor found so offensive were his behaviors, not his identity.  As a result, not only insulted him while he was anesthetized, but also actively conspired to compromise his health care and well being.  She told assistants to lie to him, conspired to avoid him, and actively lied and falsified his medical records out of spite.  His health was literally comprised because of her homophobia and misogyny.

An identity as straight would offer no protection from this, and his male privilege did nothing to save him in this situation either.  I suppose he could have complied with more "masculine" behaviors, but that still would have compromised his health, because then he wouldn't have been expressing concern for his own health, or asking questions about his surgery, and taking the follow up seriously.  It would have required him to put acting "tough" over his own health, well being, and to internalize any discomfort or unease that he might have had.