Can We Stop the I’m-a-Male-Nurse-Who-Isn’t-Gay-Contrary-to-the-Stereotype Routine?

My pet peeve du jour. Why is it every time you read an article or blog post about men in nursing, you get the inevitable disclaimer about the “stereotype” of male nurses being gay? “We’re manly men who happen to be a manly nurses” seems to be the general consensus, and advertising campaigns seem to reinforce it. 

Are we adult enough as nurses to think seriously about the underlying assumptions of this disclaimer, which are decidedly homophobic and sexist? Think of it this way: assertions of masculinity among heterosexual male nurses play on negative stereotypes of gay men as being effeminate, passive and weak (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of butch gay men in the Toronto emergency department where I work — more masculine, actually than my straight male colleagues.) And guess who else carries that stereotype of feminine, passive and weak. . . you wouldn’t be talking about, um, your female colleagues, would you? If the aim is to recruit more men, straight or gay, to the profession, starting off with a claim which is simultaneously negative and probably offensive to gay men is not the way to go.

In essence, it’s the attempt to build up one part of the profession by knocking down another which makes me cranky. Yes, Virginia, there are gay nurses out there. So instead of a weak, defensive “Hey, I’m-not-gay” approach based on perceptions  and overt demonstrations of masculinity, one might think it’s better and more assertive and just to say, “So what if I am gay? I’m a nurse, period.”

I was prepared to like the advertising campaigns on the right. Straight-forward (so to speak) and showing the diversity of men who are nurses. Having thought about it, I don’t like them quite so much. The tag lines perhaps redeems them a bit: “My nurse is a hero” — “If you want a career that demands intelligence, courage and skill and offers unlimited opportunity, consider nursing”. Some adjectives and nouns I think which apply to all nurses, gay or straight, female or male.

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  1. #1 by rww on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1116

    Then why don’t female doctors feel the need to reassure people that they are nor lesbians. Double standards work in strange ways.

  2. #2 by Raquel on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1138

    Amen, sister. I enjoy working with male nurses, straight or gay or unknown. Who seriously cares about that S&^%? They bring a different dynamic to the mix.

    • #3 by Mark Ketchum on Sunday 26 August 2012 - 1841

      I care… and so do many others… you are the one who is strange

  3. #4 by wilomis on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1248

    I couldn’t agree more. Let’s move on. It’s a profession and people should not judge based on career. I love when people throw out these statements (whether it’s asking if I am gay or a doctor or even why I didn’t go to medical school), so I can always reply with “I AM A NURSE!!” Usually added with a smart-ass half grin, cutting my eyes from under my glasses.

  4. #5 by Sean on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1319

    This, like all the other stereotypes about us is only magnified when we get ‘mad’ about them. Our job is to simply show them, and prove them wrong about any stereotypes they may have.
    We are fighting an uphill simply because of our numbers (ratio) within our given profession, not because we’re not spreading the good word.
    Society seems to always lean towards public opinion and public opinion (as of lately) is influenced solely by the media. An unfair and unjust reality, but none the less true.
    For me it’s all about another opportunity to educate those who are ignorant and unaware of what we are and what we really do.
    The battle wages on.

  5. #6 by Wanderer on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1948

    Unfortunately the media and classic stereotypes still pervade our society’s view of men in nursing. I no longer feel the need to emphasize that I am not gay, it’s not worth my time. I am a nurse, that’s what I tell my patients. If they ask any of the myriad of typical questions (why aren’t I or am I studying to be a doc, am I gay etc…) I give the spiel on being a nurse, heavy on the emphasis of professional, intelligent, educated and caring. They don’t ask after that and maybe I’ve spread the word a little bit.

    So yes, we can drop it. Us (male) nurses need to spread the word of truly what we are: nurses!

  6. #7 by nurseXY on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 1949

    Right there with you on this one.

    People actually think they are being unbiased when they talk about how accepting they are of male nurses.

    All the while not realizing the very fact that they made the distinction in the first place is a bias in and of itself.

    I think that as long as we men are at a a huge minority in the profession we’ll continue to see this. We’re just too obviously different and it’s human nature to notice differences. I mean it’s literally hard wired in our brains to notice the small variations in each other.

    I had a charge nurse in my management clinical that absolutely believed that as a male I would command a higher starting salary. Which of course is simply not true. Interesting to watch this unfold, somewhat in reverse of other professions.

  7. #8 by atyourcervix on Tuesday 02 November 2010 - 2212

    Ironically, I’ve had people ask me why I didn’t become a doctor.

    Well, let’s see….because I wanted to be a nurse?

    (And I’m a woman!)

  8. #9 by Cartoon Character on Wednesday 03 November 2010 - 0055

    Well. If I didn’t get so tired of all the estrogen hormonal drama that goes on at work……..I might not notice the difference.

  9. #10 by Cartoon Character on Wednesday 03 November 2010 - 1034

    actually, half the bloggers on here….I have no clue whether they are XX or XY. That includes you. Do I care? nope. I am just glad to see anyone coming into nursing to replace me when I retire.

    • #11 by torontoemerg on Wednesday 03 November 2010 - 1753

      Thanks guys for all the great comments! I’m glad to see it isn’t a huge issue.

  10. #12 by Anonymous on Wednesday 08 December 2010 - 1234

    I have found on many occasions while my daughter was in the hospital receiving her chemo treatments that the MALE nurses were better than the female ones in many areas including compassion and care but details as well! sorry ladies…and I am in nursing school now. I don’t really think about a male nurse’s sexual orientation and I agree the male nurse has been stereotyped wrongly all too often. I see the number of male nurses increasing all over and in my school alone their are 4 in my class of 25! I see a change in stereotype coming. way to go and keep up the good work guys!

  11. #13 by jmhearn on Monday 13 December 2010 - 2303

    As a man who is also a nurse, may I suggest this article I found to be useful when discusing my career:

  12. #14 by Pierrette on Wednesday 23 March 2011 - 1714

    Hi, great post. I am doing some research on “male nurse campaigns” and wondering where you found the “He Saved My Life” ad. Can you help me out?

    Thanks! Great post!

  13. #15 by Anonymous on Thursday 06 October 2011 - 1452

    As a nurse myself I think I’m going to start calling the women I work with female nurses. That until we lose male nurse, gay nurse, tough enough to be a nurse, man enough etc etc failed attempts to emasculate nursing. I am a nurse. My co-workers are nurses, regardless of sex, race or whatever. Let’s work together to take the gender specific orientation out of who the job “belongs” to and work together for what we all stayed in this profession to do and that is provide our patients with the best care possible.

  14. #16 by xlpharmacy on Friday 04 November 2011 - 1408

    I am in nursing school now. I don’t really think about a male nurse’s sexual orientation and I agree the male nurse has been stereotyped wrongly all too often. I see the number of male nurses increasing all over and in my school alone their are 4 in my class of 25! I see a change in stereotype coming. way to go and keep up the good work guys!

  15. #17 by Anonymous on Wednesday 09 November 2011 - 2000

    Hi, I am citing the picture with the quote “My nurse is a hero. He saved my life.” in a paper, and I was wondering if you could tell me either the date that this blog was posted or where you got the picture from.

  16. #19 by gregmercer601 on Monday 16 April 2012 - 1259

    I’ve become accustomed to a few things after years of being a male Nurse, all from patients and others. Nurses and physicians have been fine: gender hasn’t been an issue much at all. From the others I’ve experience the same few themes countless times: surprise, “Oh so you’re a male nurse!”, citations of Greg (my name) the male hapless Nurse from the movies, and the assumption I’m a physician. My barber still thinks this the case after years: I’d explained myself so many times I finally gave up, as it failed to sink in, at all, again and again. A bit tedious occasionally, but none particularly worth much reaction or thought.
    As for my sexual orientation, who knows what people think. This set of questions – sexuality and how to present oneself – are the single way I can think of where Male Nursing attracts unwanted attention from within my profession. Yes, we’re different than most Nurses in some obvious ways. I see little use to all the endless debate, and I’ve always completely avoided any mention of anything about weight, appearance, age, or sexuality at work, all to avoid hurt feelings and possible HR issues: it has served me well. Saves a lot of grief, and lets me avoid those how-can-I-be-honest-and-kind-with-bad-news-about-how-fat-they-look dilemmas that dog most people.
    As a guy working with and now a Professor for mostly women, and increasingly young women as my role changes more to teaching, being viewed as Gay might actually be quite beneficial, if only to keep my wife happy, and to keep me free of uncomfortable or dangerous situations. For many issues, it is the most prudent practice to offer no information and no comment whatsoever, and focus on issues that matter most.
    Self-confidence is often best displayed by the obvious lack of a need to defend oneself regarding others’ opinions on anything at all. Why give random others’ so much power by dwelling on what they think of you?

  17. #20 by Rio Manos on Sunday 03 June 2012 - 2110

    Sorry buddy, but if a patient asks me if I’m gay, I am most certainly going to tell him, “No, I’m not gay.” If you have a problem with that, then that’s for YOU to overcome.

  18. #21 by Tom Lee on Wednesday 17 July 2013 - 0013

    All male nurses are gay and are an abomination of nature, they should all be cleansed with fire, would make the world a better place. Male nurses are just in the job so they can rape and molest young men and little boys, these men should be shot as soon as they say “I’m considering going into nursing”.

  19. #23 by Jeffrey Haynes on Wednesday 04 January 2017 - 2113

    As a gay male nurse, I see a double standard being upheld within healthcare. I am told and do abide by the rule that I do not discuss my sexuality in front of patients and their families. My colleagues do know that I am gay. However, the dual rule seems to say that it is okay for other staff members to discuss my sexuality in front of patients and patient visitors and the patient/family response comes back on me as if I had broken our silent rule.

    One morning I had had enough. The oncoming nurse with her two clinical students was freely talking and introduced me as the gay nurse who had just started last month. she then went on asking as to if I had a boyfriend, how long we had been together, and the ultimate mind blowing insult to me personally. “Who is the man and who is the woman?” I decided I had had enough of her doing this every time I had to give report to her. I asked if she understood what the term “gay man” meant, that gay men meant there was no woman in the relationship. It was two men. If it were a man and a woman. That would be heterosexual. I informed her that I was gay, not heterosexual. I was determined that in all her ” politeness and cultural sensitivity”, she would be called out for what she was.

    The next morning when I was called to my unit manager’s office, I was disciplined for telling the new nursing students “I am gay, not heterosexual”. The rest of the conversation had been carefully edited/deleted. My write up stood as I did admit I had said that. I had no proof of the rest of the conversation.

    On another night a coworker while we all sat in the conference room for a quick training abruptly turned the conversation to me. “Aren’t you afraid of catching AIDS?” I told her I had no fear of catching AIDS because I was not doing anything to catch it. Her response was “But you are gay and gays get AIDS all the time.” She had more to say.

    The nurse beside me wrote on a piece of paper “I can see it in your eyes. Say it.”
    I looked over at the nurse who had been tormenting me and asked if I could share something very personal with her right now”. She agreed. I looked her directly in the eyes and asked “Ten minutes ago you told all of us you were going to have two men commit to paternity tests for your baby due in the spring. I am honestly concerned for the health of you and your fetus as who knows what you have going on inside you besides that baby. You are unwed and evidently having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Don’t you worry about your own health because I think that every time I look at you and I thank you for this opportunity that we could talk about AIDS risks and spread.”

    Again, I was disciplined by the unit manager for making moral and personal judgments on a coworker that were upsetting to her and above all to say those things in front of other people with the intent to embarrass her.

    Part of diversity training should go beyond attending to the needs of people with various backgrounds, but also to make providers aware of the social and professional boundaries of colleagues. I am gay. I will not deny it, but I will not also instigate that discussion outside a personal boundary, but then again I do not support you using your friendship with a gay man and the public discussion of my personal life as a means to show your degree of cultural and diversity training. My personal life was shared because we are friends, not because I am a badge for you to build upon.

    I think that making homosexuals feel they have to come out of the closet, heterosexuals think we all want to be openly public. I do not live in a closet. i refuse to ever live in a closet again. I live in a house, but that does not mean everyone is welcome in my house. I don’t let just anyone into my home. Maybe I want to just talk to someone at the door and not let them in, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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