Name: Sara Persutti
Identity: Lesbian, Non-binary
Background: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I graduated with my Masters from D’Youville College. I have been practicing for 3 years (currently as a travel OT) and I have worked primarily with traumatized
youth in specialized behavior schools. This is where my passion lies and I plan to become a certified specialist in trauma interventions for youth.
I am lucky to have grown up in a city like Buffalo, where the LGBTQIA+ community is celebrated. I attend local LGBT events, hang out at LGBT bars and cafes, and support local arts and music. I have also modeled for a gender neutral shoot at my hair salon. When I am not being social I enjoy being as active as possible, whether with yoga, lifting, cycling, or hiking. Needless to say, I keep myself busy!
Profession: Occupational Therapist
Area of Practice: Youth-Young adult, School-based
What does being out in healthcare mean to you?: Since I primarily work with youth, coming out as a healthcare worker gives me the opportunity to be an LGBT role model for kids, who are experiencing their own journeys in a world that prioritizes being cisgender and straight. There is a common misguided idea that children are “too young” to be exposed to the concept of being queer, when everything they are exposed to in our current social climate emphasizes heterosexual, patriarchal relationships. Kids who feel they might be trans, gay, etc. have very little representation to identify with, and can be left confused, ashamed, and targeted by their peers. I value that my platform in healthcare allows me to be someone kids can be their authentic selves around, while showing them that being queer is both normal and something they can (and should) celebrate in themselves and others. Destigmatizing queerness in school will help kids feel safer and
more empowered to come to school, perform their occupations, and achieve to their full potential.
What is one thing everyone should know about your identity?: Non-binary lesbians are valid! My gender identity is non-binary, which means I do not identify within the culturally imposed male-female binary. Gender is socially constructed, and I don’t feel compelled to participate in concepts of masculinity and femininity. I’m just Sara! My sexuality is lesbian, which means I am attracted to women and non-binary folk (this frequently misunderstood and sometimes argued, but non-binary people have historically always been included in lesbianism!)
How do you feel when your identity is included?: Even within the LGBT community, non-binary lesbians are often looked at with a sideways head. Even people within the community need to be further educated on inclusivity. When my identity is acknowledged and respected, it feels affirming and great. At work, I have been hesitant to even come out as a lesbian at certain jobs, mostly when it seemed like there weren’t any other queer people around. Once I started encountering openly gay colleagues, I was much more confident to come out. I enjoy feeling empowered to come out on my own terms rather than let people make assumptions and judgments. Fortunately, I’ve never been in a workplace where I felt ostracized after coming out, which has made it easier and more comfortable to be myself while doing my best work.
What does “taking up space” mean to you?: Taking up space means that I feel empowered and safe to be openly and proudly queer. I should be able
to live my truth as fully as my cis and straight peers do, without any shame or disrespect. Unfortunately, LGBT people do still face stigma and discrimination, but the more we take up space and come out, the more we demand that we be considered as equals in healthcare and society as a whole.
What is one piece of advice that I would give to healthcare workers who aren’t sure how to honor the identities of their patients?: The most important thing is learning the needs of each individual patient, rather than relying on generalizations or assumptions. Ask the patient directly what their name and pronouns are so you can always address them and speak about them without invalidating their identity (and never refer to them with labels they have not used themselves). If you are unsure of something related to gender/sexual identity and need to know to help you can work with your patient, ask the patient directly, with open-ended, non-invasive questions (i.e “Are you sexually active? With which genders?”) Never assume that someone performs certain tasks or behaviors because of their identity.
Has your identity influenced healthcare that you have received?: I don’t feel I’ve been discriminated against due to my identity, but I do feel the system needs work in its approach to sexual health in general. All my doctors know that I am a lesbian, and I have been asked if I am with a partner and if I am sexually active. This is usually where the questions end, and I feel patients
would benefit from more in depth questioning. I was once asked about sex toy usage and cleaning, which may have been asked since I am a lesbian, but I would hope practitioners would ask all individuals this question.