What it's like to be LGBTQ+ with IBD
Published: June 15, 2021
Every June during Pride, I'm reminded of how fortunate that I am. I can live in a country where I'm free to be myself and share my life openly with my husband of 20 years. I know that we can thrive because our life consists of lots of love and support. Support from the many facets of our family; And family is not just limited to blood relations. I also have the backing from my "chosen" family (the LGBTQIA+ community) and the IBD community.
As a young man struggling with my sexuality and Crohn's disease, I felt very isolated. Fortunately, in my early 20s, I found a group of friends that accepted me and brought me out of my proverbial shell. They knew that I struggled with bathroom issues but didn't have any idea of the lasting impacts it had on my ability to find an understanding partner. My body went from attacking itself, to sabotaging relationships, and all while, I struggled to come to terms with living on my own as an openly gay man. I realized that having this immune-mediated disease, much like being gay, would force me to continually "come out" regularly to those I allowed in my life.
I was explaining the all too frequent trips to the bathroom. An explanation of why I carried toilet paper and an extra set of clothes in my car would constantly come up. I could never accept the wonderful gesture of home-cooked meals from my friends because I never knew what sent me into a sudden flare. Road trips and date nights that constantly had to be interrupted to reroute me to the nearest restroom were becoming all too common. It was all very daunting, and at times it seemed easier to remain single than having to explain me constantly.
My Crohn's disease held my love life at bay for most of my adult life. Then, when I was 36 years old, I met my future husband, Art. In the beginning, I just assumed that this relationship would pass along as the others. But this one was different. Crohn's disease was there in our relationship from our very first date. We decided to have dinner at a fancy restaurant. My nerves caused my stomach to be in knots which caused a minor flare-up. I talked a mile a minute as I tried to impress him. Several times throughout the meal, I had to excuse myself to use the restroom. Art couldn't have been more understanding. It wasn't until years later that he confided in me that he thought that I had a bit of a drug problem that first night.
Twenty years later, my husband Art is my rock. But yes, I still have flare-ups. And yes, our outings and date nights are still interrupted as I commend him an immediate reroute due to an oncoming stomach issue. I know that I'm lucky that he understands, but I still feel anxiety about my disease. But sometimes, I forget to acknowledge and embrace my situation. I must remember that I'm allowed to be frustrated with my chronic illness, all the while not letting it define me.
Being a Crohn's patient, much like being gay, is part of who I am and not all of me.
I've surprisingly found encouragement and camaraderie through my employment with the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. It has given me the ability to be true to myself, acknowledge my disease and its daily struggles. I know NOW that I'm not alone in this fight. I am surrounded by other patients that share similar stories. Their strength and resilience and the Foundation's support have given me the ability to openly and honestly talk about my story as a gay man living with Crohn's disease.
Joseph Cobucci is a Crohn's disease patient and National Manager, Business Development Innovative Revenue and Campaigns for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.