Word is that the FDA has “finally lifted their ban on gay men donating blood.” For those of you who didn’t know how this all went down, you’d go up, fill out the questionnaire for men and whatnot, and one of the questions was “Have you ever had sex with a man, even once, since 19XX (I think it was 78, but I could be wrong…)?” Until I was 20, I always lied and said no, I’d go on in, give my blood, get my cute sticker, feel good about myself, and encourage others to do the same.
I had been educated about HIV- I knew how it was transmitted and that, as a gay man, I should be especially fearful since what we “did” was much more risky and thus, the safe sex messages in our community were quite plentiful. Condoms at gay bars were very common. We did our own outreach because most of the education was still absent of anything related to same-sex love.
Then, I came out. I hit my Pride stage of development (Google: Vivienne Cass’s model of sexual identity development) and made damn sure to tell every person who asked me to donate that they didn’t want my gay blood. They’d look at me quizzically and I’d have to explain about the blood ban. Most had no idea and didn’t understand, especially since the blood banks screened the blood regardless of how you answered the questions. This was the year 2000 or so.
So, here I am, 36 now, and WHOO HOO, the FDA wants my blood! *insert a dancing Dr. Gene image here* Oh, wait, wait a second…as I read closer…OH! Now I see the catch- gay men can donate blood ONLY IF THEY’VE BEEN ABSTINENT FOR A YEAR. Some have claimed that this is progress and I shouldn’t be angry, because progress is progress. Nope, not going to work for me…I’m pissed, even more so than before.
Here’s some facts for y’all:
- The form doesn’t operationally define “sex.” Oral sex is still sex, even though many don’t consider it to be. (PS- I love the words operationally define…).
- The riskiest form of sexual activity between two parties is anal intercourse without a condom with ejaculation. In this situation, the receptive partner has the greater risk of infection since they are accepting the fluid into their body. The anal cavity wasn’t built for penetration, thus, its walls are much thinner than those of a vagina. Thus, small blood vessels are closer to the surface within the cavity and easily tear during intercourse, even with lubricant, making infection more possible.
- Our anal cavities have no idea if we are gay or straight, man or woman.
- It is overwhelmingly heterosexist to assume that only gay men have anal sex and thus are inherently more at risk for HIV.
- Many heterosexual people enjoy anal stimulation and may have opposite- or same-sex partners help them with this, because, I know, this may be come as a shock, but sexual orientation and identity are very different than sexual behaviors.
- Behavioral questions are already a part of the form that one is asked to fill out- it inquires if one has engaged in other high-risk activities: IV drug use, paying money or giving drugs in exchange for sex, having a tattoo recently.
- When you indicate that only gay men, who may or may not have engaged in risky sexual activities, cannot donate blood because you assume that all gay men must be having anal sex and that no heterosexual people do, you are engaging in discrimination.
Now, instead of that question, how about if the question was: “Have you engaged in unprotected anal intercourse with a partner in the past year?” This behavior is risky regardless of sexual orientation. Women are just as much at risk of HIV infection from being a receptive anal partner as a man is (see comment above about our anal cavity not knowing our biological sex…). I know people might cringe at that question, but, we are talking about a situation where you’re going to be giving a bodily fluid to other people, so being asked personal questions is part of the deal, right?
Are you hearing me FDA? I’m not happy with this second-class citizen stuff. My blood is just as good as any heterosexual person’s. Stop being a laughing stock and update your policy.