Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"I'm full of blood": My letter to the editor

You may or may not already know that I'm not the biggest fan of cell phones. Because of that, I have a lot of rules about when I call and when I answer, but it didn't occur to me until today that my rules are so rigid that any deviation from them is likely to strike others as some kind of trouble.

What happened today to make me realize this?

I called my mom at lunchtime.


"Why are you calling in the middle of the day? You never call anyone before five on weekdays! What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just have a question."

"Are you sure everything's ok? You don't use your phone at work."

"No, it's fine. I'm on lunch. What's my blood type?"


I really should have thought this through more before calling, right?

I wasn't calling from the hospital, and nothing was wrong except for the overall problems with our heteronormative society. See, I was calling because we are having a blood drive on campus this week, and so many people asked me over the past few days if I had donated blood that I posted a status about it on Facebook this morning explaining that the Department of Health and Human Services still bans gay males from donating. The fact that such a ban exists was news to a lot of people, based on comments, so I decided to write a letter to the editor of the school paper.

Just in case they don't publish it, here's what I wrote:

I’m a gay male, and I’m full of blood.

I don’t usually lead with either of those things when I introduce myself to people. The first one tends to come out eventually if you talk to me long enough (especially if, say, we’re standing by a poster for the “Thor” sequel) and I assume that people take the second one as a given based on my non-vampiric status. Both of them have come up fairly regularly in conversation this week, though, because of the ongoing campus blood drive.

For those who don’t know, the Eighth Annual UT/Florida Blood Drive is currently in progress at the University Center. A long running and friendly way to play off of our rivalry with Florida leading into the game this weekend, Tennessee has a long tradition of beating Florida in this competition, and Volunteers have already donated over 400 times according to the current update on the MEDIC Regional Blood Center’s Facebook page. If we keep going at the current rate, we will probably take the competition again this year, but I’m sad to report that I am not able to help.

Several friends have asked if I’ve donated or plan to donate this week. As mentioned above, I am full of blood; O Positive, to be exact. Unfortunately, as also mentioned above, I am a gay male, and am therefore banned for life from donating blood by the Department of Health and Human Services. When I’ve explained this to friends over the past couple of days, reactions have been mixed, but the most common one has been that people are surprised that the ban is still in place.

For many UT students, this ban has existed since before they were born. It is a relic of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when the virus and viral transmission were not fully understood. Put in place in an era of frantic, reactionary policy decisions, it has unfortunately never been overturned despite growing protests from the medical and scientific community. In June of this year the American Medical Association voted to oppose continuing the policy, but the Food and Drug Administration insists that the ban must remain in place as a safety measure.

Even though I can hand you medical documentation showing that my blood is free of disease or viruses, and I haven’t engaged in any of the behaviors listed as potentially risky enough to temporarily ban me from giving blood, I am apparently still a danger, and need to be kept away from the general population. As a gay male, my blood is more dangerous than that of lesbians and heterosexuals with multiple heterosexual partners, including prostitutes, because I’m the only one of them with a lifetime ban from donating.

Despite the institutional oppression that keeps me from donating, I’m not anti-blood drive. I won’t be in the hallway at the UC with a sign, yelling at people not to give, but I also won’t be down there donating. A friend pointed out that I could just lie, but as a gay male I’ve gone through enough of a struggle with myself and others to be honest about who I am, and I’m not willing to compromise that. If you’re able to give blood this week, I encourage you to, but I also encourage you to keep in mind that it’s not a privilege extended to everyone.

Hopefully this will offer someone, somewhere, some food for thought about privilege, institutional oppression, and blood drives.


Marcheline said...

I totally agree with your decision to tell the truth, even if it means you remain full of blood. And I'm still snorting at your conversation with Mom... I've so been there! Small example: Showing my mother pictures from a trip I took to Scotland. She sees a photo of a tiny, rusted out boat beached on a rocky shore. She says "God, I hope that's not the ferry you took!" I said "Yes, Mom, it is. It sank and we all died."

Justin Bower said...

I remember in elementary school there was a book about crazy laws, like "In Oklahoma, it's illegal to play poker with a mule" and things like that. This outdated and exclusionary rule dwarfs them all in sheer nonsensical dumbness.