Saturday, December 26, 2015

Coming out as a blood donor

I've been a surreptitious blood donor for 14 years.

It all started after 9/11. I was stricken with grief. The enormity of the tragedy taking place in New York City weighed heavily and I wanted to do something, anything, to help with the recovery.
A few days later, there was a blood drive at school, and I thought long and hard about donating. I desperately wanted to do something useful, but I also knew it would mean lying to do it.
Eventually, I decided that giving blood would be more important than the lie I'd have to tell to give it. It never felt right, lying, and I'm relieved that I won't have to do it ever again.

Giving blood is an important part of my life. I'm humbled by the idea that parting with a pint or two here and there can help others get through the worst day of their lives.
And frankly, selfishly, it feels good to feel 'healthy', that my body has something of value for others. That's not a message that gay men get often enough.

At this point, some of you may be shouting at the screen, wondering how I could be so irresponsible as to endanger the blood supply. I've seen what HIV can do. I've lost friends to it. I've seen what the meds can do. Believe me, I'm under no illusion that HIV is something minor. Sure it's treatable, perhaps even managable at this point, but I could never live with myself if I thought there was even a fraction of a chance I could give HIV to someone through a blood donation.
At the same time, the rule that the blood donation system used is ridiculous - permanent deferment for any man who has had sex with a man since 1978.

So, I had to make up my own rules. I decided to go with six months since last having sex, and then an HIV test just to make sure, before allowing myself to donate.
I guess I have sex so infrequently that waiting six months isn't a big deal. There were even a few opportunities I passed up because my (secret) identity as a blood donor wasn't worth putting on hold.

Speaking of secret identities, it was quite jarring to go back into the closet to give blood. And to stay in the closet about being a blood donor everywhere else. I wanted to ask for the pink gauze to wrap up my arm after the donation, but had to bite my tongue. I had to make sure I wore the t-shirts that they give you inside out, and I couldn't accept as a gift in exchange for donation anything that would visibly associate me with being a donor.

I frequently struggled with who, how and when to "come out" as a donor in the rest of my life. Half of me wanted to come out fully and fight against the injustice of the gay donor ban. Half of my wanted to fly under the radar and help as many people anonymously as I could with my donations. I can't say I ever felt like I made the "right" choice there, often flying a bit close to the sun trying to do both at once.

For those members of my family, my friends, my coworkers, I'm sorry I didn't feel comfortable coming out to you as a blood donor - I hope you won't feel betrayed that I kept this to myself. And of course to the nurses at the dontation centers I've given at, I apologize for lying right to your face.
But to the mucky-mucks at the FDA - screw you. You've made my life uncomfortable and duplicitous and prevented many valuable donations from being received by others.

Gentle readers, I'm curious to hear your thoughts.


  1. I'm right there with you. Although the deferment language ostensibly focuses on behavior rather than identity, in reality it perpetuates the craziness of the early AIDS years where people talked about "being gay" as a risk factor rather than focusing on behaviors. I actually had a dream last night where I was explaining to someone that identifying as lesbian didn't mean you had a lower risk of HIV, using that study from the 80s about the high percentage of female sex workers in Providence who identified as lesbian! The permanent deferment rule is particularly galling since it's so clearly an attempt to compensate for how long it took the blood bank community to put reasonable safeguards in place. They went from refusing to take reasonable precautions to taking unreasonable precautions.

  2. Thank you for lying, and doing what was right. The laws, regarding this matter, are backwards, and are doing nobody any favors.