Oh man, SkepTech was a blast this weekend. Maybe a bit TOO jam-packed with epicness, though; such that I ended up missing several panels just getting food or, say, giving blood.
Yesterday I gave blood for the first time ever. It’s something I’ve always meant to do, but every time there was a blood drive right there in my face to remind me, I had been sick recently, or had just gotten a tattoo retouch done, so I couldn’t. But this time, at SkepTech, I had the opportunity I’d been waiting for, so I took it.
But it was also called to my attention that there were many at the convention who could not, nor could ever, under the current regulations.
(Potential trigger warnings for pictures of my blood)
Yeah, yeah, I could always have headed right over to the Red Cross and done it at any time. Out of sight, out of mind. But I was glad to have the chance to fix that oversight this weekend. I was well taken care of, given lots of juice and pretzels (sadly, no pudding cup to round out my 12-year-old-self’s standard lunch complement), and a very nice and thorough phlebotomist drained a pint out of me. (That’s 473 millilitres.)
I also caused something of a DEEP RIFT between two of the phlebotomists, who argued vehemently about whether or not I’d beaten the drive’s best time to that point. The best time on record was 5:08, and I had squeezed out my pint in either 5:04 or 5:09, depending on which timekeeping device they referred to. (If anyone’s reading this who gave blood and you have a better time, post it!)
During the questionnaire portion, I was more than mildly put out with the question asking if you were male and have ever had sex — even just once — with a man, since 1970. I completely understand the need to pre-filter the blood taken in case there’s a high risk group that might have HIV, but seriously, asking if you’ve used a needle outside a medical scenario with a doctor on hand is a hell of a better tell as to whether or not you’ve been exposed to HIV or any other blood-borne diseases. Men who’ve had sex with men (MSMs) are outright banned in the States from donating blood. Canada is no better in that respect. Britain at least allows MSMs to donate after a twelve month deferral period. This is better, but not the most progressive stance taken worldwide. It makes me much more motivated to give blood when I can, in fact. Someone has to make up that unnecessary shortfall.
But what I don’t get is the fact that they took a bunch of extra blood for testing the donation before putting it in the pool, so they’re already sinking the resources into testing that blood right now.
So, since being gay doesn’t actually introduce you to any more risk of HIV than being straight from what I can tell (especially if your sexual contact was safe!), this is probably a holdover of the prejudices of the time when AIDS first became a recognized global problem. You know the ones — that said it was a gay man’s disease. The same falsehoods that propagated hand in hand with that you could get HIV from a toilet seat or from kissing someone with the disease. All stuff well debunked now. And completely ignoring the fact that women are actually disproportionately prone to getting it and not getting proper treatment for it in areas where AIDS is prevalent, for many of the same reasons they’re already disadvantaged in those same areas, according to the World Health Organization (that well-known misandrist propaganda site).
So since you’re not actually pre-screening out the more likely victims of HIV, what purpose does this ban actually have now? Are gays actually disproportionately more likely to end up with a sexually-transmitted infection of any sort? Are they more prone to getting STIs that aren’t screened for by the blood tests? Are those blood tests more prone to false negatives, than false positives? No option speaks well if there’s not an actual issue, backed by evidence, that they’re trying to screen against!
If you’re not a gay male, and if you aren’t a needle user or haven’t had a tattoo or sickness recently, you should feel doubly motivated to donate, to make up the shortfall in donor blood. If you have the privilege to be able to give blood, you should take the opportunity, because it benefits us all. And if you can fix the biases, predicated on lacks of evidence, do that too. Donating blood saves lives, and doesn’t even take very long to do. Probably will hardly inconvenience you at all, either, if you’re relatively hale.
(Though honestly, I really wish I had had a chance to have more than a tiny glass of the Dark Horse Plead The 5th Imperial Stout at RePUBlic. I was already pushing it with my own alcohol tolerances and with the admonition to avoid booze for 24 hrs after donating, but dammit, it was amazing beer. Try it if you can.)