In the United States, gay men cannot donate blood unless they have abstained from sex with other men for 12 months.
In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, I am a gay man. I take care of myself, am on PREP (for the shocking amount of people who don’t know what that is, PREP is a pill you take once a day to prevent the transmission of HIV), and consider myself socially and sexually responsible. But because I have sex with other men, I am deemed ineligible to donate blood.
In the past two years, I have spent 46 days living in the cancer ward of the University of Alabama Birmingham, with my mom, while she received chemotherapy treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.
The most painful thing I saw during that time, was when she hadn’t been allowed to eat solid food for two weeks. The day finally came when she was allowed a little cup of oatmeal. Her eyes lit up, because she was so excited to finally eat something solid. And then before she could take one bite, a few drops of blood dripped out of her nose, ruining her oatmeal. It’s a very difficult thing, to see your mother’s blood, framed by the disappointment on her face about something so seemingly inconsequential as a cup of oatmeal. It forces you to think about the fact that she is only human, and no human is infallible.
That first time I saw her bleed was the most painful.
Later, when she spent a month shitting out huge blood clots, it didn’t even faze me as much as that first time. Even when the bleeding got so bad that they had to stop her experimental drug, which quickly led to her death, it wasn’t as hard as seeing those first few drops of blood. Because I faced her mortality in that hospital, over that stupid little cup of oatmeal, and even though it broke my heart, I was also filled with gratitude.
Gratitude because it really wasn’t her blood to begin with.
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In loving memory of Joyce Randall, 09/27/17
They don’t teach you this in school, but chemotherapy basically poisons your blood in order to kill the cancer within. That means that you can only survive on the donated blood of others. I watched her receive transfusion after transfusion. Some days she was so weak she couldn’t move, but her antibodies made it increasingly difficult for us to find matching blood types. Once I remember, during the darkest time in the hospital, we had to have blood flown overnight from another state, because there was only one person in the country that had the type of blood she needed.
We almost lost her that night. Because there isn’t enough blood to go around.
I tried not to be angry. I tried not to take it personally. But the only thing I kept thinking is how even if I wanted to, I couldn’t donate my blood to save her, or anyone else, because of the bigotry ingrained in the very fabric of our country.
While it’s true the FDA used to ban homos from giving blood at all, they have since decided that as long as we haven’t engaged in sex for the last year, maybe, possibly, they will take our blood.
Here is their statement, from the Red Cross website:
The FDA guidance “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products” states, “Defer for 12 months from the most recent sexual contact, a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months.” All U.S. blood collection organizations must follow this federal requirement.
Okay, so as long as I hold off from having sex for a year, become celibate, or lie about it, I can try and help save someone’s life.
As a gay man that just wants to do something good in the world, I am immediately ineligible by an outdated rule that stems from the longstanding homophobia that is deeply ingrained in all of our public institutions.
My mom died of cancer. Other people’s blood was the only thing keeping her alive. I saw that blood exit her body in a million different ways, a million different times, and all I could think about was how she only lived as long as she did because of the blood of heterosexual good Samaritans all over the country.
But in my darkest moments, when she desperately needed blood and there was none to be had, I couldn’t help but think of all the homosexual people out there, that may have been a match, and may have been able to help her if they had only been given a chance.
It really is that serious. When it comes to cancer, sometimes one bag of blood is the difference between life and death. The more transfusions you get, the more likely your body is to reject new blood, even from the same sources. So instead of immediately disqualifying people based on their sexual proclivities, how about we take sexuality out of it, and just take all the blood we can get?
I'm reminded of a quote from my mom's Alanon book, which I read almost every morning: "Although we have our unique qualities, all hearts beat the same under the skin."
The blood from those hearts can be used to save lives, if we only look past the superficialities that we currently use to set ourselves apart from each other.
I hope that nobody who reads this ever has to see what I saw. I hope that this country gets it’s head out of it’s own ass and chooses progress. I hope that if your mom is ever clinging on to life, there is a bag of blood available for her, whether gay, straight, or anything in between.
We are all the same inside. We all bleed the same. The only thing I want, is to be able to help those who bleed, as others have helped me.
But I can’t, because I’m a homosexual man, and have dirty, gay blood.