Giving Blood

Yesterday, I gave blood for the very first time.

Even though I did very little besides lie back on a table and play on my phone while the nurse did all the work, I was rather proud of myself. Giving blood is such an easy thing, but there’s nothing quite like literally giving up some of your lifeblood to make you feel like you’ve done something incredible. Not to mention, I got some free Cheez-its and fruit snacks out of the deal.

I’m lucky enough that, because the place I work was hosting the blood drive, I was able to spend an hour and a half of my work day giving blood. Anything that gets me away from my cubicle and keeps me from having to stare at a computer screen is a blessing in it’s own right, so really, I should be thanking the Red Cross for allowing me to give my blood.

If you’ve never given blood, here’s how it works.

After checking in with a worker, you first sit and wait for a while to see a nurse. They have a long packet for you to read with guidelines about giving blood, including restrictions on who isn’t allowed to give (more on this later).

Once a nurse is available, he or she takes you behind a barrier to ask you some personal questions and prick your finger to make sure that your iron levels are high enough. Next you answer a long questionnaire with even more personal questions, including travel history and who you’ve had sex with. (Yes, you read that right, they need to know your sex history)

If you finally get cleared to give blood, they take you into another room, lay you back on a table, and start hooking you up. First they find where your vein is and mark it with some marker (don’t be surprised if this doesn’t rub off for several days, and remember, it’s not a bruise!). Next is the iodine, then the needle prick.

The hardest part of all of this, for me, was the flexing. They give you a ball to squeeze to keep the blood flowing – squeeze for a count of four, release for a count of four. This is problematic for me for two reasons. First, I’m terrible with counting rhythmically. I can guarantee that not a single set of four-counts was the same. Second, I’m absolutely useless with my left hand. By the time I’d squeezed that damn ball four or five times, my hand was tired and I only very grudgingly continued to flex my muscles. Ambidextrous I am not.

The one thing that I found unsettling about giving blood, though, was something that didn’t affect me in the least.

When donating blood in the US, you are not allowed to give if you are a gay man.

Now, I need you to read that last sentence once more. Read it again five more times. Read it until the absolute absurdity of it sinks in. Read it until you are utterly outraged.

There are SO MANY things wrong with this law, this requirement that prevents any man who has had sex with another man (or a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man) in the last twelve months from giving blood, but here are what I think are the top two:

You cannot on one hand constantly be saying that there is a critical need for blood, while denying an entire portion of the population the right to give their blood. Gay and bisexual men make up at least 5-10% of the population. That is 5-10% fewer “critical” blood donations that you are receiving.

Furthermore, by not allowing gay men to donate, you are implying that there is something wrong with their blood. You suggest that their blood is unclean, dirty, unfit for use. And that implication extends to the people themselves. You cannot say, “We don’t want your blood because you’re gay,” and not also be saying “We don’t want you to be gay.” And that’s not ok.

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