I can’t donate blood because I am married (and have sex with) a man who has sex with men (mostly a man, but sometimes other men). Regardless of how safe our sex lives are, regardless of all the rules we have in place to keep us disease free, we can’t donate blood. My husband, because he has sex with men (mostly his husband), and me because I have sex with my husband.
But that’s where the scrutiny stops. My other husband (the straight one) and my girlfriend can all go and donate blood, because they aren’t having sex with someone who is male who has sex with other men. The scrutiny stops one jump beyond even those the disease vectors don’t. I’m unable to find the classic HIV ad that was screened in Australia (on YouTube at least) which asked if you knew who your partner’s previous sexual partners were, and were you safe from HIV.
My tribe practices safe sex. We have strict rules, which include regular STI testing, to keep ourselves free from diseases and to protect each other. We trust each other and practice full disclosure, so it feels like a bit of a slap in the face when the Red Cross doesn’t do the same. I do get that 65% of new diagnoses of HIV are from men who sleep with men (2009), and if you take the ultraconservative number of queer people in Australia to be 5% of the total population, then that’s slightly more than one in every 1000 gay men who are diagnosed with HIV – odds that those who rely on blood transfusions don’t want to have to face. Therefore banning (deferring as it tends to be put) men who have sex with men from donating blood is easier than well all of the other options.
But to tell men who have sex with men that if they remain male-sex free for 12 months then they can donate blood is… well… rude. “Hello men who have sex with men, I know that you enjoy it, may be in a long-term, monogamous relationship with that man that you’re having sex with, but we treat all queer men the same, so when you’re next celibate for 12 months then we’ll think about letting you back in our club. In the mean time, go on and do that thing which is risky and leads to us rejecting your blood.”
Of course, the other problem with the whole thing is that if my husband was not bisexual and we were still openly polyamorous, I could go and have risky sex every weekend with whoever I wanted, and donate blood. The Red Cross’s rules are based on statistics and not actual behaviour. Because more men who have sex with men are diagnosed with HIV than any other group, all those queer men who are in monogamous relationships or who practice safe sex are discriminated against, as are their female partners (if they have them). All heterosexual individuals who engage in risky sex don’t have to worry about being banned from donating blood (should they want to).
There has to be a better way of dealing with this. Of capturing information about STI status from existing STI tests, of asking questions about relationship status, and asking questions about the type of sex engaged in by those who wish to donate blood. Perhaps instead of being squeamish about asking questions or providing answers to such things, we should be more open about STI status, sexual history and relationship status, especially when it comes to essential supplies.
UPDATE: I’ve just been alerted to this great story of a man being turned away from donating blood in the US because he “appeared” gay. The story also has more on the banning of queer men from blood donation.