Ottawa
3 min

Blood ban debate threatens to go off the tracks

Just as good as hookers, not just as good as married straights

To be gay blood donors, how far will we go? How far is too far?

I’ve begun to hear a scuzzy message from blood ban lobbyists, one they don’t need to use, one that I hope they’ll cease using. Bar dykes and club twinks beware: this is about you.

Who is affected? Singletons, sluts, threesome connoisseurs, the polyamourous, Internet tricks, drag queens, bathhouse bears, kinky folks, rent boys and their sugar daddies, park cruisers, porn makers and consumers, the poz community, exhibitionists, drunks and gay telemarketers — in other words, just about all of us.

Okay, what’s the big deal?

Let’s go back. University students at a dozen or more schools in Canada are fighting the longstanding prohibition on gay men from donating blood once they’ve had sex. So far so good.

At the crux of their battle? The ban is bad science because it doesn’t distinguish between activities that are high risk for transmitting HIV, like unprotected anal sex, and low-risk activities that include, according to Canadian Blood Services (CBS) promotional material, oral sex. (That’s right, according to the logic of CBS promos, one blowjob and you’re out of the blood donor pool. Forever, no less.)

That they don’t want our blood is bad enough, but a Health Canada decision now excludes gay men from donating organs for five years after sex. Its announcement in December has reignited anger about health policy that’s not scientifically sound.

The loudest protesters have been university students. It’s encouraging to see that the college set, after a decade of paralyzing navel gazing and politically correct self-flagellation, is again willing to make positive political statements about the world they want.

Still, I can’t help but ask — what does victory look like? Ideally, gay men who practice safe sex would be allowed to donate blood. More likely, the lifetime prohibition would be relaxed to a six-month or five-year prohibition following anal sex, even with a condom.

Likely, only gay men who are monogamous or worse — celibate — will receive the green light to return to blood drives, while men who are sexually adventurous, polyamourous or promiscuous will be left on the forbidden donor list. That may be more medically sound, but it’s politically divisive. Indeed, it will still be gays anchoring any new banned list — straight sluts will be a-okay to keep donating, as long as they don’t get mixed up with a bi guy.

If that’s the science, so be it. I’m not arguing against the outcome. Here’s what makes me uneasy. From one activist:

“It is ridiculous that you can have sex with a prostitute or use intravenous drugs and then donate blood six months later, but a gay man in a monogamous relationship cannot.”

Catch it?

To my ear, the undertone reads: in Canada, we let trash like addicts and johns give blood but not upstanding monogamous gays and that’s unfair.

That was the second time I winced. The first time was this winter, freezing my balls off at a protest on Parliament Hill. Another young activist pumped the following message through a megaphone: just because we’re gay, he said, that doesn’t make us promiscuous.

Which is true, of course, but why the disdain for promiscuity?

And later: HIV is not a gay disease; we’re not all HIV-positive.

Enough. How many gays will you have to denounce before you’re allowed to donate? If we have to sell our poz brothers down the river so some gays can donate blood, the battle isn’t worth it. If we must denounce prostitutes and their customers to have our way, we should stop and reconsider.

And if by fighting against a comparatively minor injustice, we make gays feel worse about their bed-hopping sex lives, I say pack up the protest and let the blood ban stand.

The blood battle is just the latest. For years, our activists have been holding up cleancut, monogamous couples as model gay citizens. Due to the particular character of recent gay battles — for survivor’s benefits, marriage, and adoption — we’ve often pretended in public that gays are squeaky clean, only slightly more risque than mated penguins.

The threat is that prudery will become the default setting for gays too, even more than it is now. I don’t relish the thought of the straight model, where we’ll have to pay lip service to monogamy, couplehood and clean living while sneaking away to visit the slings in Montreal on the weekend.

Let’s not call it quits. But let’s be careful.

Luckily, arguments against the lifetime gay-blood ban need not ostracize, isolate, or guilt-trip anyone in our community.

Try this on for size. While other people who engage in high-risk activities must wait six months before giving blood, gay sex results in a lifetime ban. However, HIV doesn’t take exponentially longer to show up in tests if it’s transmitted through gay sex versus visiting a hooker. Doctors say six months to be on the safe side; results tend to register after about three weeks. Therefore, there’s no scientific basis for the extended ineligibility after a same-sex romp.

So let’s leave the anti-promiscuous, anti-PWA, anti-sex worker stuff at home.