Next time I donate blood, which is scheduled to be the end of August, it will be the 144th time. I will get my 18-gallon pin. Let me explain how I got there.

Time #1 – I was working at IBM, after high school, and before I went to college. It was an OK, not a great job. When management said I could take off to donate for an hour to donate blood AND GET PAID my normal wage, that was enough.
I donated a handful of times in college.
But I didn’t get regular, like five or six times a year regular, until the 1980s. I’d go to the well-named Clara Barton Drive, off Hackett Blvd in Albany, on my way to work.
When I started working downtown, I switched to the location in the Empire State Plaza, again giving on the way to work, or occasionally at lunch time.
since I’ve started working at Corporate (frickin’) Woods, I’ve still donated at ESP or on Everett Road, but it just takes longer.

There have been very few times I was unable to give. Once or twice because I was a little anemic by Red Cross standards. Ate a lot of spinach and I was fine. I got some sunrash from being in Barbados in May 1999 and had to wait a month. But the longest time off was for a 13 months in 2002-2003, when I had a series of rabies shots and had to wait a year.

I should note that it’s not all altruism. I’m convinced that there are real health benefits for the donor.

One of the things that is in the Red Cross mantra is that only about five percent of the eligible donors actually give. One suggestion I’ve made in this blog before, though I now see it was nearly five years ago.

It is this: allow gay men to donate blood. The question I have to answer every donation is if I have ever had sex, even once with another male since 1977. If the answer had been yes, I would have been disqualified. Since I last mentioned this topic, I have donated an average of 5.6 times per year. I’m told that I may have saved the lives of three or four dozen people since then.

It seems the argument against gay males donating is that they may have a communicable disease. I find the assumption quite absurd, discriminatory, and worse, not in the best interest of the American Red Cross. Of course one doesn’t want someone with HIV AIDS, any more than one would want someone with hepatitis, an active cancer or a bleeding disease. But that is screened in the questions, and double checked in the lab. Still makes no sense to me.

2 Responses to “Blood. Gross.”

  • Uthaclena says:

    I consider regular blood donation right up there with routinely voting; they are marks of a good citizen. Even before I had heard about the health effects of excess iron in men, I had developed the theory that dropping a pint was rather like “back-flushing” a car’s radiator; it takes a certain amount of organic “crud” with it, cleaning off the cell walls! My kid is sixteen and wants to start donating with me, and may do so accompanied by a parent, with proof of age, and meeting certain height/weight criteria.

  • I donated blood only once, in the late 1970s at a summer job while I was in university. Not long after I’d graduated and started working, the donation ban came into effect and I was permanently banned. This was no big deal for me—I worked for gay-friendly companies (in the Reagan years!!), but this could be a huge drama for other people in more hostile environments. I heard stories about blood services in some places allowing gay men to donate, but then they marked the blood for destruction, all so a gay worker wouldn’t be outed through the donation process.

    The problem, then as now, is that for many workers, blood donation was pretty much a de facto requirement, through management or peer pressure, and many gay men were terrified of being outed through this process (especially in the early years, the hysteria of the time meant gay men might be summarily fired if found out). There were all sorts of strategies: Calling in sick the day of donation, if it was only one day, pretending to be have recently been sick; but I’m also sure plenty of people in these situations lied and donated, anyway: They simply couldn’t risk being outed.

    Times have changed, everyone has moved on—except for blood services (I can’t donate blood in New Zealand, either). You’re quite right that it’s time to end the blanket ban: They ought to focus only on risky behaviours which, of course, includes heterosexuals, most of whom can donate right now, despite their high-risk behaviours.

    But that ban also relates to an unwritten history from the early years of HIV/AIDS, namely, how blood donation, or the inability to donate, became a source of cultural danger for gay men. At least that part of it has changed in most places.

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