I have never given blood before. This is due to the fact that I have, throughout much of life, been totally chickenshit about needles, blood and, even more specifically, bloody needles. When I was 16 years old I was in a car crash where I was unharmed aside from a piece of glass that I stepped on while walking around afterwards. I was so concerned that I had just totaled my 1986 Toyota Corolla and should probably never drive a car again that I didn’t notice that I had stepped on glass until the next day and, by then, I couldn’t get it out on my own. I went to the doctor to have it removed, and I was prescient enough to have my eyes closed throughout the entire procedure.
When it was over the doctor sat back and exclaimed “Look at that!” I opened my eyes to see him holding the long, thin piece of glass he had just removed from my foot, along with the long, thin needle he had used to do it. My stomach immediately dropped, my skin went cold, and I broke out in a clammy sweat. I lay back down on the examination table and reported, “I’m going to faint.” My doctor replied, “You can’t faint because you’re already lying down.” I remember thinking, “Watch me,” just before the room went black. I woke up minute later and promptly threw up into the bowl the doctor had nicely put beside me.
So no needles for me, no blood, and definitely no blood donations. Whenever my doctor required a blood sample I would stoically walk to the blood draw area, announce my penchant for fainting/vomiting, hold out my arm, shut my eyes, and not open them again until I was in the parking lot. I kept this up for many years, assuming that my teenage reaction to blood and needles would be my default for life.
And then I got older, and I gave birth. Being pregnant, and then having a child, changes many things, such as your pain scale. Things that I used to find quite uncomfortable now strike me as merely ticklish. Having a child also completely obliterates your ability to distinguish what is and is not disgusting. I can still understand how poo and vomit are, empirically, gross, but while they used to put me right off my lunch I have made peace with them, so as to avoid starving to death.
I’m older, and a parent, so when the announcement came around my office that the Red Cross blood mobile would be in the parking lot I still didn’t sign up because the idea of a bag of blood completely freaks me out. But then a second announcement came around, letting us all know that Northeast Ohio is in the middle of a blood emergency. According to the Red Cross, “Blood donations have fallen short of hospital needs for the past few months, resulting in about 39,000 fewer donations than what’s needed, as well as a significant draw down of the overall Red Cross blood supply.” So I thought about sick children who need blood transfusions, and I thought about possibly passing out, and I thought about the free cookies, and I signed up.
The process of giving blood took much longer than I had expected, mostly because I had never done it before and needed to complete a questionnaire that screened me to see if I was, among other things, a sexually active gay or bisexual man. Though the FDA recently lifted their lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, they still will not accept blood donations unless those individuals have not had sexual contact with another man for the past 12 months. In 2006 the Red Cross called the restrictions on gay male blood donation "medically and scientifically unwarranted" while the Williams Institute
, an LGBTQ think tank, estimates that lifting this updated ban would result in an additional 298,300 pints of blood each year. The FDA requires that all blood donations be tested for HIV, and HIV is in no way limited to men who have sex with other men, so the current ban prevents many otherwise eligible donors from donating.
I gave blood, I was very nervous about it, I kept my eyes fixed firmly to my iPhone the entire time, I learned I am a “slow bleeder”, which is one of those fun facts I’ll definitely include whenever US Weekly nominates me for one of their “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” columns, and the whole thing was fine. I drank orange juice and I didn’t feel quite right standing up for an hour afterwards, which is likely because I forgot to eat breakfast beforehand. Now, there’s a small mark on my inner arm from the needle and a 100% chance I will donate again as soon as I am able to. Which is more than many of my dearest gay male friends get to do.
To donate blood to the Red Cross, visit redcrossblood.org
or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). To encourage the FDA to allow all gay and bisexual men to donate blood, click here.