Blood bans & disavowal

I’ve shared a fair amount of news about changes in blood donation policies around the world. I think the policies which ban gay and bisexual men from donating are—like HIV-specific criminal laws—outdated and counterproductive, relics of an era of fear and ignorance that should be reformed.

Lifetime, and even most shorter-term, bans are not necessary or justifiable and are based in, and contribute to, bias and stigma against gay and bisexual men. I think screening procedures which assess individual risk rather than membership in “risk groups” are both fairer and more effective.

At the same time, I’ve long been made uneasy by the attitudes and motivations of many of the most active campaigners against these bans. In this perceptive new piece at Dazed & Confused, Sean Faye lays out exactly what disturbs me:

There is a pernicious tone to the rhetoric here. If some gay men feel guilt or shame at the blood deferral – perhaps it is necessary to examine the impulses behind this reaction. Where is the shame coming from? Perhaps it is a dislike for being associated with HIV because of one’s sexual identity. Similarly, asking for exceptions based on marital status has a clear implication – how could people in heteronormative, monogamous partnerships be thrown in as a high-risk group when their sexual behaviour couldn’t possibly mean they are at risk of HIV.

There’s a sexual puritanism to this that, I believe, perpetuates HIV stigma. I have seen it in my own life in discussions with friends about the blood donation deferral. Whenever the topic is raised, friends who believe they’re being right-on will sarcastically say “they don’t want my filthy blood because I’m gay”. What masquerades as righteous anger in fact has dangerous and stigmatising implications – the subtext is “that’s ridiculous, I believe I am HIV negative – as is everyone else in this room – and our blood is clean.” Not only could this read as a reinforcement of the prejudice that HIV positive people are “dirty” – it’s a form of respectability politics, an assertion that the speaker themselves should not be associated with HIV.

The whole thing is worth a read.