“I’m sorry?” window seat said to me. “Would you repeat that please?”
“I said that moving to Florida allowed me to give blood again despite my HIV status. Florida uses One Blood and I’ve donated with them four times in the last 14 months. Most States use The American Red Cross and they won’t take my blood because of my HIV status.”
Window seat squints at me. “Go on?”
“Donating blood is something that’s super important to me. One of my mottos is that if I can do you a favor that doesn’t inconvenience me or cost me anything then I’m your man. Technically, giving blood is a slight inconvenience but not much of one and it’s super important. I gave blood the first time when I was in high school and when I met my wife here,” I jerk my left thumb to the lovely goddess sitting next to me, “she really got on my case to give. I think she’s up to her five millionth gallon or so.
“But I haven’t been able to donate to the red cross since like 1990 or so. I went in and donated and a few days later I got a phone call. A calm, soothing voice said that my donation had been red-flagged because the HIV test came up indeterminant: You know, neither positive nor negative? We talked and I told the gal my basic info; that I haven’t ever even smoked pot let alone shot up, hetero, monogamous for a decade at that point, la-de-da-de-da. She suggested I get checked. Hard to argue with that recommendation, huh? So, I made an appointment at a free clinic near our house and got checked.
“After listening to the theme from Jeopardy in my head for over a week, you know? Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dum. Dum, dum, dum, dum ,dum, de, dum? I finally got the result. Negative. No surprise considering my lifestyle but still a relief. Remember, this was 1990 and AIDS was not very well understood and even though I’m educated enough to know my risk was low I knew that it wasn’t zero and AIDS, scary as it is now, was even scarier then. There was much rejoicing.”
“But you still couldn’t donate?” she asked.
“Correct. As I said, AIDS was still new, big public fears and the best way to allay the fears is to make completely sure that the blood supply is uncontaminated. Do you know who Arthur Ashe was?”
“Tennis player. He got AIDS through a transfusion. Terrible for him but it did take just a little bit of the taint of AIDS away. America looked at AIDS as a gay man and addict’s disease. Much easier to garner support to fight it when we have a ‘respectable’ victim. Very sad statement. Very true statement.”
“Like Ryan White,” she says.
“Exactly like Ryan White except Arthur Ashe was an adult and a black man. Haters gotta hate. But yes, indeed. I taught school while Ryan White was in the thick of it. Lot of very scared, very ignorant people and to some extent who can blame them? We’re talking about their kids here. And ignorance is hard to overcome. There’s still people who think you can catch cancer or that vaccinations cause autism.”
“But you still couldn’t donate?”
“Correct again. Which made me sad. And then when nine-eleven happened I called the Red Cross and begged them to let me donate. I desperately wanted to do something to help. They said they’d get back to me. They did. No change. I still couldn’t donate.’
“That’s a shame.”
“It is. But I did become a Red Cross First Aid and CPR instructor. That helped. You know what’s hilarious though?” I asked.
“Well, I am married. And The Red Cross calls my wife to donate because she’s o negative; universal donator. So, if I’m a risk isn’t she a risk?”
Window seat just laughs. “I guess you gotta draw the line somewhere. I’m A positive.”
“I’m O positive, so most folks can take my blood but everybody can take hers.”
“So, what? Florida is different?”
“Yes. Did you give blood in Michigan?”
“I’ve never given blood.”
I shut up for at least two seconds, something which is hard to achieve. “You’ve never given blood?”
“Nope. Never. But I might. Now.”
“I donate because it’s completely safe but I won’t do the plasma thing. I know the risk is minuscule but anytime you take my blood out, pass it through a machine and put it back in me there’s a risk. So, whole blood for me, but no plasma. You really should donate.”
“I said I might.”
“Okay. Sorry. Hot button. The Red Cross did led the way in one regard though.”
“Well, homosexual men have been barred from giving blood since AIDS first raised its ugly head so, I don’t know, thirty, thirty-five years? Long time.”
“You really have never donated, have you? Long list of who can and can’t. Everybody has to fill out a check list and everybody’s blood gets checked for pathogens. A super important idea because America needs a safe blood supply. Pat can’t donate for a year because she traveled to Thailand for work. That happened when we went to the D.R. on vacation a few years back, too.”
“Sorry. Island of Hispaniola? The Dominican Republic.”
“But The Red Cross, after a generation of barring gays from donating lifted the ban. Sort of.”
“There’s an old, homophobic joke that I think I first heard in like, 1973. ‘What do you call a guy who has sex with 99 women and one man?'”
“A promiscuous idiot?”
I laugh. “That too, but the punch line is gay. Or a fag if we’re being historically accurate as to how I heard the joke. In any case, that was The Red Cross’ definition too. One strike and you’re out. No wiggle room. They updated that early this year and are now allowing men who have had sex with other men to donate. If.”
“Well the first if is the same as for everyone else of course. If they pass the screening. But the other if is if the donor has not engaged in same sex sex for at least a year. So, no actively gay donors, but still, it must open up the possibility of donation to tens of millions of men. I think Kinsey said that one man in ten will have a homosexual encounter in his lifetime. And I’ve heard the number as high as twenty-five percent. I’m just glad they’ve decided to be more inclusive. There’s always a need for blood.
“So, One Blood takes my blood and I am ecstatic to give it to them. I think it’s the easiest way in the world to be a real-life hero.”
“You’re not exactly shy, are you?” she asks.
“Me? Actually, I’m an introvert. I’m also just a touch autistic. This is just us putting on a show for one another. I get pretty tongue tied at times.”
“And speaking of shows, I should probably close my eyes for a bit so I’m ready for the conferences.”
“Ah. You want me to shut up. No worries. I’ll leave you to it.”