Bad Blood

“It’s in you to give,” Canadian Blood Services (CBS) says ad nauseam to encourage eligible donors to help replenish Canada’s chronically low blood supply. It’s been in me to give for years, but this time they don’t want it.

CBS is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization that manages the blood supply in all provinces and territories of Canada, outside of Quebec, and oversees the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. When hospitals need blood now, CBS communicates that its #bloodsignal is on across all marketing channels. Dedicated call centre volunteers even dial past donors to express urgency for O- blood. My phone rings. I answer. I book my next appointment.

I give blood often because it can be used to help save a mother during a difficult childbirth, a haemophiliac, a cancer patient, an accident victim or a young child with Factor V deficiency. My blood is clean and safe. So you can imagine my shock when nurses at Canadian Blood Services of downtown Vancouver didn’t let me donate blood. Not because of sexual activities, medical conditions or other risks, but because of a negative preconceived notion about trans donors.

I’m transgender, which means I take doctor-prescribed hormones to align mind and body. Hormones in the bloodstream are safe, otherwise even straight men and women would be added to the organization’s growing do-not-call list. Giving blood while transitioning is simple, but there’s a problem. Beyond the OK’d blood test, the OK’d questionnaire and the OK’d intake is one curiosity

“Have you had the surgery?” the first nurse asks after running through the usual questions about trips to Mexico or Africa, queer promiscuities and drug use.
“Why do you ask?” I reply.
“I’ll be right back,” she says.

A transgender person is someone whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of gender. It doesn’t mean that I’m HIV positive. It doesn’t mean that I’m promiscuous or a drug addict. Sure there is estrogen in my bloodstream, but that’s found in most women who give. Estrogen isn’t contraindicative. First nurse is out long enough for me to launch my Voice Memos app, just in case surgery comes up again. She returns to say…

Why am I not allowed to give blood today? Good question. There is no transgender ban online. The only LGBT community deferment rule I can find is this. It applies to sexually active gay men. It has nothing to do with me, period.

As you can tell, it takes a couple of minutes for it to sink in. I’m dumbstruck. I get up, leave the room and shuffle out of the building. I shake. My head spins. A lifetime of discrimination for being blind seems small compared to such a blatant regurgitation of ignorant and antiquated policymaking. I can’t stop the tears (I’m on hormones, remember?), so I weep. After regaining my composure, I take a deep breath and walk back in to clarify (or at least to speak my mind)…

I ask the front desk attendant to get her manager. I spend a few minutes rehashing details to the second nurse. She is confused. She gets a third nurse.

I must leave. There’s nothing more I can do at CBS. No blood, no sweat and no tears (Dang it!). They suggest I fill out a comment card. How low. That’s what brings me here to finally christen my blog (I planned to share my love of content, not this deeply private part of my life.). Reluctantly, after failed attempts to get CBS to respond, I go on CBC TV. It’s shared around the world, including here, here, here and here. I complain to BC Human Rights Tribunal.

According to Canadian Blood Services’ website, 52% of Canadians have needed blood or blood products for surgery or for medical treatment. Last July, CBS warned that it was 9,000 donors short of sufficient blood supply. The #bloodsignal is on, tweeted yesterday. Canadian Blood Services can’t afford to defer qualified donors because of no policy for healthy trans individuals.

I want something better than an apology. I want a promise that eligible, screened and qualified donors aren’t turned away because of gender or any other factor that may violate BC’s human rights code. I want to walk in to any organization or business in Vancouver and not be turned away simply because they don’t know how to respond to gender-variant individuals. I want equality.

I want fairness. Nothing more. Nothing less. Because, damn it, it’s in me to give.