Recently, there has been a campaign by the Red Cross Blood Service appealing for blood - you may have seen or heard about it. They are, as usual, in desperate need for more blood and donors. As someone who received multiple transfusions as a child, I think blood donation is essential and I thank every person who gives their time and blood to save the lives of others. The blood service is so necessary and everything should be done to keep them in good supply, so that little munchkins like me can survive bleeding incidents when getting their tonsils taken out.
So it is both hurtful and harmful to know that the ‘system’ believes I am too much of a ‘risk’ to donate blood myself. Even in a time of blood shortage, they’d rather go without than take mine. Sex workers unfortunately are still falsely viewed as disease ridden and unsavoury by the Red Cross, or those pulling their strings. I’ve known for some time that as a sex worker (someone who has a lot of PROTECTED sex), I am ineligible to give blood. I’d love to give back what I took from the bank when I was young, even though I hate needles, but I’ve accepted it. It nags me, but I live with it. It has been a long time since I have thought much about it. Until this week.
This week, a former lover of mine went to the blood drive to give blood, but was denied as he admitted sleeping with a sex worker. It seems that not only am I considered a ‘risk’ for donation, but so is every one I have bedded. I always use condoms, both in my private and professional life, as I care very much for my health and my sex work career. I am tested every 8 weeks and I only date equally careful men. My clients all must use condoms. I have probably much more sex than the average person, however I am considerably more careful. I have to be.
This is true for my peers. Not only are we more careful, but we are more educated on safe sex and are more frequently and thoroughly tested. We have been subjects of studies that show this to be the case, and yet we are subjected to antiquated and discriminatory exclusions. We regularly find ourselves knowing more than our own doctors and nurses about what and how to screen properly, yet still we are tarred as the uneducated, unclean underbelly of society.
The Red Cross is so desperately in need of blood, and yet the web of those they exclude from donating, is far reaching and nonsensical. We know also that they do not allow those who have indulged in gay sex within the last 12 months to donate either. It’s a deeply homophobic and outdated stance to be taking in this day and age. We know they test the blood they collect and we know that the risk is no greater - and yet, we are still treated as dirty.
We can put aside the facts for a moment, to talk about how it feels to realise that I’m considered so risky by our society that everyone I’ve touched can’t donate either. It sucks - it’s really, really hurtful. My former lover was told that for the next 12 months, he will be unable to give blood. We can’t sleep together again if he wants to get those free cookies they give you in a year’s time. Apparently they’re good cookies. So that’s twice as long as if he’d had a tattoo or traveled through a malaria risk country - they only need a 6 month wait. That’s quite a statement they’re taking there against my community, and it’s both infuriating and flawed. Regular donators of rare blood may now think twice before bedding me or my peers, or have to choose to lie to medical professionals when giving blood, which is both illegal and unethical. In their eyes, I have tainted and will continue to taint everyone in my bed. That’s a LOT of you.
So why not lie? Is lying so bad? It is a temporary solution. Yes it is illegal, and it is unethical and I don’t like to do that. One could argue it’s for the greater good if you know you aren’t participating in risky sex, and the blood is definitely needed. It is literally life saving. My former lover was honest because firstly it’s the right/legal thing to do, but also he naively thought that surely they wouldn’t be that ignorant. His honesty ultimately cost him free cookies and the blood bank some juicy life saving blood. But I just don’t think that lying is the solution. Nothing changes if nothing changes, right? If we don’t bring awareness about arbitrary and discriminatory practises in the medical field, nothing will ever change. The medical profession often acts as if it’s a law unto itself, but it isn’t. One could argue that this practise goes against local anti-discrimination laws too, that were put there to stop people like me, feeling like this. They have no *recent* research to back their claim so besides out dated stereotypes and false beliefs, they have no legitimate reason for blanket banning sexworkers and everyone they touch.
It also makes no sense if sexual promiscuity is the core issue they take with people like me. In the Tinder age, how can they justify that my clients or lovers are more at risk of infection than those using Tinder? I’ve used Tinder, and most of the people I met ended up on the receiving end of a lecture by me about the importance of condoms. Unprotected sex is prevalent, and it’s not amongst sex workers. We have something to lose, whereas civilians think chlamydia is a shruggable easy fix and that HIV is a problem for ‘the gays’. It isn’t me or my peers participating in risky sex, it’s the average Joe who thinks that mitigating risk means using the withdrawal method. Frankly, they’re stupid. And what about the wives? You know, the ones who our clients go home to and have unprotected sex with? By this web of association logic, shouldn’t they be denied donating too? Monogamy is a veil of lies, and really is quite risky. And what about sugar babies and sugar daddies? Where are they on the sex work scale of risk? Especially when you consider the rate of condom use in those situations is much less. Is it the money? Does money make it dirty?
No, it all boils down to stigma and fear. In the 80’s there was a massive health crisis with the arrival of AIDS, and many people died or were affected by infected blood transfusions. The health profession had every right to panic. They had every right to be picky and selective about where the blood was coming from that haemophiliacs, accident victims and the sick desperately needed. Making them sicker is not the goal. It is no wonder there is fear - I read April Fools, it’s horrific. Obviously they don’t want to repeat history. The sick don’t deserve to die as much as the homosexuals and the prostitutes, in their eyes.
But it isn’t the 80’s any more. It is 2018. We have better testing in place, we are more educated, and more careful. My profession is legal where I live and in most Australian states and NZ, my former home. And yet still, archaic and discriminatory barriers to donation are costing lives here, not saving them. There appears to be no training in place for their staff in handling these situations either, with reports of nurses turning up their noses at denied donators in this situation and saying that they’d ‘pray for them’, which is grossly inappropriate. I feel proud that my lover was confident enough to educate the staff member involved, even in a somewhat awkward circumstance.
Sex workers are not diseased and unsavoury, we are just your neighbours, who contribute to society and want to do our bit. We practise and educate on safer sex. We have lower rates of infection than the general population, and we offer a much cleaner alternative to affairs in the world of adultery and casual sex. We keep those around us safe and informed, we don’t riddle them with disease. We send people home in better condition than we found them. We are not, Red Cross, more infectious than Malaria. We do so much good for our community that goes unthanked and unspoken, don’t hold us back from doing more. Between sex workers, our lovers, our clients and our gay friends - we are an enormous segment of the population. You need us .