Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gay blood: Homophobia at Canadian Blood Services

Today I saw a news article that poked at a very old sore spot of mine: the Canadian blood supply.
 Gay men allowed to donate blood...sort of.

I work in a blood bank and have done so for more than 20 years so blood is a subject that is near and dear to my heart and something that affects my life on a daily basis. I used to donate blood regularly, but a number of years ago I stopped. There were some health and lifestyle issues that interfered, but the biggest factor for me was my outrage over various Canadian Blood Services policies. Their homophobia being high on that list.

For those who don't know, CBS is the agency in charge of the collection and distribution of donor blood across Canada....with the exception of Quebec which has their own agency. In the 1980's, after the scandal of HIV tainted blood, the Krever inquiry, and all the law suits that followed, Canada decided to separate the blood collection branch of the Canadian Red Cross and administer it separately. Hence the creation of Canadian Blood Services.  About five years ago I attended a symposium of lectures, one of which was given by a member of the Canadian Blood Services agency and it was at that lecture that I had my first taste of the unapologetic homophobia that persists in our national health organizations. Basically gay men are banned from donating blood. Not because of their sexual habits...but because they are gay. I know that sounds like a ridiculous differentiation...but bear with with me.

The problems stem from the questions that all donors are required to answer to qualify to donate. Just to be clear there are a LOT of problems with the donor questionnaire and a LOT of inconsistencies. You can read it in its entirety here, if you're so inclined: CBS Donor Questionnaire

But for my purposes we'll just focus on two key questions. (It should be noted that the definition of "sex" according for the purposes of the questionnaire include vaginal, anal and oral fun):
19. Male donors: Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?

23. Female donors: In the last 12 months, have you had sex with a man who had sex, even one time since 1977 with another man?

I would assume that the revised form of the questionnaire will read like this:

19. Male donors: Have you had sex with a man, even one time in the last 5 years?

23. Female donors: In the last 12 months, have you had sex with a man who had sex, even one time in the last 5 years with another man?

So.....Gay men who engage in "risky" behaviour (i.e. being gay) are banned for life. But women who engage in "risky" behaviour with such biggie.

Let's be clear here. The "high risk" activity that we are really talking about isn't just any sex, it's anal sex. The reason the risk is higher--and the reason HIV hit the gay community so hard in the 1980's--is because the anus is not really made to accommodate a penis. It isn't lubricated and doesn't stretch as well and is much more prone to tearing--hence the risk of the pitcher's semen mixing with the catcher's blood. The sex of the catcher has nothing to do with it! It is not like a woman's rectum is more lubricated or less likely to tear than a man' why are women only restricted for one year after engaging in risky behaviour...and men banned for life?

Although their broad definition of sex does include anal it is obvious that the assumption is that the women don't participate in that...nasty stuff. Otherwise why would there be such a huge difference in the time restrictions for men and women?

If you read the rest of the questions you'll see that no other body fluid risky behaviours involve a restriction of longer than 12 months....

25. At any time in the last 12 months, have you paid money or drugs for sex? 
26. At any time in the last 12 months, have you had sex with anyone who has taken money or drugs for sex?

So they are saying that monogamous homosexual men present a higher risk than intravenous drug users? And of course IV drug users are much more reputable sources when it comes to judging their sexual partners.

It's obvious that the reason male/male sex has been singled out is because of the high likelihood that this involves anal sex..and because gay men must be know...dirty. These questions basically assume that a woman in a "normal" heterosexual relationship doesn't engage in anal sex with her husband...and that her husband doesn't get down and dirty with anybody else.

Let's face it sex is risky. Oral. Vaginal. Anal. It matters not. And there is no way for anyone to know for certain what their latest partner has been up to on their own time. Asking someone to swear to something that someone else did...or didn't frankly ridiculous in the first place. And it is beyond ridiculous to  ban men in committed, long term, monogamous relationships from donating blood simply because...they're gay

The tests used to check donor blood for HIV and Hepatitis are able to detect signs to the diseases within FIVE DAYS of exposure. It is these tests that have made our blood supply one of the safest in the world, not these ridiculous questionnaires and restrictions. If we have to have lifestyle questions in the questionnaire then make them specific enough and nondiscriminatory enough to be meaningful. The questions should be behaviour based, as the article states, rather than gay based.

How about:

  • Have you swallowed the cum of a stranger in the past 12 months?
  • Have you had anal sex with an anonymous partner in a prison shower in the last 12 months?

  • Have you attended a sex club or participated in a group orgy in the past 12 months?

or how about

  • Have you shared a sex toy or butt plug with anyone whose sexual history you don't know in the past 12 months?

Oops. My habits are showing.
And leave it at that.

Note: For any Canadian citizens who feel strongly about this, I encourage you to send your concerns to the person who is ultimately responsible for these decisions. You can contact our Minister of Health by filling out the following FORM

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bodacious Tatas and Bitchin' TV viewing

A few days ago a coworker told me of a story she had heard of a Grade 10 history class that was viewing the TV series The Borgias during class time. I'm not personally familiar with the series, but apparently there are a lot of breasts...and other body parts flaunted about. Not to mention girl on girl action and incest is portrayed. I don't believe there are any actual up close pussy shots, but enough content to suggest coitus is happening just out of view of the camera. Apparently, since the naughty clan produced two popes and this was a Catholic school, the teacher felt the content was relevant. A parent disagreed, raised her objections about the graphic sexual content with the principal and the curriculum was immediately discontinued.

 My coworker asked how I would feel about my 15-year-old watching something like that. I replied that historical and educational relevance aside (frankly, I'm thinking I should bone up on the series) I wouldn't have a problem with it. Especially since I routinely watch the series Game of Thrones with my 15-year-old. And I suspect the sexual content in that one might make even the a pope blush.

I did qualify my reply a bit, however. I said that I could certainly see that parents wouldn't want their kids' first exposure to that kind of sexual content to be in a classroom setting. I understand that could make a lot of teens uncomfortable and result in some demeaning jokes and inuendo. My point is that, at fifteen or sixteen, it shouldn't be the first time they're exposed to it!

My family and I watch a lot of movies. And I figured out early on that our viewing would be pretty limited if I cut out everything with an R rating. Apparently a nipple shot is all it takes to earn that rating in the American market, by the way. Thankfully Canada is a bit more progressive get my point. And I admit that the first time a bare boob made it's appearance while I was sitting beside my ten-year-old I cringed a little. I waged a little internal war. Should I cover his eyes? No. That was ridiculous, and I refused to be that mom. Should I fast forward to get past the uncomfortable part? Should I just choose more wisely next time? The answer to all those questions was a resounding NO. I write smutty books, for God's sake. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I let a little nudity scare me?

No. I wanted my boys to be comfortable with sex, and more than anything I wanted them to know that I'm comfortable with it. So that when the time came for them to have the really big issues and serious questions regarding sex, girlfriends, or their own health, I wanted to be sure they knew I wouldn't cringe over those questions. That I would be open to their questions and answer them easily and honestly. And what better opportunity to field questions, encourage discussion and have a few laughs than during a screening of American Pie?

I also told myself that it was ridiculous to be more concerned about watching a man's bare ass pumping up and down than about watching a dozen people get shot and or see body parts get blown off. Sex is usually beautiful and natural. Violence almost never is. So why is it that we seem more comfortable with blood than with semen? Could it be because of our religious culture? A culture that condones the eradication of non-believers and punishing any woman who actually enjoys having sex?

 I had made my decision. The TV was staying on during any and all sex scenes and I, as a parent, refused to cringe at the notion of my boys seeing another man's penis or a bodacious set of ta-tas.

But bodacious tatas aside...there are so many more reasons to watch Game of Thrones. Not the least of which is the character of Daenarys Stormborn. This woman is my hero and I watch every episode on pins and needles, waiting for her to appear. I love that she started out as sweet and innocent and naive. I love that she grew and learned to accept and enjoy her own sexuality, and how much power came along with that. I love that she wields her power with wisdom and without apology for who she is or what she wants. But I love that what she wants most of all is freedom and justice...for her people in general, and for women in particular.

Daenarys Stormborn is BITCHIN'! And I would encourage anyone with a teenage daughter to tune in to HBO and watch Game of Thrones with her. Young women need more heroes like the Mother of Dragons.

For more on how I deal with sexuality with my teenage boys I encourage you to read:
 It's Not About Authority--It's About Trust

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jesus and other failed friendships

What makes a friendship? That is not always a simple question. An on-line search of definitions for the words "friend" or "friendship" yielded results that were quite varied and oddly unsatisfying.

Definitions such as, "1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts. 2. A person whom one knows; an acquaintance."  strike me as far too vague and inadequate when compared to my vision of what I believe a friend to be.

An acquaintance is someone you say hi to in the halls at work. Someone you sit with at coffee break because you have to drink coffee and you'd like to have someone to do it with. An acquaintance is someone you friend on Facebook and only see at class reunions. A friend should be much more than that.

A friendship involves mutual commitment, affection and trust. I should be able to count on them, and they should be able to count on me.  I should be free to be myself and have fun with them, and they with me, etc., etc. If the only way I am able to spend time with someone is if I am the one to pick up the phone or send out an email and I go to the trouble of arranging an outting, then I have cause for concern. Not that I'm into keeping score, but if a year or two go by and I'm the only one making any effort, then it becomes rather obvious that I'm the only one who really feels any commitment to this relationship. If I'm willing to give up a Saturday to help a friend move, but all I get in return is excuses if I need help painting my back fence.... Well, you get the idea. If I'm the only one willing to put any effort into it...then why am I there?

Perhaps it is this disconnect between my definition of friendship and the generally accepted definition that gets me into trouble Or perhaps I am just incredibly selfish and demanding. Either way, I seem to have a penchant for walking away from relationships that I get no benefit from.

For many years I belonged to a group of women known as the SWABees. There were seven of us who had met and become good friends through the majority of our high school years. At the tender age of 19, after highschool graduation, we were determined to stay in contact, so we formed an organization. We desperately wanted an acronym that was fun and easy to say and remember so we came up with SWAB: Swinging Women's Association of Bachelorettes.  Needless to say, we had no idea of the connotations of the word "swinging" at the time, and merely thought it meant we were gals who knew how to have fun! Simply put, our mission statement was to stay in touch--and for more than twenty years we did so. 

We met at Christmas each year, and part of our routine was to go around our little circle, share our trials and accomplishments from the previous year, and keep a journal of our activities. And for twenty years I was reasonably satisfied with this arrangement--largely because we all had similar lifestyles, goals and priorities in our lives. Church being high on that list. The trouble started, not when I declared myself an atheist, but much earlier than that. The trouble started when I decided it was time to share with the group that I was writing smut.

I had to think long and hard about the decision to come out to them about that. But in the end I decided that as my friends I should trust them to accept me for who I was and support me in what I did. My trust was misplaced. 

The initial news of my publishing success was received with...shall we detachment. Congratulations were minimal, if offered at all. But I gave them the benefit of the the doubt. It was a shock, no doubt. Surely the fact that I had always been outspoken, cheeky and had been cracking "That's what she said," jokes since before they were popular, was not enough to prepare them for the shock that I wrote books about gay anal sex. Give them a couple of years, I thought. Allow them time to adjust--and allow me time to forget the letter I received from a group member warning me of the dangers to my soul inherent in my chosen path. 

But two years later nothing had changed. I thought certainly when I shared the news that I had been invited for an all-expense paid trip to Alberta to present a workshop on erotica writing, and of my giddiness over the success of the workshop...surely...surely then, their love for me as a friend of thirty years would trump their petty judgments. Again...I was wrong. My excitement was met with cold, absolute...heart-wrenching silence. I decided that night that it was time to cut the Swabee cord. If they couldn't support me in something so basic and inherent to my well-being as my happiness then they had no right to call themselves my friends. The next year I resigned from the group and now I only speak to them if I inadvertently run into them.

It strikes me now that my relationship with god followed a very similar course. It took a lot of years for me to figure out that he was getting a hell of a lot more out of it than I was. He got my love and devotion,  got to hear me sing and play piano, and I gave up my Sunday morning leisure time for him. And what did I get in return? Inconsistencies and rationalizations, judgement, broken promises, and cold, absolute...heart-wrenching silence. It was time to cut the Jesus-cord.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Asking for it, you say?

We've all heard the phrase, "She was asking for it." The idea that a woman dressed in sexy clothes, frequenting a bar or walking the streets at night is just lookin' for trouble. Or at the very, and men who fall for it can't really be held responsible. Can they?
 I'd like to ask anyone who thinks that way to consider the following....


This bike has been left unlocked and unattended. Is the owner asking for it to be stolen?

This car has been left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. If I hopped in and took it for a joy ride the owner wouldn't mind...right?

This wall is so beautifully crisp and clean! Surely it must be screaming out for graffiti!

The front door is open. Certainly, the homeowner must have plenty of electronics and jewelry up for grabs!

A wallet on a park bench. If I took it and used the credit cards, I couldn't be prosecuted.
Could I?

This iPad looks lonely. That must mean it needs a new home. Right?

This woman is dressed in skimpy clothes and striking a sexy pose. That means she is asking for a man to fuck her. Any man. Immediately.

High heels and skin-tight pants on the side of the highway = License to Fuck. Right?

I'm not even going to dignify this with a commentary. I believe the pictures speaks for themselves.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

CHURCH: Charity or Tax Deductible Country Club?

This morning I spent a few minutes--as I have on occasion over the past few years--perusing the website of my former church. And the more I look at what the church has to offer the community--or rather doesn't have to offer--the stronger my belief that it has no right to call itself a charity and should, instead, be designated for what it is--a big-ass country club with a cross.

I spent about 35 years as an active member of the Mennonite Church, serving on committees, attending youth activities and serving as youth president. I sang (but did not dance), read, played piano, competed in bible quizzing tournaments. I did it all. And never felt like a part of it. My alienation from the social club was only a very tiny part of the reason for my defection. However I do admit that if I had felt more accepted and more comfortable in "the club" it is very likely I wouldn't have questioned my faith quite so much.

That being said, as denominations go, I still think the Mennos are one of the least objectionable out there. I say that because they don't waste their money on gaudy, ostentatious affectations or costumes for their leaders. And the church as an organization does occasionally get it right as far as helping their fellow man. Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service as well as Ten Thousand Villages are all excellent charities that focus mainly on the rebuilding, feeding, education and fair trade for the less fortunate with very little--if any--time or energy spent on Bible Thumping. However the same cannot be said for individual churches. As is attested to by my recent visit to my former church's website.

Oh, there are plenty of clubs and activities that are available to members of the church, and even to members of the outside community. But not one of these offerings comes without the attached string of potential indoctrination. Activities for youth and children, Women's club, Men's club, Gym nights--you name it. Every single one includes some form of Bible study or prayer or worship. I couldn't find a single example of community outreach such as free babysitting, offering the gym or the kitchen to the community for use at no charge, visiting the elderly, free babysitting for working single mothers, volunteering at the food bank, cleaning up the local highways. Nothing. In truth every single club and activity is geared towards the membership of that church. Granted, there is no official stipulation that in order to attend the church or the activites that you have to pay a certain fee, but tithing is highly recommended and if you don't share the belief system--let's face it--you're not gonna be terribly comfortable there.

A couple of years ago I heard a couple of my relatives talking about the Pay it Forward activity that the youth group had participated in the previous week and my ears perked up. This sounded promising! Maybe they were actually going to do something to help out the greater community without expecting anything in return but I was disappointed. They had sent kids in cars out to local drive-through coffee shops and restaurants. The kids would go through the drive through, give the cashier a set amount of cash that was to be applied towards the bill of the car immediately behind them. I was already underwhelmed by this premise when I heard the kicker: A note was to be given to the car receiving the donation--a note that told them that their meal had been paid for by the selfless kids at the Corner Mennonite church and when they could attend services the next morning. So it was nothing more than elaborate proselytizing.

So, what are your donations to your local church used for? Well, there's upkeep and maintenance on the church building. There's the salaries for the pastors and all their clerical assistants. And then there may or may not be donations to other "charitable" organizations associated with that particular denomination. There may also be contributions that go towards sending youth to international youth rallies or for "volunteering" jaunts in other impoverished countries like Switzerland where they can spend time witnessing on the slopes while snowboarding or skiing. (I did not make that up, by the way. True story.)

And where is the charitable merit in this--or any--church's mission statement? If all it takes to merit status as a charitable organization is the activity of spreading your particular fairytale to the masses then surely Dr. Seuss should have qualified! But shouldn't there be more to it? Shouldn't there be some actual...well, you know...CHARITY involved? As in giving something to others without expecting anything--including Sunday morning pew-sittin'--in return?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Heaven can wait...forever.

My mother's life, apparently, has been hell. She confided this to me--or actually it was to my husband in my presence, because apparently I was already aware of this information. She said it in reference to the unending stream of afflictions she has had to endure in her lifetime. Frankly, from my perspective, she hasn't had it that bad. Making it to 83 with no more major surgery than a hysterectomy seems pretty reasonable to me. Even lucky. But, alas, my long-suffering mother doesn't see it that way. She has been enduring her trials here on earth because the true joy is yet to heaven.

I have been hearing her Heaven stories for as long as I can remember. She hunted down every book, every magazine article, anything she could lay her hands on that told of the coming glory. I was subjected to an unending series of tales of souls who had made it to the other side for a visit with Jesus before being allowed to return to Earth in order to share their story. I remember stories of iridescent mansions with living roses growing in the walls. Of endless singing and souls infused with light. Even as a child I remember thinking it all sounded beautiful...albeit a bit dull. But even so it was seductive enough that even at the age of five I remember wishing quite vividly that I could die soon so I could be a part of all that beauty. Fortunately for me, that sentiment didn't take hold. I can't say the same for my mother.

She has spent her entire life waiting for paradise. Following the rules and denying herself pleasures, all the while storing up treasures in heaven. I do find it ironic that she admits now to having something of a miserable life, despite the fact that she's spent her life nestled in the palm of Jesus and secure in the bosom of the church. But maybe all the Bible studies weren't as much fun as they appeared to be.

So now, at 85, recovering from open heart surgery and just not feelin' as spry as she thinks she should, she is basically waiting to die. Frankly has been her entire life. And I'd say I expect she's going to be very disappointed but unfortunately I suspect she won't have the chance to be. And I find that very sad. What's even more sad is the fact that she is not alone. Many with similar convictions have the same hopes and dreams and have thrown away a life of opportunity on the gamble that the next life will be risk free.

One story that she told me has stuck with me for years. It was a story of some young child who--ostensibly--succumbed to injuries and made a brief trip to heaven before being relegated back to the world of mortals. In this story the child sat at Jesus' feet and looked down on Earth and asked why some of the poor souls walked with heads high and seemed to shine with colour while others plodded along, their aura gray and their posture hunched as if weighed down by an invisible burden. Jesus told the child that those gray people were weighed down by sin and the gay, colourful people had become free in Jesus. It wasn't too many years later that I realized Jesus had gotten it backwards. He should have recognized the Pride colours even then.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What the FUCK?!

Fuck. I love that word. I know that may sound strange coming from one as intellectual and cultured as myself <snort> but it's true. The word FUCK was a landmark in my journey towards enlightenment vividly remember the day I allowed myself to say it. That was the day it ceased to have power over me.

Words have a lot of power. The person who coined the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," was an idiot. Words are the most powerful tools--and weapons--we possess. But it is true, to a certain degree, that they only have as much power as we allow them to have. As we perceive them to have.

As children, we are particularly vulnerable because we haven't had the years of self discovery and affirmation that is needed to build up a solid self image--and image of the world. It is this perception of reality that serves as our armor. That allows us to filter the words and ideas we hear and not allow them to chip away at the fragile self image and confidence that we've honed. That is why bullies are so dangerous and have so much power  in the schoolyard. Those jibes and insults have virtually direct access to the heart of a child. They get in there, lodging themselves like a sliver, working their way deeper and deeper until it takes a form of psychological open heart surgery to dislodge them.

But insults and compliments aren't the only words that have power over us. As a child I was so wary of "bad words"--words that could too easily slip out of my mouth and anger my god. Words that not only could cause me to sin but that were a sin in and of themselves. Words that caused me to label myself as a unworthy or even evil. There were two big offenders on that list for me. "Taking the name of the lord in vain," was probably the worst, just because it was such an easy one to slip on. The words, "Oh my God," slipped out far too easily. And the euphemisms never sat well with me. Everybody knew that gosh and golly, were just "nicknames," for God, and everybody knew what you were trying so hard not to say. Jeepers Creepers seemed safe for a time until some sage soul informed me that it was a euphemism for Jesus Christ. No matter what the word of choice, I would often let it slip, and then feel guilty for days after saying it. Repenting in prayer repeatedly until I was reasonably certain my sin had been washed away with the blood of them lamb.

FUCK was different. As a kid, growing up, fuck was a word that I heard rarely. It was never uttered at home or among my devout Mennonite friends. I would hear it only rarely on the school ground or highschool campus or on television of course. And for years I didn't even know what it meant. I just knew fuck was a very evil word that Jesus didn't like and was sure to somehow taint my soul for eternity.

But it's strange how the process of hearing a word repeatedly, in certain contexts, takes the sharp edges off of it. It becomes easier to hear--and to think. And then I started questioning my faith, and reading and writing explicit sexual material, and was almost required to put the word to paper, and it began to take on a will of its own. I began to realize the box I had built for myself. A box of acceptable words, that restricted my access not only to a whole world of "unsavoury" words, but also ideas. Because words are, in essence, ideas in solid form. So, in a very real way, my mother was right. Because saying certain words allows certain ideas to take hold. And this process had a very direct impact on my decision to shed my faith.

The day I allowed myself to say "Oh my God," without fear of reprisals from my invisible friend was one moment of freedom.  But the day I allowed myself to say the word, FUCK--and not just quietly under my breath, but loudly with gusto and real conviction--was a day of true emancipation. It was a day that I broke free of the shackles of propriety and sexual repression and allowed myself to think and feel things without care for who it would upset or offend. And then I heard myself say, "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!!" and knew my release was complete.

So, do I say it every day? Well...probably. And I probably say it too much. But I have a lot of years of repression to make up for! I do understand that there are times and places that it is less acceptable than others. I understand that it can get me in trouble at work, so I keep a lid on it there, and I try to watch it around my parents and in-laws just because they are very old and have no concept of where I am intellectually. And to a certain degree out of respect. And no, I don't like to hear it in a steady stream of conversation where FUCK is inserted as every second word. Any word used like that becomes so dilute as to completely lose meaning...and FUCK is just too valuable to abuse like that. No. Fuck should be used discriminatingly and with respect.

There are still certain words that I won't tolerate in my house. But those are words of hate and prejudice. Words like "gay" but only when used as an insult or in a derogatory manner is one example. Because I acknowledge that some words still have a power that goes along with a history of abuse, and we need to change that.

The next set of words that have a bad rap and that need some serious renovations are those associated with female prejudices and oppression: "slut", "whore" and...well....BITCH! I don't wanna do away with them, but they need an overhaul so that they're no longer insults, but affirmations of a woman's rights over her own body and her own sexuality...and her own LIFE!