In December last year, the FDA lifted its longtime policy of deferring any blood or tissue donations coming from men who have had sex with other men at any time since 1977. The new policy defers only those men who have had sex with other men within one year of donation. This might seem like a positive change in U.S. blood and tissue donation policy. Any shift towards inclusion should be considered a step in the right direction, right? The history of the “gay blood ban,” its implications in sexual politics and the state, and the prevalence of HIV criminalization policy, however, render this potential shift meaningless at best and harmful at worst. A more radical HIV tissue and blood donation policy based on informed consent would not only dramatically increase the supply of U.S. blood and tissue banks, but also fight HIV stigma and dismantle the pathologization of gay sexuality, which such discriminatory HIV policy engenders.
By Scott Olsen
The stigma against gay sexuality in current U.S. HIV policy, however, is not a novel means of marginalizing men who have sex with men. Policies like blood and tissue deferral and HIV crimin
“I feel like nobody should have to experience anything in life without sharing it. I feel like through our experiences it teaches us a lesson and I feel like we owe it to the world to share it.” That was Nikki’s response when I asked her the question I ask everyone who shares their story with me for The Abortion Diary: Why do you want to share your story?
If you have ever seen the popular BBC/PBS television program Call the Midwife then you know that the central setting, Nonnatus House, is an Anglican religious order in the East End of London in the 1950s, offering midwifery and medical services to the community. Nonnatus House and Call the Midwife are semi-fictitious creations of author Jennifer Worth, who based them on her experiences as a midwife in East London with the real Community of St. John the Divine (CSJD). Institutions such as CSJD, still in operation in Birmingham today, have existed throughout London and Britain since the mid-nineteenth century. These religion-based medical charities took many forms, from small-scale dispensaries to large-scale hospitals, most offering a specialization. Some were rooted in monastic orders (as with Call the Midwife); some grew out of particular congregational societies; most, though, were established as standalone medical missions, which will be the focus of this post.
In the United States, female circumcision (the removal of the clitoral hood) and clitoridectomy (the removal of the external nub of the clitoris) are nearly always regarded as practices that happen someplace else. When their presence within the United States is acknowledged, these procedures are positioned as having come from the outside, as originating with immigrants from parts of the world where they are performed as an “initiation rite” for young girls. Indeed, termed FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) by the WHO and USAID, the practices are deemed to be cultural and performed for “non-medical reasons.”
In Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women’s Movements, historians Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry survey the women’s movement from 1920 to the present. That periodization might be, as their title suggests, surprising to some readers, since “the” women’s movement is primarily associated with the 1960s and 1970s. But Cobble, Gordon, and Henry argue for a long women’s movement, stretching from labor activists in the mid-twentieth century, through the liberationists of the postwar years, to the feminist bloggers of the new millennium. They assert, “there was no period in the last century when women were not campaigning for greater equality and freedom. Feminism has been not a series of disconnected upsurges but a continuous flow.” In making the case that the women’s movement was never, in fact, “in the doldrums,” the scholars pull varied activists and causes into the tent, expanding the definition of American feminism itself, as well as our historical understanding of it.
In late-November, the FDA finalized new rules for calorie counts on menus. In about a year, all food establishments with over twenty locations will need to post the calories of regular items directly on the menu. Other nutrition facts must be available on request. In about two years, vending machine companies owning more than twenty machines will need to display a poster listing items’ calories. When the rules were released, few of the responses were shocking. The Center for Science in the Public Interest described the rules as “the culmination of a decade-long movement for better nutrition.” Fox Business hosts called the rules “a little bit ludicrous.” Is “Obamacare affecting what you eat now?” asked Fox host Charles Payne. The Chicago Tribune editorialized that calorie counts are the “nanny state” at work. Media voices are portraying the calorie counts as a battle between public health and personal freedom, just as they did with smoking regulations, jumbo soda rules, and bans on trans fats.
The possibility of having an “adventure in the archives” always seemed a bit far-fetched. My perceptions of academia, particularly as related to notions of adventurousness, were dominated by images of Indiana Jones holding a dirty artifact and marking the X on the map. When Professor Carolyn Lewis (the adviser to whatever academic adventures loomed on the horizon for me) suggested that the archives were a time-warping place of magic and discovery, I conjured visions of swashbuckling conflicts amongst dueling historians, perhaps a diverting romantic intrigue amongst the dusty stacks – anything less than that couldn’t be an adventure, and to call it so seemed simply and woefully inaccurate.
Stories of rape again fill the news. Rolling Stone featured an article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely about University of Virginia’s responses to rape at a fraternity party. The resurrected history of Bill Cosby’s sexual assaults on women has dominated headlines. Of course, October also had campus rape news: Columbia University student Emma Sulkewicz’ “Carry that Weight Project” brought national attention to colleges’ woefully inadequate responses to sexual assault. Come to think of it: in 2013 we heard plenty about disbelieving judges and police reticence to take student rape seriously. 2012? Let’s just call it the year of Republicans and Rape and move on.
As a doula, I have the privilege of attending other women’s labors and deliveries. Recently I attended a delivery assisted by a midwife at a large-scale hospital. The midwife and the nursing staff supported the fearless mama as she labored away in a large room with a wall of windows looking out on a beautiful river. The room was decorated with pretty pictures of flowers and soothing paint tones. Most of the medical equipment remained hidden in easy-access drawers. Everything in this beautiful birthing suite was designed to make it feel more like home for the women who would deliver there. As a student of medical history, I felt thankful for the room’s design because it was a far cry from the maternity wards of the 1950s and 1960s. This hospital did everything it could to create a comfortable, personalized, and supportive environment. Still, it was a hospital, and the presence of medical intervention was inescapable. From the constant rise and fall of the heart monitors to the list of restrictions so complex that I was required to call for a nurse every time the patient wanted food, this was an environment controlled by the medical field.
Trying to become a public historian and freelance writer in grad school is requiring me to walk a difficult tightrope. I want to be as authentic as humanly possible, but I’m also a professor-in-training; I don’t want to put anything out into the world that I would have trouble explaining to a hiring committee, to my colleagues, or to my students. As a result, I often find myself debating the merits of a post. The problem with this particular brand of censorship is that it’s entirely too fuzzy. I haven’t articulated to myself what constitutes fair game. How personal do I want to get? How personal do I need to get? That’s why, on August 28 — after much hemming and hawing — I ultimately decided to write about a medical procedure I was about to undergo. I want to live in a world where academics living with disabilities aren’t afraid to “come out” for fear of the cultural and institutional ableism to which it would expose them. Telling my own story is a risky, but necessary, step in that process.