Whose Blood is that Anyway?

Last week the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) issued a statement announcing the end of its lifetime ban on men who have had sex with men donating blood. Now, don't let this headline fool you. They are ending diddly-squat. Instead, what they in fact announced was a shift in their policy, from a lifetime ban, to a ban on any man who has had sex with another man within the previous twelve months.

So essentially, unless you are celibate, extremely committed to being able to donate blood, or just having a bad year; most gay or bisexual men are still banned.

It is important when looking at the information surrounding this move that we take into account the origins of the ban. And scientific research which forms the basis for this change.


A History Lesson

By the end of 1983 over a thousand people had died in the United States due to AIDS-related illnesses. At the time, HIV or AIDS was not the term used. The disease was exceptionally new, and not very well understood. Evidence at the time led initial researchers to conclude that it originated purely from homosexual intercourse, proposing the name “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” or “GRID”.

It wasn't until 1983 that it was even discovered to be transferable through heterosexual intercourse as well. It was also in this year that it was officially recognised that it could be passed through a sufferer's blood, and thus the United States Food and Drug Authority (FDA) announced a lifetime ban on any man who had sex with another man from ever donating blood.

A reactionary, but widely regarded as necessary, approach at the time. Testing procedures in relation to blood donations were far from as advanced as they are today. And it was decided that in order to minimise the risk of a person receiving a transfusion with infected blood, it was necessary to restrict donations from “high-risk” individuals, ie gay men and intravenous drug users.

Over next ten years, HIV would become far more understood within the medical community. Its true origins and causes brought into the light of day, and most importantly it was confirmed that this was not just a disease affecting, or caused by, gay men. It would become common practice over these years for blood to be screened with ingreasing rigorousnous before being added to any national supply.

Ireland has a sensitive set of issues surrounding this decision. The first being, that is was illegal to be gay in this country until 1993. So already, Ireland had huge steps to be made in terms of gay rights before this issue could even be considered being discriminatory. Also, until 1980, the sale of contraception was completely illegal in Ireland. And still, it wasn't until 1992 that they were permitted to be sold generally.

So, not only was it illegal to be involved in gay activity; the only protection anyone had from contracting the disease was also unavailable to the majority of the Irish population. Other than abstinence, of course. Another, excellent reason for a ban on anyone who was particularly high-risk for the disease.

So, we meander through the 90s, and LGBT rights becomes an ever increasing issue among the populations of many countries. As people fight tooth and nail for every inch of ground gained, the IBTS (Irish Blood transfusion Service) sits safely in the knowledge that despite these strides in social awareness, as well as sexual health awareness not just among homosexuals but also among the previously under-sexually-educated Irish population, they have still minimised as much of the risk of AIDS infected blood making it into their supply.

The basis for this contentment? Men who have sex with men involve themselves in which is empirically thought of as “risky-sex”. Risky sex, (click to see complete definition) on the contingency of screening when donating blood, is considered to be unprotected intercourse of any kind, among other more specific outlines. Essentially gay sex is considered "risky" regardless of its nature, and people who practice it, when giving blood, are put in the same category as people who inject drugs intravenously in terms of the risk factor for HIV contraction.

To put it crudely; being gay (or bi) is considered medically equivalent to sharing a needle with a drug addict.

Any male/male sex is considered “risky”. Basically, the medical community (none-unanimously, I might add) decided gay men are more likely to suffer from AIDS or HIV. And this ban, combined with rigorous testing of the blood that was donated, meant security and safety for anyone receiving these anonymous transfusions.

2015; the Marriage Equality Act passes in Ireland by democratic vote. For the first time, LGBT people breath a genuine sigh of relief. Their fight is nearly over, they have gained not only acceptance, but support, from the majority of the Irish population. An astounding victory for LGBT rights, and for moral statement within the Constitution, one that led every person in the country to think; we're going somewhere.

2016; the Irish Blood Transfusion service announces an end to its ban on blood donors. With a deferral period of one year, for any man who has engaged in sexual intercourse (protected or not, monogamous or not) with another man. The scientific basis for this decision? Well...


Screening Process

Apparently, the margin for error on testing blood is still too high to risk allowing any who may have engaged in “unsafe” sexual practises to be allowed to donate. Essential this year gives time for any HIV-related illness to present themselves. Thus if you haven’t had sex in a year, you're probably okay.

Hold on, let me repeat the most important part of that statement. The margin for error on testing blood is still too high. Did you get it that time? So I ask you, what is the scariest part of this plan? Certainly, it isn't “queer blood” being part of the national supply. And it certainly isn’t that this year-long waiting period is too short. No, the truly terrifying thing is the notion that blood transfusion services don't consider their own tests good enough to justify allowing gay men to give blood.

I don't know about you, but I think this suggestion may make people question how comfortable they feel receiving any blood from anywhere. HIV is far from being the only disease which is communicable through human blood. There are many, many different types of immune deficiency and other viruses, many of which that are statisictally irrelevent towards sexual orientation, that can be contracted through many different means. Not just sex.


Logic vs. Fear

So what’s this all about? Why is it still so “risky” to be gay? I have a thought.

Let's say, for example, that they did completely remove this ban in favour of another method, an example of which I will go into shortly. And, let's say, that there was a case where a patient contracted HIV from receiving infected blood that was passed with a “false-negative” and considered safe for use. The backlash against the transfusion service in question would be astronomical. And, unfortunately, this could fall heavily back onto their decision to lift the ban. This would be a huge blow to LGBT rights. Right-wing lobbyists and propaganda would immediately turn this back onto that decision, and against gay people in general.

Or, are they actually protecting us? Are they taking the biggest step they can on an issue that could be eternally derisive if adequate precautions are not taken? My answer, I hope that's at least what they think they're doing.


The Rest of the World

I said above we needed to look at the scientific research behind this deferral period. Unfortunately, there is none. There is statistical research which suggests that men who have sex with men are more likely to be HIV positive. But that's like saying: statistically, men are more likely to get into car accidents; so they implement a lifelong ban on driving. Or, they must have not been a man for at a least one-year prior to taking their test.

Ireland isn’t going to be alone in using this measure though. In South Africa, the deferral period is 6 months. In the UK, Australia and Sweden it is 12 months. While in Canada and New Zealand it is five years. In Italy, however, the ban was completely lifted, instead, a system known as “Assess and Test” was implemented.

Basically, their model uses;

“risk behaviour” screening questions and blood testing, which applies to all donors, regardless of sexual orientation.

Since this method began there has been no rise what-so-ever in the frequency of infected blood being discovered in Italian clinics. And they increased their donor pool by hundreds-of-thousands.

This the real issue here: Blood donation is essential for medical practices. Without it, many serious injuries and illnesses cannot be treated. Many times over the last thirty years have different countries and cities suffered from blood-shortages. The most famous, very recent event, being the mass shooting in Orlando. Where many hospitals found their supply running low, and despite many gay people desperate to give blood in order to help their wounded compatriots, they were being turned away due to regulations.


Just not up to Scratch

Frankly, IBTS your announcement IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. It is so far from being good enough that it has sparked further outcry from a minority which is so close to ending its fight for complete and utter equality.

These are not the “stepping-stones to freedom” to paraphrase one of our most famous leaders. This is a step backwards. A further entrenchment of discriminatory ideals which segregate and marginalise those already on the outside of what's considered ordinary society. And despite it appearing a step in the right direction, I feel this move further insinuates that any form of gay sex is inherently “risky” and therefore wrong. Not to mention serving to further stigmatise sufferers from an illness that affects nearly 40 million people worldwide. And has killed over 34 million since the first diagnosis in 1979.

I implore any reading this to research the Italian system and take measures promoting this thoroughly safe alternative to a ban which is based on discriminatory stereotypes and not the best and most comprehensive scientific data available.

Also, think about reform towards examination of the blood screening process or, what's really necessary, is a clarification from the IBTS as to what is meant by this allusion that their clearly legitimate and thorough procedures are somehow not good enough. As I find it very hard to believe that this justifies their minor step in resolving the issue. To end I’ll leave you with a quote from French Heath Minister Marisol Touraine;

“Giving blood is an act of generosity, of citizenship, which cannot be conditioned to sexual orientation.”

Well said Ms. Torraine, well said.

image source: Asia M.I.S, Deviant Art

Writing with Dyslexia

There “their” is the wrong “they're”

What is dyslexia? Well, try reading the sentence above. As you've noticed all the homonyms are confused in it. For anyone who got it straight away, well done. But everyone else, that confusion you experienced while trying to make sense of that string of words, that's what dyslexia feels like. It should read: Their “they're” is the wrong “there”. Implying that dyslexics confuse these words, among dozens of others.

The definition of dyslexia is: a condition of the brain that makes it difficult for an individual to read, write and spell. But really it goes beyond this, here you’ll find a list of common signs, traits and coping techniques an adult dyslexic suffers from. It’s not a dyslexia test per say, as a trained psychologist should always be consulted if you do think you or your child is suffering from it. But for those of us who know we have dyslexia it can be reassuring to read and know you’re not the only one, and shocking to see just how much of who you are originates in what is wholly regarded as a negative force in people’s lives.


Managing with Dyslexia

A number of years ago I was working with a friend. He starting telling me that his girlfriend’s little brother had just been told he is dyslexic. My friend, knowing I too suffered from the same disability asked me how the symptoms of dyslexia affected my writing. My first reaction was, of course, the defensive, immature response based on years of being considered an idiot. NO! Of course not. “Oh really?” he responded, in genuine surprise, “you don’t get stuck on words, or confused when writing a long section? You don’t mix up your tenses and words that are pronounced the same?”

That was when it hit me, my dyslexia had greatly effected my writing. In truth, I had struggled for years and years, but to me, it was so common place I didn’t even think about it. I just got on with my work, not completely ignorant, but definitely uncaring towards my mistakes and struggles.

However, following that conversation, I couldn’t stop noticing it. Years of writing with dyslexia, and never paying it any mind came back in one fell swoop, and I found myself nearly crippled (writing wise) purely because I was stumbling over every word, debating every sentence.


Making Mistakes

So, my first tip for the dyslexic writer, don’t think about it. You are going to make mistakes, a lot of them. You’ll construct sentences so poor even you can’t get a grasp on what you were trying to say. You could be typing along without a bother and then you look up and everything is underlined in green and red. (I hate the green one more, it just doesn’t get me, you know?) But you have to push on, correcting is for editing, if to you stop to manage your mistakes when you’re in the middle of a flow, you could lose everything you are thinking about.

Not to mention the confidence knock you could get from a machine pointing out just how bad you are at grammar.

Don’t think of spell-check as your best friend, think of it as your rival. The Gary Oak to your Ash Ketchum. The guy running alongside you who is just that bit ahead. The one that pushes you to do better. However, if you stop mid-race to work out why he’s ahead; you lose. Just keep running until the race is over, then go back and look at what you could have done differently.


Rage Quit

This ties in nicely to my next tip, try not to let your frustration show. People around you probably won’t understand, though, if they do, you’ve got back up. But most people won’t get why you’re getting so worked up over it, they don’t understand how your brain works, which is fine, if you’re honest you don’t know theirs works either.

They don’t understand the crippling confusion that comes with trawling through a spreadsheet looking for that one mistake, they won't get how all the numbers look the same, the way your eyes can’t focus on what you’re looking for, and the way you mind is racing, worrying over what you’ve done wrong and how you can fix it.

You are going to make mistakes, a lot, and it won't get any better. Dyslexia is not something you can truly cure. You can manage it, maybe even train yourself out of the symptoms, but it will always be there. The best thing to do is be honest about it. Honest with yourself and others. Its nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, I’ve learned to be proud of my disability, but we’ll get to that in a minute.


Prescription for Laughter

The easiest way to be honest about something is to have a sense of humour about it. If you’re concerned about how your co-workers or employer will react; don’t be. They won’t be negative about it, and if they are, then congratulations to them, they just broke discrimination laws. But you should find, that if you are able to laugh at your mistakes, (in knowing the cause of them) the others will find it funny as well. They won’t think; “poor [insert name], I best not trouble them about it,” they’ll feel free to laugh at and point out your mistakes also. Which at the end of the day will make your job easier.


The Importance of Being Literate

This is my most important bit of advice for managing your dyslexia, any parents combing through should pay special attention to this if you’ve recently discovered your child is dyslexic. Reading is, in my opinion, one of the best and most engaging ways one can advance beyond it.

Now, many children with dyslexia form an antagonistic relationship with reading. Normally, because they won’t be very good at it. And no one likes to do things they aren’t good at, especially children who are still developing the sense of self which allows any person to succeed in later life.

Being made read out loud in class can emphasise this even more and by the time the child is in high school they hate reading, and all forms of written work. And I mean HATE. It makes them feel stupid, different and, well, broken.

So how do you overcome this, or tackle it before it takes hold? Read what you love. Read stories, or articles or blogs that you enjoy about topics that genuinely interest you. This is the most important thing when trying to read; be on your own, and don’t think about your problems. You may have serious trouble reading, and I mean serious, it isn’t totally uncommon for a dyslexic child to end up completely illiterate. This is not just because of dyslexia, this comes down many factors including education, concentration skills and most importantly, how well they engage with reading.

A severely dyslexic friend of mine, (one who has the worst end of the spectrum, combined with OCD and ADHD) claims to despise reading, but his head is always buried in his phone, and he's not just skimming pictures. He is reading and understanding complicated articles and guides. Put a novel in front of him, though, and he’ll run for the hills. So remember, reading is reading, no matter what form it takes.


TOP TIP FOR PARENTS: Give this a try; read to your kid. Choose something like Harry Potter, something they can really be engrossed with, and start reading it to them. Give it a month or so, wait for them to get really into the story, and then, stop. I don’t mean turn around and say “I’m not doing this anymore.” I mean every time the child asks, just say you’re busy, tired, or whatever. Encourage them to read without you. If you’ve chosen the right story the kid will inevitably pick up the book themselves, just so they can find out how it ends.


Getting on with it

This is something I did for years without knowing and then had to re-teach myself. Don’t think about it. If you find you have to re-read a sentence a couple of times to understand it, then do that, but don’t chide yourself for it. Don’t even think about how annoying it is. Just understand the sentence, that’s the important part. If you get what it says then who cares about how long it took you to get it?

A major problem many people with learning difficulties suffer from is procrastination. Putting it off because it's going to be difficult, or challenging, or force you to really examine your dyslexia. For tips on dealing with procrastination have a read of my recent post about it here.

Remember, putting it off won't make it any easier. So if it is your disability that’s making you hold off from picking up the pen, do try to ignore it, because worrying about it will make it much much worse.


In School

Now this is fine when you’re at home. But in a classroom or workplace setting it can be difficult, especially when very few non-dyslexic people truly understand being dyslexic. It takes a lot of experience, and possibly even countless degrees and research done on the topic, but still they can end up missing the mark.

For years I’ve gone through the internet looking at tips and guides for how to manage dyslexia. And the ones written by non-dyslexics always stand out. These guides tend to work off assumptions as (most) of your teachers will. They will assume x, y and z about how you understand things and give you a “simple” set of rules to follow to make up for you problems.

Now, it should go without saying that no two people learn in exactly the same way, and if that’s the case, why is assumed that ALL dyslexic people do? So, let's be clear about something, these are their problems. Don’t let them tell you how you feel or how you think. Be unashamed, if you make a mistake say that’s grand, just say “I’m not going to let you make a big deal out of this“.


Spelling, a trade secret

Its only spelling, here’s a secret to all you kids out their, spelling is irrelevant. How often when you’re having a conversation with someone do they say: “sorry, how do you spell that word?” Never. Teachers all around the globe can call for my head for saying this, but spelling is exceptionally immaterial to everyday life

Obviously if you’re trying to be an author you can't submit something lathered in spelling mistakes. But fixing mistakes is far easier than trying to make sure they don’t happen. I recommend the add-on Grammerly, it is far superior to any word processor’s grammar checker, and can tie into your browser as well. It will find all your mistakes, as well as point out the way in which you’re forming your sentences. Dyslexics tend not to form sentences the same way to everyone else. This can be as much a blessing as a curse. Sometimes your sentence won’t make sense, but sometimes, you’ll word something in a way no one could have thought of except you and your weird brain.

If you get bogged down in worrying about it, as I said above, you won't get anywhere. I’m dyslexic and I have an excellent vocabulary, why? Because I read, a lot, far more than most of others my age did. And I did it with a disability. How? I didn’t worry about it. I loved reading for me, it wasn’t for anyone else, it certainly wasn’t for my teachers, who, if they had had their way, would have seen me in a special class especially for people with learning disabilities so that my “problems” didn’t slow down the rest of the pupils.

Turn around to these people and point out that while your spelling and grammar may suck, in a spatial reasoning exercise you could very well make a class of you peers look like infants.


Après Class

So what are the main effects dyslexia will have once you leave education? Education and the education systems of the world don’t like dyslexic people. They're hard to categorise in a straight forward manner. You can’t just say, oh they're practically the same as everyone else, so let's just treat them the same. Neither can you say they have a serious, dehabilitating disability, we have to segregate them and work on them.

This really all comes down to personal experiences. Many kids get lucky every year and have wonderfully patient and experienced teachers. I myself found that my college dealt with dyslexia and other learning disabilities very admirably. Unfortunately, for most dyslexics, no matter where you are, education is going to be hard. Teachers will tell you that you have to work harder, push yourself more, otherwise you won't succeed. Flash forward to the end of your education, and you’ll find no one can spell properly. No one can use punctuation and grammar entirely correct. And most importantly, no one cares.


Don't Panic, be Dyslexic

For all you dyslexic kids out there worried about your future, don’t be. You have a superpower. Your problem solving, spatial reasoning, hell your understanding of the world is more than likely superior to your peers, and they think you’re disabled. But in fact, you’re Daredevil, he lost his sight when he was a boy and so his hearing took on super human prowess. Dyslexia is the same, despite all your problems, you can use the skills you do have to a much higher degree. There is only one thing standing in your way, and this is crucial…


Parents, teachers, and anyone reading this, you have to understand this, you must give someone confidence in their work for them to succeed in any way. You must help them believe that because of this disability they can achieve so much more.

The number of famous people with dyslexia is staggering, the number of people who have changed the world irrevocably who suffered from dyslexia is astronomical. (Albert Einstein, WB Yeats, Agatha bloody Christie, to name but a few) It is the most common form of learning disability. You may be different to everyone in your class, but out there in the world, it’s the really awesome people that you have the most in common with. Screw the plebs, screws the norms, you’re weird, different and special, don’t forget that. Embrace it, use it, every time you succeed think about what an achievement it really is.


Living Life

If you’ve just learned your dyslexic, or have been dealing with it for years and feel you are just unable to manage, don’t panic. Don’t even worry. You can still do everything everyone else can do. I worked in an office for years dealing with spreadsheets, budgets and other such boring, but crucial, nonsense.

I struggled, I got frustrated, I thought to myself “I can’t do this” then, I got on with it and I did it. Because I was getting paid to work, and just because it may be harder for me to do it than anyone else, I’m still getting paid. And there was plenty of stuff that I excelled in, purely because of how my mind worked, that others struggled with or couldn’t do at all.

Everyone is good at some things and bad at others. And because you may be catastrophically bad at one thing, probably means you’re unbelievably good at another. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and a good employer/leader/teacher can identify that and help people work to their individual strengths. In the adult world, dyslexics are just like everyone else. Except, we have the royal excuse as to why we’re so bad at some things. What’s the rest of the world's excuse then?


As I said a the start if you do think you or your child may be dyslexic don't hesitate to find a child psychiatrist. The earlier dyslexia is identified, the better. Just ask your GP or school guidance counsellor if you are unsure.

Also, if you have any questions or problems come up from reading this article don’t hesitate to contact me here and I will do my best to advise you.