Monday, July 16, 2012

Honesty is the best policy...

“Honesty is the best policy.”

For the most part, They are right. The policy of unwavering honesty is one I have tried to abide by throughout my life. I’m human, and I have had my fair share of lies, but I try my damndest. Lying breaks apart your insides, and it only becomes easier to tell outright lies once your innards are left in tatters from constant tearing. At least that’s what I believe.

With that said, allow me to make something abundantly clear: I am a gay man.

Good. Now that that’s done and out in the open (not that it wasn’t before…but on the theme of honesty and all), and while I have your attention, let me explain to you what this post is NOT:
  • This is NOT some concocted fable. Everything I tell you has happened to me both recently and personally.
  • This is NOT an attempt to push some radical gay agenda. I don’t even believe such a thing exists, but there are extremists out there of all kinds. Just know I am not one of them, and my only intention here is to relate to you my story.
  • This is NOT an article meant to discourage anyone from participating in the activities I describe or boycott them in any fashion. I merely hope to shed light on a topic that struck me square in the face.

My recent relocation to New York City has left me jobless. The job hunt has been on in full force but has yet to yield anything other than a few promising interviews. While I still maintain the on foot approach to applications as best as I can, I’ve also turned to the internet for help. Job offers and money making opportunities are posted in several online papers as well as the ever infamous craigslist. After going through the more reliable listings, my attention turned to craigslist, and the sorting began.

Amongst the more legitimate postings were informational pages about becoming a sperm donor. This is something I have been considering more and more as I’m getting older. I personally think that my genes are worthy of passing on to future generations. And given my current life circumstances, becoming a sperm donor would appear to be the best way to make that happen.

Let’s take a moment to go over all of my options:
  1. Take on a wife and have a traditional family. Aside from living my entire life as a lie and destroying myself in the process (and potentially the lives of a lovely woman and innocent children), this one sounds great. [DENIED]
  2. Impregnate a random woman and wish her the best with the child. Save some incredibly ridiculous and strange circumstances, this is rape and is in fact frowned upon by most of the world. [DENIED]
  3. Become financially stable, find the man I want to live out forever with, and get a surrogate. This one is actually my prime choice. The issue is I have no way of knowing how, when, or even if this is going to happen. I have a dream career that screams anything but financial stability, am currently without positive income, and am without my (in most places still illegal) husband. [APPROVAL PENDING]
  4. Sperm donation. There is really no down side to this one. My genes have the possibility of being put back into the pool. Couples seeking out donor services are in a situation which requires a lot of hassle on their part to secure a family, so I know that any child born of my seed would be cherished. Sperm banks also compensate you for acceptable donations. [APPROVED!]

Pause for a moment. I always knew that sperm donors were paid for their donations. However, I was under the impression that they were paid at most something around $20. You know…cover the gas expense getting there. That’s enough to buy lunch, right? Good day.

Incorrect! After doing some research, I’ve found that most donor programs will pay anywhere from $40-$100 for each acceptable donation. Keep in mind that they will only pay for specimens that are up to snuff, and you can only donate at most three times a week. Even so, $100 for taking some private time in a room is good motivation above and beyond my desire to keep my genetic line going.

Excited to learn more, I went to this company’s website. As I don’t want to bring any negative attention to the parties involved in my story, I’ll refer to this company as Company A. Company A’s site provided detailed information about the whole process. It is all very interesting. The process for weeding out those unqualified is incredibly thorough. You must be within a certain age range, meet strict medical requirements, and provide details about family medical history usually spanning three generations.

At this point I was excited to even see if I qualify. How awesome to meet all of those requirements. To be considered high enough a quality of person to give someone the gift of a child. What a special feeling that must be.

So…sign me up!

After getting all worked up and excited, I finally noticed the ‘basic requirements for donors’ tab in the application section. In the middle of the list, I was shocked to find the words “Sexual partners must be exclusively female.”

It had not even occurred to me that gay men would be excluded from consideration. Such discrimination is why I’ve never been able to donate blood, so I suppose I shouldn’t be terribly surprised. In both cases, I feel it is unjustified, but apparently they don’t care much about my feelings on the matter.

I applied anyway…just to see their response. “What do you consider yourself?” they ask. “Homosexual.” I received an email a few days later with the answer I had expected. It was not as disappointing as a refusal letter from a university, but it still stung to see that they were serious. They wouldn’t even outright say in the email why I was refused…just that they couldn’t accept me.

Their loss, I figured.

So my search continued. Why let one discriminatory company stop my contribution? Through Google and persistence, I found my way to Company B.

Now Company B showed some serious promise. It was relatively close by, seemed very serious about making sure their donors were healthy, and (most relevant to me) their website said nothing about automatically denying gay applicants. Great! Like Company A, this website also had an online pre-screening application. They even asked the same kind of question about sexuality. I was honest. I had no reason to hide from them. They make no mention of it being an issue, so it’s no issue.

About a day or two later, I received an email saying they would like me to set up an appointment to come in and begin the more rigorous qualification screenings. The appointment was made, and I showed up to their building at 9AM. After checking in at the desk, a lab tech came out to hand me 20 pages of paperwork to fill out.

Please bear in mind that I am not an early bird. 20 pages of in depth medical history questions about me and all of my blood relations leading back to my grandparents was a daunting task. But I was there to get through this, so I buckled down in their little anteroom and got to work.

I was filling out that paperwork until nearly 10:15. For over an hour, I poured out the information on what the quality of my grandfather’s hair was, how my grandmother died, and my parents’ eye colors. In fact, only half or less of those pages was actually about me. The rest was family related. And throughout all 20 pages, of which only 10 pages had questions related specifically to me, only two questions on the second to last page regarded my sexuality. Just two.

Every last piece of information was as honest as I could make it. I had even called up my parents to confirm some details and make sure I got this, that, and the other correct. Confident of my answers to everything, I handed the clipboard back to the lab tech. He flipped through the pages, smiled at me and told me the doctor would be with me shortly.

Success! Step one complete, and now the lead doc man will tell me what’s next.

A kind faced older Jewish man, yarmulke and all, came and got me from the waiting area and escorted me into his office. He offered me a chair and sat down right across from me so he could look at me in the eyes and say:

“The bottom line is we can’t accept you, and I think you know the reason as to why. The lab tech didn’t want to be the one to break the news to you, so he asked me to step in.”

At this he paused waiting for me to respond. I must have looked like he slapped me across the face with a confusion stick because, without any word from me, he continued.

“You didn’t know that we aren’t accepting any gay donors?”

“I am aware that some companies do not accept them,” I said. “They make it a point to say so on their websites and applications. Your website didn’t say anything of the kind, so I thought it would be safe to apply. And seeing as I passed the online screening…”

“Oh no,” he said to me with a look that frustratingly seemed like pity, “it’s something we have to abide by. It’s a law. Look, I appreciate your honesty, but you won’t find any center in the country willing to accept a gay man. That said, we do a full STD screening every three months for our donors, so I don’t see why anyone in a high risk category who is safe shouldn’t be allowed to apply. But these aren’t my rules.”

I joked with him that we could just trash that application and start a new one, but we both knew that wouldn’t fly. Even if he would like to accept me, which I think he would have, the lab tech already knew what I wrote. I was being denied again, only this time it was in person.

“Nobody wears a sign on their forehead, you know?” he said to me earnestly. “There are many men who come in here every week who I would have assumed were gay, but their paperwork checks out. Knowing that…there are other centers for sperm donation in New York City.”

There wasn’t really a way I could stay there much longer. After what had unexpectedly turned into an emotional roller coaster of a morning, I needed to get out and process some stuff.

The kindly old doctor man who had to sit me down and refuse me as a donor on the sole basis of my sexuality had just told me to lie. Other centers exist, he said, and it is true that nobody wears a sign. It could be like an acting exercise. Except this isn’t acting, it’s committing myself to lie about who I am three times a week for an entire year. But why shouldn’t I? Doctor man himself said people do it every day. I wonder if they feel guilty…

Riddled with questions and thrown for a loop, I wanted to do a little experiment. Just to try something out. Just to see.

Determined to get at least one question answered, I reapplied to Company A. The only pieces of information that I altered were my email address and my sexual orientation. Figuring they had my recent application flagged for denial, I assumed they would deny me again and that would be that. I left it and didn’t think much more about it other than slipping back into moments of astonishment at how screwed up the whole system is in the first place.

Two days passed, and I finally received an email back.

Dear Applicant, 
Congratulations!  We have reviewed your online application and you have passed the initial screening towards becoming a [Company A] donor.”

I guess that explains for certain what they couldn’t tell me the first time. It seems honesty is a really good policy…just not if you’re a gay man who wants to make any blood or semen donations.

I am sorry that this post has gotten so long, but I needed to get it out. There are laws in place that flaw this system and promote discrimination under the guise of safety. And some within the system, old Jewish doctor man and regretful lab tech as my examples, disagree with the policy as it stands.

But stand it does.

The email remains in my inbox. I haven’t pursued my acceptance with Company A any further, and I don’t know that I will. I’m torn. I have legitimate reasons to want to donate that go beyond the monetary compensation, but I’m not certain I could spend a year lying about something that is so fundamentally me. Worse, I would be lying to a couple expecting, and rightfully deserving, full disclosure from their donor.

I deserve to be able to contribute to the gene pool. I deserve to offer the gift of life to a couple who has no other options. Hell, I might not have even passed the medical history screening. In that case, I deserve to be refused on a legitimate basis…not by some hogwash law of discrimination.

And I needed to share all of this with you.

Thank you for listening. Happy Monday Fun Day to you all.

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