In my senior of high school, I decided to give blood. My uncle was really into it and had some sort of frequent donor punch card, which was pretty cool, and plus it saves lives – so it’d likely be worth a lot of karma. So, I figured, why not? It’s in you to give and I’ve done worse for a free cookie. My first trip to the blood clinic, I started filling out the questionnaire and nearly choked. Men who have sex with other men cannot give blood? I was mortified, because if you’ve ever seen my Judy impression, you’d know I epitomize this category, but at that point, hadn’t come out to my parents — and wasn’t going to let some nurse ruin my big holiday surprise. So, naturally, I bolted like a bat out of hell.
Until yesterday, gay men have been indefinitely forbidden to donate blood in Canada. An archaic ban, suggesting residual stigma from the AIDS crisis, which saw all gay men as sexually irresponsible and promiscuous deviants (i.e.: Gay men are sluts). Yesterday, Canadian Blood Services announced that they’re going to be lifting the lifetime ban, and allow some gay men to donate blood. Marking the latest precedent in queer deliverance, this coup is definitely major but still, there’s a fine print. Gay donors must be abstinent for five years prior to donating. In other words, Catholic priests and John Travolta can now give blood (ohp!). This doesn’t address the fact that sexually active gay men are still being treated like diseased sluts by health professionals.
The idea that queers are sluts runs deeper than superficial name calling and the double-standards of Pride (criticized for its scantily clad men and overall salaciousness). In fact, the “slut-shaming” of gay men largely contributed to the scope and scale of the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s. The AIDS epidemic was billed (in part) as god’s wrath against the homosexuals—a punishment for their perceived promiscuity and thus justification for subsequent annihilation. This stigma saw thousands die before any support or acknowledgment was even given to the queer community, because somehow it seemed deserved.
I first became aware of the “slut shaming” phenomena in the spring of 2011, during my last year at York University, which incidentally is also the inception point of the SlutWalk; a movement spurred by the sexist remarks of a Toronto police officer (during a panel at Osgoode Hall), seemingly justifying sexual violence against women who dress provocatively and prompting thousands of women around the world to shed the stigma of victimhood by shedding some clothes.
“Slut shaming” is a critical stance, which places the onus on women for unwanted sexual advances (“she’s asking for it”). The purpose of the SlutWalk was to declare sexual freedom by refusing credit for the obnoxious and harmful behaviour of sexist men. Naturally, as a gay man and feminist, the opportunity to reclaim freedoms of sexuality in the face of proverbial patriarchy was right up my alley, and I eagerly embraced the no-remorse ideals of this liberation.
At this point, I must insist that men can too be feminists, a fact that is often met with reluctance or even criticism. To be a feminist is to accept that gender binaries are problematic and contribute to notions of sexism. However, to assume this belief is exclusive to women is, if anything, a tad exclusionary — and dare I say contradictory. In fact, it is this form of essentialism, which continues to separate “men’s issues” from “women’s issues” and insidiously perpetuates gender discrimination.
That being said, from one feminist to another, when will the notion of “slut-shaming” be extended to the queer community and the stigma of HIV? I am not attempting to play the gay-men-and-women-are-so-alike card, because that is problematic in itself; I’m just suggesting that it’s not only women who are subject to this particular brand of mudslinging and as such we sluts should stick together. So, just as I walk for women who shouldn’t feel scared to walk home alone; walk for us, the queer sluts who are tired of being shamed.
I say: Sluts unite.