THE BLOG

Dear Red Cross: I Am Not a Man

04/03/2015 06:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

My company recently held a blood drive, and as a 6'1" woman with O+ blood and Amazonian fortitude, I was happy to sign up. I showed up at the donation site, and they were very eager to see me because I signed up as a Double Red donor (which means donating more blood than usual at once). After giving my name and checking in, I was whisked into a pre-screening area.

This is where it gets a little tricky. You see, I'm a transgender woman. This means I was assigned a male identity at birth. Looking at me, you probably wouldn't know that (unless you happen to question the gender identity of every tall, slightly overweight woman you meet). Every legal document that lists my gender also lists me as female, but I always worry a little in these situations. What if the person screening me addresses me as a man? What if they say I don't count? I spent most of my life suppressing who I really was, so it's difficult to walk into situations where I fear my identity might be invalidated.

During the pre-screening, my old name came up since I'd donated under that name in the past. I said, "Yes, that's my old name; however, I've legally changed it and have cleared that issue up with the Red Cross already." It wasn't my first time at the donation rodeo. The tech who was screening me said, "Okay then. I'm going to list you as female and we'll go from there." Great!

I went through the screening process and answered all of the required questions with no red flags. After I was done, I was hooked up to something resembling a Voight-Kampff machine that separates plasma from blood, and then pumps the plasma back into the body. After I was done, I enjoyed complimentary cookies, received my bonus coupons for free ice cream and went back to work. It was incredibly easy, the people I worked with were respectful and professional, and it all took a little under two hours for the full process. I was relieved.

...until I received a call the next morning. I answered, and the caller asked, "Is this Andrea Wilkins?"

"Yes."

"Hi, I'm calling from the American Red Cross. We'd like to speak with you because you missed a question on the pre-screen."

"Oh. I thought I had them all covered, but that's fine. We all make mistakes!"

"The question you missed is 'Have you had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977?'"

I paused for a moment. "I did answer that question. I marked: 'I am female.'"

I'd like to point out that the representative did not read the full question that's listed on the questionnaire: "Male donors: Have you had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977? Female donors please check 'I am female.'"

The rep said, "It's a yes or no question."

"No, it's not," I explained. "There is a third option, which is 'I am female.' I marked that."

"You're transgender, right? You were born a man?" she asked.

That's a sticky topic. Many trans-identified people don't like that phrasing. I think Janet Mock put it best when she said, "I was born a baby, not a boy."

"As far as any health organization is and should be concerned, I am female," I responded.

Confused, she asked, "So you were born female?"

I said, "I am female, and that's what it says on my birth certificate, my driver's license and my social security registration."

There was a pause on the line. I was really hoping that the representative finally got it. That it didn't matter what sex I was assigned at birth, and that the question she was asking didn't apply to me. Finally, she hesitantly said, "All right, I'll mark it down."

I thanked her and we parted ways.

I was pretty sure she was just going to say, "Well, he [sic] said he's [sic] transgender so I guess I'll mark 'yes.'"

An hour or so after the initial contact, I got a call back from the Red Cross thanking me for my donation and letting me know that I could indeed donate blood in the future without any problems. When I spoke with this second representative, I made sure to explain why that question sucks. Asking me that question the way she did implies that I am a man, which I'm not. I am a woman. The government, my health care providers...everyone, really, honors that reality. Legally, socially, professionally, chemically, I am a woman. How I was classified at birth is irrelevant.

I explained that I realize it's not up to these individual people with whom I spoke, or even the Red Cross. They base their guidelines on the ones recommended by the FDA, and I understand that. The fact that this question exists for anyone to answer is honestly ludicrous, though. Under upcoming new rules, men who have had sex with men (MSM) will be allowed to donate if their last MSM contact was over a year from the date of donation, which is a small step in the right direction; however, it's really just more of the same thing. For all intents and purposes, men who have sex with men outside of "a phase" or an extended monogamous relationship with a woman will continue to be ineligible and deemed a health risk. These antiquated rules need to change, but that's another topic altogether.

The FDA does not have clear guidelines on transgender people, which I think is both good and bad. It's good inasmuch as we are not an "other" category. I am a woman, not an other. So it seems silly to me that any guideline need be stated to say, "Women should answer the questions for women." Not expressly stating that transgender people are to be treated as the gender with which they identify, though, opens the door to underinformed people inadvertently or purposefully misgendering and disrespecting us. The Red Cross needs to educate themselves and their employees on how to handle these situations. My experience is not unique and, frankly, was far simpler and less demoralizing than many others'.

What should have happened with me? I should have been asked the same questions every other woman is asked. I never should have received a follow-up call during which I needed to defend my gender identity, and my questionnaire should never have been second guessed based on my transgender status. To the American Red Cross I say, "We can be better than this. Let's be better."