Blood libel — Don’t ask, don’t tell??
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2010/06/18
I’ve been slowly reading Anthony Julius’s interesting, difficult book, Trials of the Diaspora (Oxford University Press, 2010), described in a review as about the history of anti-Semitism in England but really much more comprehensive than that. Among much else, I was reminded that one of the standard calumnies of anti-Semitism is that Jews ritually murder Christian children to obtain blood for the making of Matzoth.
I’ve also been reading, very rapidly, the generally uninteresting daily newspaper. Just now it drew to my attention another kind of blood libel: “U.S. panel upholds ban on gay men as blood donors”. With all my reading about HIV/AIDS in recent years, I had somehow missed knowing that this ban was still in effect. Three decades ago, of course, when “AIDS” was “GRID” — gay-related immune deficiency — such a ban might have been rationalized as an immediate precaution taken in a crisis and before sufficient was known to exclude the possibility that GRID was infectious and could be transmitted through blood. That rationalization hasn’t been sustainable for a long time. What’s worse, the present rules incorporate a clearly irrational and prejudicial discrimination:
“The current policy — put into effect in 1985 during the early days of the AIDS crisis — prevents any man who since 1977 has had sex with another man from donating blood. . . . [and] the high-ranking panel voted 9 to 6 to uphold the blood donation ban for gay men, citing a very small but still unacceptable risk to the blood supply . . . . The panel deemed the current policy ‘suboptimal,’ however, and recommended steps toward a policy that looks at individual behaviors rather than barring a broad group such as gay and bisexual men.”
By contrast, however, “heterosexual men and women . . . are required to defer giving blood for only one year if they have sex with someone with HIV” (Roanoke Times, cr. wire reports).
Gay men are permanently unfit to donate even if they are not “HIV-positive”!
Were Anthony Julius writing about homophobia rather than anti-Semitism, here would be another clear example of how prejudice — even possibly subliminal prejudice — exerts a visible influence. Heterosexual blood is apparently able to regain its purity after a year, whereas gay blood can never do so.
The point I’ve appreciated most, so far, from Julius’s book is the insight that the very term “anti-Semitism” is iniquitous, no matter whether it’s used in criticism of “anti-Semitism” or in its justification, because it is a reification — making into a thing something that is not a thing — and it incorporates the belief that every Jew is somehow in essence the same sort of person.
Like “blood libel”, this too bears extension, to the nouns “homosexual” or “gay” or “lesbian”, which all promote an inference that the most significant thing about any given person is their particular preference as to sexual relationships and that all who are same-sex attracted somehow share all-encompassing characteristics that distinguish them permanently and significantly from everyone else. It was pointed out to me some time ago that one should not speak about “homosexuals”, “gays”, “lesbians”, because that incorporates the presumption that they’re all essentially the same; whereas “homosexual people”, “gay men”, “lesbian women” acknowledges that there are people who just happen, as only one aspect of their identity, to enjoy certain types of personal relationships.
Human beings cannot be simply classified into a few distinct behavioral groups. For a lengthier discussion of the foolishness of trying to do so, please see “Diversity and Identity”, an invited speech I gave at the 49th annual meeting of the American Conference of Academic Deans (and which I’ve mentioned before, in “HIV skepticism, Nessies, homophobia, and racism”).