Charles in Toronto

A public Internet presence

Archive for April 2011

Of bone marrow, Google and middle fingers

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“Hello, could I please speak to Charles Troster? This is Cheryl calling from the OneMatch Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Network.”

I blinked and took a deep breath. I knew this day might come, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon. About three years ago, an advertisement for OneMatch was posted in the men’s bathroom at Celebrities. The only problem was, I knew gay men weren’t actually allowed to join this important and life-saving registry.

All jokes aside about how this must have meant Celebrities is getting straighter than ever, I called their bluff and applied. The registry is administered by Canadian Blood Services, which has a longstanding policy banning male donors who have had sex with men. But here’s the thing about marrow and stem cell matches – they are incredibly rare between unrelated individuals.

Suppose you are a patient whose life depends on a marrow transplant, and I happen to be a suitable match. There could be six other matches like me, or possibly zero. If I’ve been prevented from joining the registry, ostensibly due to the “risks” of taking my donation, you will never even know I existed – and thus you won’t even have the chance to make an informed choice about your own survival.

The story of my rejection letter was documented in Xtra, and New Ad Media apologized for unwittingly placing the ad in a gay bar. In fact, to this day, Google strongly associates any searches for my name with this article. This particular quote is the first place where my full name appears in the article:

“The moment that I got this slim envelope I knew,” says Charles Troster. “I felt like laughing in their faces and raising my middle finger.”

As a result, the cited quote always appears on my first page of search results. So thanks to my premature venture into the world of stem cell and bone marrow donations, Google now points directly to my middle finger. To that extent I now have a bit of a “Google problem” which I can’t think of any brilliant ways to undo. But I do have the capacity to tell my own stories and make them part of my public Internet presence.

Getting back to the matter at hand, in late 2009 this same exclusion was lifted. The moment I read about it, I reapplied, and uploaded a picture of my DNA swab kit to Facebook for posterity. Wow, I thought, this could really make a difference in someone’s life!

So when Cheryl called from OneMatch, I felt rather vindicated that this whole matter had come full-circle. I’m a potential match, and I need to come in for further genetic testing to be sure. But first, the verbal donor questionnaire.

Have I ever donated blood? It’s a simple question, and the first awkward moment. Well, no, for reasons only obvious upon disclosing that I date men.

Have I shared needles? Have I spent months in the UK during the Mad Cow epidemic? Have I ever had jaundice except as an infant? The list went on. And then, of course, the sexual history. Have I had sexual relations in the last six months with anyone whose sexual history I don’t know? Again, awkward pause. And then she asks me how many.

Ultimately, whether I end up donating will depend on numerous factors – the patient’s health, the existence of other better matches, the donor screening process and so forth. But I’m already glad I signed up. Someone’s life out there may well depend on my bone marrow. My rare, one-of-a-kind, unabashedly gay bone marrow.


Written by Charles in Toronto

April 29, 2011 at 3:49 PM

Well hello there, Internet

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Hi there!  I’ve decided to start a public-facing blog.

It’s not that I’ve never blogged before. I was all over the concept in the pre-Facebook era. I came up with a witty Internet nickname and posted countless ruminations on a certain blogging site that has now fallen quite out of favour. I don’t think it really counted as “public-facing” though – I didn’t make any effort to hide my identity, but over time my more public sentiments made their way to Facebook and Twitter. The old blog became a place where I’d occasionally write a friends-only entry, a safe haven from other much more exhibitionist social media sites.

I started this site because I already have a public presence on the Internet, but much of it was not my own doing. There are many things you will find out about me if you start digging around.

You will probably discover that I have studied and taught chemistry, posted a few messages on an analytical chemistry forum, and even participated in chemistry contests when I was in high school. You may uncover that I participate in an online genealogy web site, a personal finance blog and related forums, a linguistics blog, and a few different cell phone user forums. Even some of my high-school grades can be found online.

A perceptive researcher may also take note that my name is relatively unique. I was named after my great-grandfather. Aside from him, nobody on this Earth with the same first and last name as myself is a relative. I am pretty sure there are men with my name in Texas and California, both of an older generation. None of these men appear to have created public Internet presences for themselves.

The Internet will also tell you that I have been interviewed a few times for Xtra!, and that I’ve attended a number of queer events in Vancouver and Toronto. You might vaguely get a hint of my politics, and you may find that my sister once quoted me on an older political blog of hers.

Those who search more cleverly may also find a mishmash of less public-facing trails I’ve left behind me on servers far and wide across the globe. I have nothing to hide, but I chose to use handles in place of my name on those trails for a good reason – to give me some measure of control over how strongly that content is tied to my identity.

How does all this information represent me? Or better yet, how does it misrepresent me? Having graduated from UBC with my Master’s recently, I find myself facing the job market in an age where we are all accustomed to finding instant information about any topic at our fingertips. I’ve asked myself, if I had some control over the information you could find instantly about me, which choices would I make?

And so, I decided to start a public-facing blog.

Written by Charles in Toronto

April 14, 2011 at 4:35 PM