Charles in Toronto

A public Internet presence

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.

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Written by Charles in Toronto

April 29, 2011 at 3:49 PM

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