The Blood Essay

Lying as survival for gay blood donations

Harrison Cook
Gay Mag
Published in
8 min readNov 26, 2019


Illustration by Kyle Griggs

BBefore my blood jetted into the clear tubing, exiting at body temperature, fogging up the inside of the plastic; before the phlebotomist whipped out his iodine to sterilize my arm, before he fished for a vein, before I lied during the screening, before I knew blood as warning, weak points, and damage, before the Orlando shooting, before sleeping with him, telling Mom I slept with a girl, before I knew my blood as the universal donor, I knew my blood as a taker of sorts, starting with the torsions.

The doctor says, Even though you don’t have anything down there, while strapping on a rubber glove for the palpitate and cough, we have to check. You’re ten at your scheduled physical and you have no clue what he’s talking about.

We’ll be outside, Mom says, Just talking. She bites into ‘talking’ like it’s an animal she just caught. When they leave the room there’s an ocean sound with the door shuts — no, it’s the sound when an ear sits close to a seashell — until the slow ringing comes back to real time, as you hear Mom’s voice through the door. What you remember piecing together;

He —

He — didn’t — no

He — Did — Not — Know —

He didn’t know about the torsions.

Driving in the car, the silences gnaws at you until you ask, What did he mean when he said, ‘You really can’t tell’?

She started with the lack of blood flow, the double torsion, how both testicles side-winded on their own coils. One had gangrene. Surgeons tried saving the pinker of the two, cut you open hours after your birth, unfurled it, and waited thirty minutes for the blood to recirculate through the veins, before they took that one too. For you to live, they had to go.

It’ll take a special girl to understand someday, Mom said, And I can be there to help with that conversation.

Irretrievable loss roots around your definition of family, children, spouse. Images of abundance are laced with inadequacy. Something you believe you can never provide at the age of 10 without testicles. You start keeping secrets too.

The phlebotomist grabbed the iodine marker. When the wet tip pressed into my skin, dying…



Harrison Cook
Gay Mag
Writer for

Writings published in Slate, Atlas Obscura, Phoebe Journal, and onstage | Deputy Editor at Guesthouse |