This gay poet is writing in his own blood to protest gay blood donations rules

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A gay poet is writing in his own blood to protest restrictive rules around blood donations for men who have sex with men.

RJ Arkhipov, a Welsh poet living between London and Paris, is using his poetry to raise awareness of discriminatory blood rules.

In the UK there is a 12 month deferral period on men who have sex with men, including oral sex, donating.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) department in the United States also requires one year’s celibacy.

RJ Arkhipov
Image by Maud Maillard

Arkhipov has now taken to publishing work in his own blood to highlight the injustice, as part of his Words&Blood series.

He says his first experience donating triggered the idea.

He told PinkNews: “As I was having the blood extracted, I was asked if I had ever donated before.

“I remained silent for a few seconds, feeling almost guilty to say I hadn’t, before half-apologising for being unable to do so as I fell into the men who have sex with men (MSM) category.

“Writers—especially LGBT writers—have a responsibility, I think, to confront stigma within our community, to put a mirror up to it and reveal it.

“Shame will only be assuaged when we tackle such taboos head on, by resisting them with conviction and pride.

“Writing with my blood as ink was both an homage to a number of literary greats and my own poetic objection to it being considered as inferior.”

RJ Arkhipov
Image by Maud Maillard

Men who have sex with men were banned from donating blood in the UK in 1985, at the height of the HIV AIDS crisis.

Public Health England statistics estimate that 3,320 of the 6,095 people who were newly infected with HIV in 2015 were gay or bisexual.

Meanwhile 2,360 men and women “probably” contracted HIV via heterosexual activity, which activists argue indicates that high-risk and promiscuous sex aggravates infection levels, rather than sexual orientation.

RJ Arkhipov
Image by Augusto Rivarola

Explaining his creative motivation for writing poetry in blood, Arkhipov told PinkNews: “Blood is thick with metaphoric potential.

“The scarlet ichor that runs through each of us has enchanted the words of philosophers and poets for centuries, if not millennia.

“From the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who declaimed ‘The word was born in the blood’ to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who beautifully articulated ‘Of all that is written, I love what a man has written with his own blood. […] Write with blood, and you will find that blood is spirit.

“Whoever writes in blood and proverbs does not want to be read, but to be learned by heart.’

“Even Ernest Hemingway is claimed to have once said ‘There is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’

“These poets and philosophers, alongside others such as Dante and Nabokov ignited my literary interest in blood.

“The contemporary writer Lawrence Hill later enlightened me to the great extent to which blood pervades our society.

“Notions of kinship and belonging, of purity and class, of stigma and shame have all derived legitimacy from blood.

“It was with this in mind that I set myself to writing a series of poetry — Words&Blood — using my own vital fluid as ink.”