five minutes before my sched-uled appointment at the ReproMed Sperm Clinic, Mary, the receptionist, gives me the go-ahead to use the washroom. "We don't need a urine sample today, so OK," she says. My simple need to pee takes on a whole new meaning here, where my penis is only a means to a scientific end.
Once in the washroom, I wonder if I'll ever be able to ejaculate in a cold, clinical office like this. But god knows I'm primed. On Mary's instructions, I've avoided ejaculating for the past three days (but no longer than five, lest the new sperm overpower the old).
"That means your last ejaculate is this Sunday," she'd said last week when I set up this appointment by phone, just as matter-of-fact as if she were my dentist reminding me to floss. A woman I'd just met over the phone was telling me when I could and couldn't jerk off. I told her I'd call to reschedule if I had any weak moments.
I'm not here to donate, but only to be screened in hopes of discovering if my sperm and I would be an adequate match for the clinic's donor program. If accepted, I'll be paid $70 for each "deposit," as long as I agree to regular deposits over the next 12 months.
Returning to the cramped waiting area, I'm greeted by a colourful, near-abstract painting of what might be a woman and a man, her naked body wrapped around his naked waist. I'm inspired toward action already.
Within minutes of my arrival, the screening process begins. First is the questionnaire, an interminable set of questions that takes almost two hours to answer and leaves nothing to the imagination. It includes questions about me, my mom, dad, brother, sister and all relatives on both my mother's and father's side, any diseases, heart conditions, mental problems or drug habits, plus hair colour, complexion, bone structure, eye colour and favourite breakfast cereal.
While I want to be honest, modesty and a wish to seem righteous quickly kick in -- but for the most part I do tell the truth.
Do I smoke marijuana cigarettes? Er, only a few times in high school. Do I have night sweats? I tell them I sleep as dry as a Kotex pad. The barrage of questions swiftly becomes mind-numbing. Besides, it's clear they're looking for hardcore models of virtue, and the only man who could answer their questions with absolute truth and still be accepted into the program would be Jesus Christ himself, and it'll be a long time before his second coming.
The questionnaire finally complete, I'm introduced to Leanne, the doctor in charge of examining my sperm to make sure it's in good order and, of course, has a high enough count. She hands me a clear plastic specimen bottle, but the damn thing is large enough to hold a can of beans, and I wonder exactly how they expect me to fill it. My male ego shudders.
I'm led down a short hallway to one of two "collection" rooms that are unnervingly close to a couple of administrative offices and right beside a laboratory full of clinic staff. Still, the collection room is an oasis of calm, if not pornography.
A plump, brown leather couch sits on one side of the postage-stamp-sized room, facing a 27-inch TV and a stack of porn videos. The tape at the top of the heap is Jailhouse Cock, the word "straight" scrawled across the label with magic marker to avoid confusion.
To the right is the most impressive stack of inspirational magazines I've ever seen, and beside that a jumbo-sized pump-action container of lube.
The first order of business, however, is to head to the small sink, where a sign instructs donors to wash their hands before and after they do their thing.
And as I do my thing, I do my best to ignore staff chatting gaily outside only a thin drywall partition away. Fortunately, the sheer novelty of the experience makes for record time. Within minutes, I've washed up and left my oasis, surrendering my sperm to Leanne, who accepts it a little too eagerly.
She says there are currently 30 active donors, and, as I learn on ReproMed's Web site later, only 5 per cent of donor applicants are accepted. The competition is, fittingly, stiff.
As I leave, a sign on the door bids the visitor farewell with "Have a nice day, visit us again."
But as a gay man, I won't be coming back, because, in a word, I'm forbidden. Gay men can't donate sperm and, says Health Canada's Andrew Smith, there are no plans to alter that regulation. "The intention is to eliminate risk," he says of barring homosexuals from sperm donation. "Individuals in certain high-risk categories have an increased risk of transmitting HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. This is generally accepted around the world. It's not something just Canada is doing."
Automatically barred from donating, too, says Health Canada, are injection drug users, anyone who has had sex in exchange for money or drugs and those who are at risk of "having acquired HIV from geographical regions where HIV strains are endemic," such as Cameroon or Congo.
The prejudice of Health Canada's regulation is revealed by the screening question, "Have you ever had sex with a man, even once, since 1977?"
A receptionist I spoke with at another clinic says no man is asked outright if he's gay. But at my screening, I'm asked to sign a paper stating that I am currently not, nor have I ever been involved in a homosexual relationship.
So, suppose in 1978 a guy has sex with another guy and has remained celibate but gay during those 20-plus years. He can't donate perfectly healthy sperm, but a sexually active heterosexual can?
If AIDS is the problem, clinics like ReproMed should exclude more than just gay men from their donor program -- like the aboriginal population, which the AIDS Committee of Toronto says is also at high risk for HIV.
For me, it doesn't matter. Even if the clinic believed I was heterosexual, as I indicated on the questionnaire, I'd still be out of luck because my sperm count, they tell me, is too low to donate. (I blame it on the sweltering heat, naturally.)
If I were shooting tadpoles by the zillions and the clinic begged me to, uh, come join their program, I'd have to come clean and decline. But it's too bad that so many healthy, HIV-negative gay men can't just tell the truth, letting their semen and blood samples speak for themselves.