IMPORTANT PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE: MAS reaches pandemic status worldwide

Readers, we are in the grips of a pandemic.

For years now, members of minorities and marginalised groups have been afflicted by a terrible condition. It may strike at any time, affecting them at work, during recreational activities or even when in the comfort and safety of their own homes. It affects people of colour, queer and trans* people, women, the disabled, the uneducated, sex workers, even the poor. As this condition sweeps through our population, taking casualty after casualty, many have searched in vain for a cure – some kind of vaccine to inoculate the victims against the effects of this affliction. Sadly, their efforts so far have been fruitless, and thousands – nay, millions – find themselves falling prey daily, usually when they least expect it.

I am speaking, of course, of Minority Ambassador Syndrome.

Minority Ambassador Syndrome (MAS) is a condition transmitted from unaffected carriers (usually able-bodied cishet white males with college degrees and steady jobs in respected fields) to marginalised people. Transmission can occur upon first contact, though it is not rare for MAS to incubate and lie latent in a carrier for some time before the condition is passed on. Although completely harmless to the vectors that spread it, MAS has serious and far-reaching consequences for any members of a marginalised group that may come into contact with it. I am writing this guide as a public health initiative. By learning to recognise the signs and symptoms of MAS, you and your loved ones can learn to take precautions and keep yourselves safe. While there is not yet any foolproof method of preventing MAS transmission, the following information may prove helpful to people in a high-risk environment (one with a lot of carriers, such as a video game forum, comic convention or gawker.com comments section) and help those already afflicted to obtain some symptomatic relief.

MAS – Recognising the Signs

MAS is transmitted aurally or via text from the carrier to the recipient. Transmission occurs in the form of a generalisation about the recipient’s race to which the recipient is then expected to give some kind of apology or rebuttal. Examples of transmission spores include:

  • “I don’t see any of you [insert religion here] apologising for [insert act of terrorism committed by people who claim x religion here]! You’re all the same!”
  • “I heard in the news last night that a [insert race here] committed [insert felony here]. Why don’t community leaders stand up and denounce those people? They’re making you all look bad.”
  • “I saw a [insert non-het sexuality here] couple engaging in the grossest PDA the other day. Why do all [insert non-het sexuality here] people have to be so blatant about it?”
  • “If [insert race here] women don’t want people to think of them as [insert racial pejorative here], maybe they should all stop [insert stereotype about women of x race here].”

However, transmission is not always in the form of a generalisation about the marginalised group in question; it may also occur in the form of a compliment that positions the recipient as somehow having transcended the group with whom they claim association. Examples of this include:

  • “It’s so great to see someone from [insert race/religion here] in college – you’re such a good example! If only more [insert race/religion here] people were like you.”
  • “Obviously, you’re not like those other [women/gay people/trans* people/sex workers] – you don’t go acting like they do.”
  • “I know you deserve disability benefits, but what about all those people with fake disabilities who are just rorting the system?”

In both cases, the recipient is now positioned as a representative of their entire group – be that people of a certain race or creed, women, trans* people, queer people, disabled people, sex workers, etc. Upon contact, the individual is expected to assume responsibility for all actions ever taken by any member of the group to which they belong, even if those actions were taken by someone they don’t know, someone whose behaviour they don’t condone or someone who is only tangentially related to them. If they do not do so, their failure is seen as an indictment of the entire group.

Symptoms of MAS

MAS is unique in that it does not affect carriers whatsoever. They are not expected to assume responsibility for groups to which they belong (e.g. white people, straight people, cisgender people, men, people with college degrees, people belonging to [x] field, etc.). The disease only activates upon transmission to a vulnerable minority recipient. Symptoms may include:

  • Being asked to justify the actions of complete strangers (e.g. “a black man robbed my friend’s friend’s house last night – why aren’t your people doing more to crack down on crime?”)
  • Being attacked if they do not issue fervent apologies for atrocities committed by people claiming to represent them (e.g. “those terrorists said they were fighting in the name of Islam, don’t you feel ashamed? Why aren’t you standing up to them?”)
  • Being expected to act with impeccable etiquette and deportment in all situations, even when subjected to scorn, criticism or mockery, on pain of damning the entire group by association if they do not (e.g. “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you! Trans* people are all deceptive liars!”)
  • Being held up as an example to which other members of the group should aspire (e.g. “If you could work three jobs to pay your way through college, why can’t every poor kid from the poverty-stricken neighbourhood in which you grew up do the same?”)

Over time, these symptoms lead to irritation, frustration and a feeling of overwhelming pressure in sufferers.

Prognosis and Treatment

As of yet, there is no reliable treatment for MAS. Prognosis for sufferers is largely dependent on their will and ability to argue with carriers who insist that they be held accountable for the actions of complete strangers with whom they may have only the vaguest and most tenuous of affiliations. Whilst some sufferers of MAS are able to rebut such demands, others are not, and the stress of being expected to act as a perfect example for others to follow can do incredible damage over time. In such cases, the prognosis is fairly grim.

However, there are some strategies that sufferers may use to mitigate the effects of MAS. These include:

  • Asking carriers to account for the actions of people only vaguely connected to them (e.g. “your great-great grandparents probably owned slaves, should I make you apologise for that, too?”)
  • Insisting on being viewed as an individual regardless of group affiliation (e.g. “do you really think all brown people look the same? That’s pretty messed up, dude.”)
  • Telling carriers to fuck right back off on the high horse they rode in on

Employing these strategies will not cure MAS or completely remove it from the system of the sufferer, but they may provide some symptomatic relief, as well as a soothing sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at having told at least one ignorant bigot where to shove it.

Lessening the Impact of MAS

MAS is currently endemic amongst marginalised populations, with an estimated up to 100% of members of these groups having been exposed to the condition at least once in their lives. Therefore, treatment and intervention programs should initially focus on limiting exposure to carriers by removing the large-scale public platforms from which these carriers are often able to infect multiple people at once.

In order to stop the spread of MAS, a concerted effort must be made to stop the condition at the source. By eliminating carriers through education, socially-enforced anti-discrimination messages and straight up pointing and laughing at their ignorance, the number of carrier-to-recipient transmissions would be greatly lessened. In cases of patients already suffering from MAS, eliminating further contact with carriers can eventually lead to the condition becoming latent again. Future intervention programs should also focus on eliminating sources from which carriers initially pick up the condition, such as FOX News, Drudge Report, Cathy Brennan and any Twitter account operated by someone who endorses the views of Richard Dawkins.

Although it may seem like an impossible task, it is conceivable that in the next ten to twenty years, MAS transmission could be greatly reduced by implementing these measures, and existing sufferers could see their conditions become – and remain – latent. It may take an army of dedicated specialists slowly hacking away at the fanbases of influential carriers such as Dan Savage, the aforementioned Richard Dawkins, anyone who identifies as a “TERF” or “SWERF”, or Sean Hannity, but with time, effort and large-scale international cooperation, it may eventually be possible to end this pandemic.

How to save a life

My grandfather died of leukaemia – at least, that’s what they think it was. My mother lost him when she was just a teenager. I’ve asked her, and she says she still misses him constantly, though the pain has dulled somewhat over time. When I was little, she often wore a gold four-leaf clover medallion that he’d bought her – a little piece of him that she carried with her always.

My cousin was diagnosed with lymphoma two years ago. While the cancer is now in remission, she had to undergo gruelling therapy, losing her hair in the process. Every cough and cold she gets is now treated with suspicion – she never knows which seemingly minor illness could be a sign that the cancer has returned. She’s younger than me, with so much life left to live, but she will spend the next few years fearful of a disease that haunts her even though it is supposedly gone.

My uncle died of cancer a few months ago. He was a warm, loving, compassionate man. It happened so quickly that I never got a chance to say goodbye to him – one minute, he was alive, and the next, the cancer had spread throughout his body and he was on life support. He passed away shortly afterwards, leaving behind a loving wife and four devoted children who were devastated by the loss. I wish every day that I’d talked to him more while he was alive.

My partner’s grandmother died of cancer a few years ago. She raised him while both his parents worked and was more dear to him than anyone else in the world. They discovered her cancer too late – by the time they found it, there was nothing they could do. My partner still cries sometimes, the loss still raw. He misses her so much. By extension, I miss the woman who loved him so dearly, and whom he loved. I wish I’d been able to meet her.

Cancer is a fearsome thing. It takes too many people too soon. Finding a cure for it is like chasing moonbeams – there are so many forms of cancer, so many genetic mutations that can cause it, that a single cure is impossible, and even cures for the most common kinds seem unattainable at times. What we can do – what we are doing – is learning how to catch it before it becomes too deadly to stop, so that those afflicted have a chance to survive. Better still, we can test people to see if they’re at risk before they ever get sick, giving them options for health management that might potentially save them years of pain, suffering and gruelling medical treatments.

But that testing is expensive. It’s expensive because of greedy men who wish to profit from the sick. Patent laws were never designed for a situation in which a company might try to patent the discovery of a gene – material that is in every living human being. The laws we have now were not designed with such an eventuality in mind. But as it is, gene patenting makes potentially life-saving testing prohibitively expensive.

A simple test can determine whether or not a woman has the potentially deadly BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes – genes strongly associated with familial breast cancer. Armed with this information, there are a slew of options available – preventative mastectomies and hysterectomies, for example. Further research may unearth new ways of preventing these cancers – which are deadly in many cases – from claiming the lives of women of all ages. That this test is too expensive for most women is not just unfortunate – it’s inhumane.

September 20th is Bright Pink Lipstick Day. I wore bright pink as part of a campaign to raise awareness of breast and ovarian cancer (the former of which can sometimes occur in cis men and trans* women as well). I wore it as a memorial to the people I’ve lost to cancer – family, friends, loved ones – and as a promise to those who are fighting the disease that they are not alone. Given the right resources and released from the constraints of money-hungry companies seeking to profit from peoples’ suffering, we could find new ways of treating cancer that are less taxing on the body, or even new ways of detecting cancer risk factors before the disease starts and spreads. We could save not only women at risk of breast and ovarian cancer, but people like my uncle, my cousin, my grandfather, my partner’s grandmother. We could transform cancer from an ominous spectre into something manageable, something we can fight.

We’re making progress. Even now, research is being done into gene therapies that could completely change the way we fight cancer. No more chemotherapy or toxic radiation, no more invasive surgeries, no more mastectomies and hysterectomies on women who find themselves feeling stripped bare and lesser afterward. But things need to change. Gene patenting is being challenged in courts around the world as we speak. Movements have begun to make gene testing more affordable, so that young women around the world can have access to information that will help them make considered choices about their health. This needs to continue. It needs to get bigger. More of us need to care more strongly.

The world has lost too many people to cancer already. One day, we might not need to lose any more. I hope I live to see a world in which that dream is realised.