Monday, November 20, 2006

Known Donors: A Really Bad Idea

This week's New York Time's Magazine article, about gay sperm donors who are, or want to be, part-time fathers, disturbed me. I'm glad this issue is getting attention, as it's something lesbians who are contemplating how and when they might become parents think about all the time. It's a complicated issue legally, as well as socially and politically, and I'm always hungry to hear how other people are negotiating this in their lives. But the author seemed intent on exposing people who parent queerly as un-queer and super-normative. Neither the women or the men profiled in this article look good. The lesbians all come off as dour, controlling, selfish women who want "the privilege of being able to say to their children, ‘That’s your father,’ without having to really give up anything;" the men read as either careless assholes or born-again believers in a biologically essentialist notion of Fatherhood as a right and a duty.

The family pictured on the cover of the magazine was especially disturbing. According to the non-biological father in this four parent family, there's a hierarchy of parents: biological mother, biological father, non-biological mother, non-biological father. Wow. That's so, ummm, STRAIGHT. If this is a misrepresentation of how power works in this family, it's reflective of non-biological dad's bitterness that although (according to the article) he's the father who plays with the children, changes their diapers, and tries to inculcate them with manners, the biological father (a wanna-be actor who offers the chilling insight that "one of the supreme joys of fatherhood is the idea that one day his sons might see him on television") is treated with respect. In the meantime, the non-biological father is told by the evil and controlling lesbian mothers that "you're only here because of him," meaning his long-term partner, with whom he forged a committment, and essentially formed a family years before these children were even conceived.

Other male interviewees related harrowing tales of facing hostile lesbian mothers in court, flakey women, some of whom aren't even gay anymore, begging for even the smallest opportunity to be a part of THEIR. NATURAL. child's life--two hours a week, the right to say hello to the chid on the street, anything--only to be rebuked/chastised/exiled.

So this is a problem. But is this really an accurate portrayal of relationships between lesbian mothers and the gay men who father their children? The only positive depiction of this relationship came in a parenthetical aside about a rich gay lawyer who makes a long-distance queer family relationship work by taking vacations every few weeks with all of them, which suggests that the struggles of the other families--child care, responsibilities around the house--have more to do with class and limited resources than queerness.

And what about the lesbian mothers? At the very end of the article an anonymous woman who went through a protracted legal struggle with her donor confesses how scared she and her partner were, how isolated they felt and how few resources there were for them to draw on. And who could blame them? How often does the law rule in favor of two lesbians over ANY man? That's a different article, but it's probably not one the NY Times will publish, because as is, this piece fits in with their pattern of pathologizing "non-traditional" mothers. This article might ostensibly be about forging new, queer families, but it's really the same old song: Women have too much power; men are disenfranchised; fathers are powerless and irrelevant. Patriarchy is on the wane. Oh the humanity!!! What this article does chillingly well is foist the tired narrative of Men. Versus. Women. on a group of people who have consciously "opted out" of this culturally over-determined battle.

I picked up this article last night as a woman who planned on using a known-donor to get pregnant. Twenty-minutes later I was on-line checking out the price lists and donor sheets of the local sperm bank.


Blogger art-sweet said...

I thought the article sucked dysentaric donkey ass. That said, I know plenty of people who have made their own family arrangements with known donors and made them work. The thing that bugged me about the article was that it seemed determined to prove that the stereotypical nuclear family must happen, even in glbt families. So I'm curious - why did this half-assed article scare you away from using a known donor?

4:46 PM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

art-sweet, thanks for your comment. I was being hyperbolic about not wanting to use a known donor. I, too, know several families who've made known donor arrangements work really well. I'm not sure what I'll do, yet, but the article's insistence on reading these queer families as stereotypically nuclear did have me thinking about the politics of donors and reminded me just how cautious one should be. I've known my known donor's family my entire life, and I'm quite sure I *don't* want his mother to feel like she has any claim on my and my partner's child.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Hilaire said...

I read the article last night and thought it just *sucked*, too. Talk about mixed messages. I thought it was an atrocious piece of journalism that didn't really *say* much of anything - all the messages were latent, and they were the icky ones you've pointed out. I think your analysis is right on.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, you're thinking of getting pregnant?!


11:36 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

the "heteronorming" of queer folks is something that's been on my mind a lot lately, albeit not in this context. thanks for the link. and i'm loving your blog, p.s.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous salamina said...

Hetero, homo, in-between, and/or none of the above, everyone is so fucking crazy these days (years, centuries) that to expect to find healthy, mature long-term parental relationships among more than, say, 4-5% of all adults of any sexual and/or gender identification, and within any marital or quasi-marital stucture, seems naive, unrealistic, and maybe even a little crazy in and of itself, given the abundant amount of consistent data all around us, yeah?

11:02 PM  
Blogger Homo Mummy said...

Why do lesbians even THINK about using a known donor? My friend and her wife unfortunately did, and they chose a kind and good man. They thought. He did not wat a child to take care of, he just wanted to help them, he said. After birth he freaked out. Today they are in court and he wants to have the daughter full time. The mothers are in shock and have no chance to get the adoption they had planned.

I am so grateful our son came to this world with the help of an anonymous sperm donor. We are two happy mathers and my partners adoption of him just got through.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

We were using a known donor but just backed out of the deal for medical/insurance reasons. Understandably there are some hurt feelings all around right now, but I find myself bristling at what feels like them saying this should have been anyone's decision except my partner and mine.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Margo, darling said...

Sorry to hear about that, Renee. We decided against an unknown donor for the reasons I listed above, but even if we had wanted a known donor, insurance and necessary quarantine time-limits would have made it impossible. It's frustrating knowing it wasn't really a choice.

3:43 PM  
Blogger marilynn said...

Margo when you said you would not want anyone having a claim to you and your partner's child you have it way way backwards. People, not kids have a claim and legitimate interest in being legal kin to their biological relatives when they are minors as a source of support and hopefully care love and guidance as well as heritage and medical history and shared experience - everyone else that loves them in life is icing on the cake extra beyond the bare minimum a person deserves just for arriving on earth from the two people that made them. It's what the law says everyone but donor offspring and adopted people are allowed. Its very very unfair to them because it is legally possible for them to have two biological parents who are legally responsible sharing custody and at the same time grow up with loving and supportive step parents. Millions of families do it all the time not just because they are legally required to share the obligation of raising their kids but because why would a person deserve anything less but both bio parents being interested? Right now you might not see it that way. I reunite families separated by parents who were absent per the terms of donor agreements. These just great big families with people raised by single parents or parents in hetero relationships or by parents with same sex spouses or partners. They hare people told from birth and people who found out in childhood or as teens or as adults. If you are ready to start a family and are planning to have a child with a donor I have a lot of friends who are donor offspring many with gay or lesbian rearing bio parents - that raised them with very loving step parents (though they were not referred to as step parents that is my take and what I'd call the spouse of a straight person to) I know lots of donor offspring who'd talk to you off line about how they felt growing up in families that were trying very hard to be the picture perfect gay or lesbian family attending churches or synagogs for gay and lesbian families home schooling you name it. You may feel like you don't want the kid's family to have a claim on them but if you want a solid relationship where they feel respected for being who they actually are you'd want them to have claim to their own family and know they'd love you and your partner sincerely for loving them completely and not denying them their family so you can have them all to yourselves. Don't feel threatened by their biological family seek out a person to have a kid with who is interested in being there for them who you are not fearful of and try real hard to sincerely want your kid to have exactly what they deserve from both bio parents and then give them more by adding more people who love them to their lives. I just helped a friend raised by her mom mom's spouse from birth in NYC with her sister (mom's spouse's kid) also donor offspring. Just helped her find her father and he loves her and she's over the moon with joy, she deserves for him to be proud of her. You can say that biology is only as important as you make it but the person you make a kid with is not related to you they are sort of irrelevant to you but that person will be your kid's father and all they'll have to do is look at you their bio mom to know the level of love and investment he should also have and then they will wish he loved them as much as you. I'm sharing this information with you because you deserve a happy family and so does your partner if you would like to talk to any of the donor families I've helped and some of them are very well known donor offspring rights advocates, email me and I'll ask them to write you and your spouse. Good luck and merry xmass/hnka etc etc.

2:34 AM  
Blogger marilynn said...

Being from San Francisco I grew up with friends who had two mom's long before sperm donation gained popularity. Honestly I think it was way healthier because my friends still had their fathers and paternal families in their lives to varying extents and if they were not in their lives their mothers ached for them and told them they wished he was there for them and that they deserved his attention. All that compassion and each of my friends had great home lives with their mothers and mother's partners. Same goes for my friens whose fathers were gay - they never denied my friends their maternal or paternal relatives. Those were very functional healthy families. To hear straight or gay people talking about wanting to make it seem like they had a kid with their partner instead of who they really had a kid with and wanting to keep the kid all to themselves or not wanting the absent mom or dad to have claim on the kid sounds more like property than parenthood. Being straight or gay has nothing to do with taking care of children well. Everyone here has a new chance every day to love the kid they are raising for who he or she is rather than who they wish they were I hope you read what donor offspring say about the experience and don't chalk their feelings up to being raised wrong that your kids won't feel the same won't lie to you about it. They'll lie to make you happy because they love you and you'll never know how much it hurts them that only one of their bio parents cares about them. You do care how they feel you just don't know how to tell them yet. I hope everyone who has commented here has a house full of happiness whether I changed your minds on the topic or not. But I spend a lot of my time helping kids like yours search behind their loving parents backs even though they think they've been so open with them. It's just not open till you empathize and stop worrying about their relationship with you and your partner and start talking about the relationship they don't have with their other family - how do your kids feel about the people who are not there? Ask that question that will keep them from lying about their feelings. That's my two cents and it's important to say in case one person will look at the situation differently.

2:55 AM  

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