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.