While we are on the topic of Labor Day, let’s talk about babies. In particular, let’s talk about fatherhood. Nobody wants to speak frankly about gay men and kids, and I think that is a problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want kids myself, and never have. I went so far as to get The Snip as added protection against accidents (as if I had to worry about accidents, or indeed anybody wanting to touch my penis ever). Admittedly, I am a freak, but there are also lots of successful, well-adjusted gays who don’t want kids: CB, Travel Penguin, Blobby, Sassybear, and probably many others.
Having said that, there are gay men who want children. Poor Steven has expressed regret at not having kids, and John Gray has (wistfully?) commented that he would make a good dad. The standard prescription for this is to make like Dan Savage or the couple from Jesus has Two Daddies and adopt. That is fine if it works for you, but there are men — even gay men! — who for whatever reason want their own biological children. This may be irrational but I think this urge lives underneath our rational thought. Our genes want to propagate themselves, and those whims are difficult to resist.
So if you are a gay man who wants to have biological children, what do you do? If you are rich, maybe you can pay to rent somebody’s womb, find an egg donor, and then have a baby carried to term for you. You can then rip the infant from its mother and raise it as your own, which raises no ethical concerns whatsoever.
What if you are not rich? Then life gets trickier… or does it? After all, many gay (and to be fair, bi) men in the blogosphere have fathered biological children: Two Lives from If I Do the Right Thing, BearToast Joe, Buddy Bear from One Step at a Time, and of course Michael54 from My Secret Journey. Although it seems Michael54 has a tough relationship with one of his kids, for the most part this group of bloggers has been grateful for their children. Of course, all of these bloggers have something else in common: they married women. Some of them married women accepting that they had homosexual attractions, and some of them married in the hopes that straight marriage would cure them.
I feel this is a problem. Is the best gays can do to marry women, have kids, and then lead lives as openly gay/bi men later on? Is it okay that gay men who hate themselves and desperately want to be straight get rewarded with biological children, and gays who come out early enough in life that they don’t get straight married have no options other than renting a womb?
The lesbians have figured this out, possibly because wombs tend to be more prevalent in the lesbian population. Lesbians watch some educational movie on the miracle of birth, decide that they want to be moms, and then hit the Internet or male-order catalogues for a vial of sperm and a turkey baster. Before you know it, Heather has two mommies. But it seems way more complicated for same-sex couples with no wombs between them.
Andrew Solomon, the aforementioned author of Far From the Tree, offers a glimmer of hope. He has a complicated, multiple-state web of biological children, where he and his partner had some lesbian friends carry their kids to term, and in return he and his partner provided sperm for those lesbians. Maybe this is not that different from renting a womb, but it feels more egalitarian somehow. To some extent it reinforces heteronormativity, though: it turns out the homophobes were right, and you really do need Tab A to fit into Slot B if you want babies.
I don’t have a clear answer for this. I do think it is a difficult truth that we should acknowledge, especially as kids come out of the closet earlier and earlier. Some of those queer kids are going to want kids of their own, and it is not clear to me what ethical ways there are to deal with that.
Mind! It is not as if the straights have everything figured out either. Nobody wants to acknowledge that women are more fertile (and maybe have healthier babies) when they are quite young, in their late teens or through their twenties. Biologically this makes sense, but socio-economically we have decided this is a bad idea, because (surprise!) straight couples want financial and life stability before having kids, and that often means that women get to have careers. Thus we end up with Facebook and Apple offering to freeze eggs for their female employees, so they can put in 80 hour weeks at their Silicon Valley jobs while worrying less about their biological clocks. Too bad freezing eggs is expensive. What do the rest of the straight people do, now that we expect kids to go to school until age 25-30 and then wait another 10 years to get out of precarious employment?
Also, can we please outlaw two parent households? I won’t go so far as to call two parent households child abuse outright, but I am tempted. Children need way more than two parents, as far as I can tell. In the Good Old Days there would be grandparents and spinster aunts and confirmed bachelor uncles to help take care of the kids. But now we obsess over the nuclear family as being the platonic ideal of a “correct” family, and I feel it is doing children a lot of harm. The nuclear family may be economically convenient for capitalism but it’s no way to raise a family.