This is the first in what will be an occasional series of posts. Why am I doing this? I don't know :-). I thought some folks might be interested. I notice some write slash with characters who are parents (as do I) and might want to know about the real life counterparts of m/m or f/f couples with kids, if they don't know all about us already. And besides, it's my journal and I can write about what I want.
How do gay men and lesbians have children?
Lots of ways.
There have always been lesbian mothers and gay fathers, for as long as there have been lesbians and gay men (and how long that is depends on how you define lesbian and gay, which is fodder for another post, another time). For most of that time - whenever you think it started - lesbians and gay men with children had them in heterosexual marriages and came out later. Out lesbian and gay parents were sometimes rearing children as singles or in couples, although heterosexist legal decisions meant they often were not able to parent their kids. In any event, issues concerning lesbian and gay parenting were inextricably bound up with issues of divorce, and often of remarriage and step-parenting as well.
Beginning in the 1980s, we saw in this country a huge increase in the number of planned lesbian and gay families - same-sex couples who were choosing to parent together after coming out. Children were being born and reared in lesbian and gay families. This is often referred to as the “Gayby Boom” and it continues to grow. How were we having children and how are we doing it now? Several ways:
Donor Insemination, using a Sperm Bank – Sperm banks were set up to serve infertile heterosexual couples, but now much of their clientele consists of lesbians. Starting in the mid-1980s it became possible for an out lesbian couple to purchase semen from a sperm bank. Before that, lesbians often managed to purchase semen in a closeted manner, either with the collusion of doctors who acted as intermediaries or by finding a male friend to pose as husband. When I started trying to conceive in 1986, there were only a couple of sperm banks where one could be out in the process. Now I think it’s a rare sperm bank that won’t take openly lesbian customers.
Sperm donors at sperm banks would more accurately be called sperm vendors, since they are paid for their donations. Typical fees are $100 per ejaculation and men usually donate twice a week. Jerking off twice a week and getting $200 for doing so definitely falls under the category of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in my mind.
Donors are given thorough medical exams and donor semen is tested for a number of things, including HIV. Semen is frozen and quarantined for a period of six months. The donor is required to have an HIV test every 8 weeks to ensure he doesn’t seroconvert. If he does, all his banked semen is destroyed.
Prospective parents choose donors from a donor catalogue. Lots of information is available – from physical description to medical history to family background to education, career and hobbies. Most donors are anonymous. Some banks have “yes” donors – anonymous now but a child can contact the donor once s/he reaches 18 (it’s only one way – the donor can’t contact the child).
Donor Insemination, using a Known Donor - Many lesbian singles and couples make an arrangement directly with a man to be the donor. Insemination is a very low tech procedure. Jerking off into a cup requires no equipment other than the cup, and the insemination itself can be done with the traditional turkey baster, or with “insemination kits” that are easy to come by. I've done insemination at home many times (although we used sperm bank semen) and it's not hard at all. Known donors typically don't charge to donate (although often the prospective parents will pay for his medical exam and tests) so some women choose this because it is the cheaper option. Others want the option for the child to know the donor, or want access to more information than is available through a sperm bank, or want their kids to have the option of a greater matching pool for bone marrow or kidney donation from a donor, should such an issue arise.
Known donors have all sorts of roles in children’s lives, depending on the individual choices made by the people involved. Some are family friends, some have an avuncular role, some are “daddy.” In some cases, roles change and evolve over time. A man can feel like a sperm donor going into the process but a father later. In some cases that change has been accommodated peacefully within the family, and in some cases it has led to court battles, with varied results.
Donor Insemination, Using an Intermediary – Before sperm banks were generally available to out lesbians, many couples used this method. They’d entrust a friend to find them a donor. The friend would find a man willing to be an anonymous donor and the intermediary would go to his house, pick up the semen and deliver it to the lesbian couple. The donor wouldn’t know who the recipients were and they wouldn’t know who he was, but the intermediary knew all. In some cases I know of, the intermediary told the donor when he changed his mind and wanted to know “his” child. Then it became a known donor situation. This method is not used much anymore, but I’ve heard of some women doing it in recent times because of the high cost of donor semen from a sperm bank.
Heterosexual Intercourse – Before sperm banks routinely accepted lesbians, some just had sex with a man – often a stranger - for the purpose of conceiving. I do know of some people who have done that with known donors as well, seeing it as an alternative more in tune with their philosophy than donor insemination, which they view as kind of sterile and artificial.
Adoption – Most planned gay male families and many planned lesbian families bring children into their lives through adoption. Gay couples use the same methods straight couples do – domestic and international; agency and independent, public and private. In the vast majority of cases, only one of the couple can be the legal adoptive parent. How out the couple is in the adoption process varies greatly by state of residence and place of adoption. International adoptions are always closeted.
Surrogacy – Some male couples contract with surrogates to give birth to children for them. Generally this is done when one or both men feels strongly about having a biological connection to the child.
Lesbians and Gay Men Coparenting Sometimes lesbians and gay men choose to have kids together. This can be the case of a single woman and a single men, a lesbian couple and a single man, a gay male couple and a single lesbian or two couples. The individuals decide what the role of the parents will be and how they will conceive (in cases I know it's usually been through the same procedure as donor insemination). Sometimes it starts out as a single man and woman but one or the other of them ends up partnering and the child has more parents than originally planned.
Questions happily answered if left in comments or sent through email.
Next up: What is the legal status of same-sex parents?