I’m shivering in my driveway, clutching a small plastic cup wrapped in kitchen towel. In the cup – fresh semen. Don’t be alarmed, it’s my own. In the approaching car are my friends Jane and Melissa. They pull to a stop, I hand it through the window, we grin. Jane tucks the package in her cleavage. They do a 180 and speed off to beat the rush hour traffic.
And thus, the miracle of life.
How did we get here? A 35 year-old gay man and his gay girl chums, Doing Procreation like a dodgy drug deal in a suburban cul-de-sac? The answer, like most things in life, is more straightforward than some may have you believe.
It’s a familiar refrain for many gay men – “If we’re single when we’re (x age), we should definitely just have a kid together”. Over casks of Miami wine cooler and cheap clove cigarettes (The 1990s, you have much to answer for) we would jokingly plan our presumably barren futures with girlfriends we knew would never lack male attention.
Their futures, we were certain, were secure. We had seen it in films, heard it in songs. Our parents were living proof of the heterosexual ideal, our more confident friends were grappling with its challenges already.
“How did we get here? A 35 year-old gay man and his gay girl chums, Doing Procreation like a dodgy drug deal in a suburban cul-de-sac?”
Our own futures? This was less certain, having few visible role models to which to aspire, and less (if that’s possible) positive examples of gay romantic relationships. Television and films in the 1980s did not fill us with much hope – exaggerated camp ‘nelly’ characters were sexless, two-dimensional and sidelined, reduced to catty one-liners and arched eyebrows, forever alone. “I am free”, indeed.
At the other end of the spectrum, the exaggerated ‘masculine’ representations of gay men were furtive, silent and predatory, inhabiting an aggressively sexual shadow world of bars, parks and alleyways. Cruising and Cruising. It was sex – the more anonymous the better – not love they were after. Between the two stood the beige, sweater-vested urban gay, de-sexed and entirely unthreatening. He was a placeholder, used by female characters to express their feelings before a ‘real man’ could take his place. He was reassuring, comforting and utterly boring.
I grew up in a world that, culturally, didn’t really acknowledge my existence. Perhaps that’s just how teenagers feel. I was a good student and a pretty well-behaved son. I had great friends, played in bands, acted in plays and had jobs from a young age. While never naturally sporty, I was fit and active enough. I was also sarcastic and argumentative and judgmental, especially of the effortlessly ‘cool’ kids.
I wore different coloured Converse on each foot because…actually, I forget why. I wore t-shirts emblazoned with indie band logos handed down from my much cooler older sister, Sam. Thankfully, no one asked me about these bands; the boy with a bedroom wallpapered in Kylie posters would have probably stuttered “Oh, them…they’re, like, really alternative…and stuff”. Small mercies.
Occasionally I would be called a ‘faggot’ or ‘poof’ by kids at school. ‘Faggot’ is an ugly, brutal word. It crushes and diminishes and dismisses in one whipcrack. That final ‘t’ stings like venom.
I found ‘poof’ worse, though. The word was too knowing. It seemed to casually flay me open and expose a truth I’d desperately tried to hide from myself. That thing. I had bargained with God to make it not true. Now, it seemed, everyone knew. I was just a poof, and nothing more.
“‘Faggot’ is an ugly, brutal word. It crushes and diminishes and dismisses in one whipcrack.”
My friend Jane was cooler than me. We first met when we were 11 or 12, spent our formative years getting suburban drunk together, and spent a good part of our 20s together in London. At high school, she played piano better than me, seemed more confident, and had a steady stream of boyfriends.
While I fumbled embarrassingly in my romantic (‘romantic’) overtures to the opposite sex, everyone around me appeared to be revelling in athletic, frequent and successful bouts of Doing It. I was Richie Cunningham stranded in the Red Shoe Diaries, with a crap 90s soundtrack to boot.
I came out to my sister shortly before my 20th birthday, my mum the day after my birthday, and my dad three days after that. The seismic catastrophe of this revelation was rather a damp squib. My sister was thrilled I’d finally figured out what she’d known for years, and we celebrated with cheap tequila.
Mum was surprised, surprisingly (I’d dressed up as Madonna for my 14th birthday party, after all) and my dad said he didn’t really concern himself with who I went to bed with as long as I was happy and healthy. Textbook example of a Good Coming Out, cheers family!
Jane had a different route to her eventual happiness with Melissa, but by our early 30s we were reasonably, relatively sorted. I became a high school teacher, Jane was in IT and Melissa a lawyer. I had met a lovely man, a graphic designer, and was enjoying my first proper, adult relationship.
It was New Year’s Eve, 2012 when the idea came up as more than a drunken musing. Would I be willing to help these two secure, happy and loving women reach their dream of motherhood? Like, for real this time.
I had long entertained the thought of being a dad. As a teenager, I simply assumed it would happen at some point. Coming out didn’t change that too much, although the path to fatherhood would be different. But by my 30s, the desire to be a father had faded. I had two beautiful godchildren and plenty of friends with kids.
I worked with hundreds of teenagers each year. Half of my Facebook friends had, alarmingly and disconcertingly, replaced their profile pictures with images of their gurgling offspring, and I knew more about leaky nipples and the variety of effluvia babies make than I would ever care to. Children’s birthday parties gave me anxiety.
However, that primal tug (what would it look like? What would it be like?) reawakened with this proposition. Minimal responsibility or effort, for something that would make my friends happy. I honestly didn’t think it much further through.
And it was so easy! After I got myself all checked out by a doctor, it was just me and my little cup. We waited for the moment (the text nervously read “we’re on our way”), did the business and delivered the package. I imagine the implantation ceremony featured incantations, candles and complicated pulley systems, if the ‘moral’ ‘majority’ (sic) are to be believed. Pentagrams and animal sacrifice. Offerings to Sappho and Diana. The usual.
It didn’t work that first time and I suffered a brief but crushing and completely ridiculous sense of failure. I chastised my stupid gay sperm. They were clearly confused, too many years snorting poppers and dancing to the Vengaboys to know a ripe egg when they saw it. Probably thought it was a disco ball. Or a handbag to dance around.
We tried again the following month. By this time I had come to my senses and understood that it might take a while. That month, between attempts, had given us all time for reflection. Naturally, we had considered the implications for the child. How could we not? A child with two mothers will have questions about its genesis.
“I chastised my stupid gay sperm. They were clearly confused, too many years snorting poppers and dancing to the Vengaboys to know a ripe egg when they saw it.”
A child with two mothers may be seen by others as different. Strange. Even blasphemous. External forces, beyond the control or influence of its loving home and extended family, may undermine its sense of worth. The world can be a brutal, unforgiving enough place without the added pressures of a slightly unconventional family structure to explain.
It’s been said before by far cleverer people than I, but children only know what they are taught. Hateful or judgmental attitudes are fostered, or quashed, by adults. Should my friends cede their desire for a family to strangers who can barely stomach the existence of gay people? Should an innocent child shoulder this unasked-for burden? A child is not a political tool of subversion, an example or a symbol. The queer activist inside me wrestled with the beauty and simplicity of procreation and family.
These thoughts, and many more, crowded my mind alongside more prosaic musings. What would the child call me? How would I refer to him or her? The words ‘father’, ‘son/daughter’, ‘parent’ stretched and twisted and remained unsatisfying. Language, my faithful ally, had not made provisions. What would happen in a tragedy? How much say, if any, would I have in its upbringing? Church or no church? When is the right time to have The Talk? Will anyone expect me to discuss these ‘birds and bees’ if there are two birds and the bee has a boyfriend?
The second attempt, astonishingly, worked. Melissa was righteously up the duff. Knocked up. The bun was in the oven. She was beatifically With Child. We had made a gayby.
Theo was born in early December, 2013. He’s pretty goddamn adorable too. He smiles a lot. He is in great health. Jane and Melissa are utterly smitten. He is wanted. I am, for the sake of ease, his godfather. He will be told about his conception when the time is right. He has aunties and uncles and cousins aplenty. My mum and dad are grandparents, of a kind, and have become quite besotted. The kid is loved.
Jane, Melissa and little Theo are a regular family. Two committed women undoubtedly raising an open-minded little boy. They will face regular challenges and overcome them together as best they can, as all families do. The naysayers who mindlessly crow that all children need a father unwittingly judge all women who raise children without a present male.
I wonder if they understand how complicit they are in perpetuating damage, blinded as they are by their moral hubris. I will be present, as much as I can be. Jane’s older brothers and father too. Friends and teachers and extended family members. It takes a village, right?
I think back to the 1990s and our restless uncertainty about the future. Our drunken prophecies and semi-serious plans and first kisses and no road maps. The fear of falling and the eventual, startling gratitude that we did. Where would we be, what would we do?
We hoped the world would make some room for us. We hoped our lives would mean something. There is no ending to this story, no guarantee that everything will be fine, no reassurance that It Gets Better. But it can, and it might, and it did for me.
Dan Eichblatt is a high school teacher and dean in Auckland, New Zealand. Read more by Dan.