I work as an academic counselor and administrator in a college-based support program. Ever since my daughter was born nearly three years ago I have found myself in the same conversation with numerous students. Here’s the gist of how it starts: I’m sitting in my office with a student I have (usually) known for awhile. Said student glances at a photo of my daughter on my desk, nervously smiles, then blurts out, “Ummm, I’m sorry to ask this, but how did you, uh you know, have your daughter?” The student awkwardly shifts in their chair. I’m sure I awkwardly shift too, because here I was thinking we were about to talk about college or something. I pause to get my bearings on the conversation, think about how to respond, and then decide upon an explanation route.
Of course I know what they’re getting at: they want to know how my daughter came to be, in explicit detail. I’m very out about being queer so they already knew that part of my familial equation, hence their question. Their mind got blown a while ago when I mentioned something about having a female spouse in their presence (as a femme presenting lady there’s often some initial shocked look that’s then clamped down on by knowing it’s not P.C. in our progressive, lesbian-dominated community to appear affected). I find myself perplexed about how to respond to this question for a variety of reasons. For one, I work in education and working in this field I have come to both appreciate and conform to the ethos of having boundaries with students, even college-aged ones. I feel fortunate to work for a program where I really get to know students and form deep bonds with many of them since I work one-on-one with them for most of their time at the university. Still, I believe in professional boundaries and frankly there is a part of me that thinks, “you wouldn’t ask this of a heterosexual parent, would you?” I mean really, is nothing sacred? They are, in essence, asking for a play-by-play of how our daughter was conceived. It would be different if they were asking about how lesbians conceive, but they’re asking about my spouse and I specifically (TMI!). Obviously I realize there are assumptions about how straight folks create a child (although perhaps not always accurate ones). All this said, I am also an LGBTQ educator (I lead Safe Zone trainings at the university for God’s sake) and I believe strongly in demystifying any confused notions about how queers get pregnant. On top of that, I worked for Planned Parenthood for several years as a sex educator and in that time I cultivated a strong belief that it’s important to offer unabashed explanations to well-intentioned, curious questions about sex. In my experience, most of the time people are asking because they really have no idea (or have a very wrong idea) about how things work. Being sex positive is part of my value system. I know firsthand the negative impact of sexual repression from being raised in a church where, for example, I distinctly recall having a Sunday school class all about how immoral masturbation was. (I don’t know if the kids were more surprised that masturbation was being condemned or that our Sunday school teacher had based a whole class on the topic). Anyhow. You see my bind, right? What’s a good, sex-positive, LGBTQ-educating, queer parent, boundaried professional supposed to say in response to this question? This quandary is truly the source of my angst in this moment, much more so than the topic at hand.
Eventually I stumble over a response that I hope comes across as a somehow magical blend of all of the above without utterly confusing them. I explain that we have a known donor, he’s a good friend who is peripherally involved in our family’s life, and he helped us start a family by donating his sperm, which we used to inseminate at home. The bold student presses on and asks follow-up questions clearly trying to get at how specifically we inseminated. To this, I offer up a somewhat veiled, yet in my mind incredibly obvious, explanation without outright using the aforementioned “M” word to describe how exactly we obtained the necessary goods or without going into details about my spouse’s body (I also don’t want them to think my spouse got busy with our donor!). I think I sputter out something like, “well, again, we did it at home, you can get a needle-less syringe at any drug store… it’s easy to do and totally safe.” (Although to call it easy- thinking of the months of charting ovulation cycles, checking basal body temperature, etc.- is a bit of an exaggeration). I pray that this is enough information for them to connect the dots while upholding my desire to model respectable boundaries.
The next day my colleague who works in the next “office” (if you can call them offices with walls that are only 75% of the way up from floor to ceiling) comes over and applauds me for fielding the prior day’s questions with grace and appropriateness. Never have I been so glad to lack full privacy – I exhale knowing I haven’t botched this interaction for the umpteenth time. I guess it is par for the course as a queer parent. We live in a society with few models of alternatives to the Mom and Dad norm and even less comprehensive sex education. At least I know my students feel comfortable enough with me to ask these questions. I suppose that’s a good thing.
Charlotte Capogna-Amias started writing in high school and produced two DIY zines in which she had a fan base of fellow punks around the country who were also trying to make meaning of their lives through stories, rants and art. These days Charlotte studies in the Amherst Writers & Artists method and her writing on parenthood has appeared in Hip Mama magazine and the forthcoming web publication of This Bridge Called My Baby. Charlotte is the co-founder and facilitator of the Queer Non-Gestational Parents Group- a support group based in western Massachusetts. Charlotte has a Masters in Social Justice Education and works for a university support program for students who are low-income, first generation college students or have a disability. Charlotte lives in western Massachusetts with her spouse and energetic two-year-old daughter. In her spare time (that was funny), Charlotte is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Betsy Fife Archer, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Betsy blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com