Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ranting On...Fertility Shaming

Emily Bingham
Emily Bingham's recent Facebook post with a picture of an ultrasound and a reminder that people's reproductive plans, whether they be single or in a couple or even those who already have a child struck a chord with me, and while it has slightly slipped from the zeitgeist, I still wanted to mention some things that it elicited from myself, because there's an angle here that I think the media is not exploring in the whole "reproductive health" thing, and that's how it affects gay couples, specifically gay men.

I applaud Ms. Bingham's stance (I'm not posting the exact post, but you can find it here), as it is something that I know a lot of my friends have had to deal with through the years.  Frequently when you're in your twenties, but especially when you're in your thirties you get an insane amount of pressure put on you to move more quickly and comply with societal norms about how "normal" people are supposed to react.  If you don't have a boyfriend/girlfriend, literally every person whom you talk to will ask about your dating life or "is there someone special?"  The second you have one, however, then it's on to engagement, followed by marriage, followed by Kid #1, and then Kid #2.  At that point, provided you have a house, a pet, a child of each gender, jobs you both like, and could easily fit in a Leave it to Beaver sketch, you get a reprieve for a while, but only if you can hit that cooker-cutter situation.  Heaven forbid you, say, decide to have the kid before marriage or that you quit after two girls or that you continue living in an apartment with your young family.  These are admittedly middle-class problems, but they are damn annoying.

Bingham's post specifically highlighted people who either didn't want children or who were struggling to have children.  I have had numerous friends who have had difficulty with fertility and with conceiving a child, and I can tell you that this is a personal hell from a question-asking standpoint.  A friend of mine suffered a miscarriage, has not been able to carry a baby to term, and has been trying in vitro for months, but because these are personal questions and because she doesn't want a cascade of sympathy she doesn't tell people this.  Her punishment for not airing the laundry of her sex life, however, is that she is asked by every person on the planet when she's going to have kids.  As someone who spent a good twenty years of my life trying to avoid the question "why don't you have a girlfriend?" (and then secretly having Ally McBeal like revenge fantasies on those who pestered about my lack of a boyfriend) I know that lying about something that causes you personal torment and you're likely already feeling like crap about is not the best answer to your problems.  I agree with Bingham-if someone wants to bring up their fertility problems or their impending pregnancy, then engage in the discussion.  Until then, though, stick to the middle sections of the New York Times.

I want to point out, however, that there's a weird flip-side to this, particularly for gay couples but also for couples that are infertile, and that's the dismissive supportive friend.  These are the people who are frequently assuring you "there's time" or "it'll happen when it happens" or some such platitudes.  This is not the same level of annoying, but it cuts just as deeply, particularly if you're trying to share your feelings, as answering in cliches is literally the best way to end a meaningful conversation.  No one wants to hear harsh truths all-the-time, but bringing up the adoption word isn't the worst thing in the world, and asking about that if a friend has opened up to you isn't mean.  What is mean is pretending there isn't a problem, which is what those sorts of "there's time" answers will do.

This is true in my experience with gay people (again, gay men) talking with their straight friends.  I frequently talk about, for example, that if I don't find a husband in the next year or two I probably won't be able to have children.  This is met with eye-rolling ridiculousness, but I'm not lying.  Adoptions have limits on ages, and as you get older it gets considerably harder to be considered as a potential candidate.  Provided they don't have a fertility issue, lesbian couples and straight couples can theoretically have children well into their thirties and even theoretically into their forties without too much issue.  Gay men are guaranteed a hard road as a result of this.  They either need to pay a surrogate a fortune (and that's if you can find one) or spend a fortune on adoption if they want to have children, and this assumes that they meet each other soon enough.  When I talk about concerns, I think that most of my straight friends aren't really trying on my shoes, instead sticking to themselves, and they'd be right.  As an early-thirties single straight guy, my biological clock might be ticking, but it wouldn't be much of an alarm, but as a gay man I have to factor in two years of adoption process, on-top of the fact that I would need to find a guy or become a single parent (a very difficult process if you're a single man).  This isn't a problem that is easily solved, but it's also a problem that shouldn't be shrugged off as a "there's time" situation.  It's a straight privilege situation that we shrug off because it's biological and not institutional, but that doesn't mean it isn't still an issue, and one that shouldn't be discarded or lightened.

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