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MEETING YOUR SPERM DADDY

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Κείμενο viceuk
25 Μάιος 2011, 12:59pm

Jeffrey Harrison moved to LA in the 80s to pursue an acting career, but soon became a serial sperm donor at the California Cryobank, where he got $25 a pop for his baby batter. Now 52 and estranged from his divorced parents, he exists somewhere between Iggy Pop and Ace Ventura—a bong-smoking conspiracy theorist living with a load of animals in a broken-down RV on Venice Beach with many, many children.JoEllen grew up with two lesbian mothers who split when she was six. When she was 12, one of them told her about a website that allows children of sperm donors to find their donor siblings and parents. In his new documentary, Donor Unknown, British director Jerry Rothwell follows JoEllen Marsh—now 20—as she sets off to California to meet the anonymous sperm donor who created her (guess who that is). VICE: I read that this film came about after Jeffrey contacted your producer about another sperm donation documentary she'd worked on. Jerry: Well my producer was doing a drama for the BBC, and as part of the research she put an inquiry online to find out people's experiences, and Jeffery called her up in the middle of the night. He had a sperm donor Google Alert that he would look at in his local internet café. I think he was just interested in those issues. They talked for a year, and she told me "I keep getting phoned in the middle of the night by this guy with 14 kids." So obviously it's something that had been playing on his mind for a few years. Well at that point he had met some of the kids, but not the ones in the film. If you're an unknown donor in the States you have to agree that when the child is 18 they can write you a letter, then it's up to you whether or not to respond. He said 18 years after donating he was beginning to think, "Where are my letters?" So it was obviously something he had thought about. Clearly it ended up meaning more to him than just a bit of easy cash. Absolutely. If it didn't mean any more to him than that he wouldn't have come forward. What were your thoughts after you met him? My take was that you could see these parallel journeys—the kids looking for Jeffrey, and Jeffrey seeing the kids. It seemed to me that Jeffrey was in a situation where he'd kind of run as far away from family as you can possibly go, while this completely different family was coming and claiming him. That was one of the things that interested me. I think if he'd been the classic donor, a medical student who is now comfortably set with two kids, it would have been a different film. Had you had any prior interest in sperm donation? Well about 10 years ago I had radiotherapy treatment, and they offer you sperm banking as part of that in case you become infertile. So there was that sense of "There's a bit of me sitting in a room in Hammersmith somewhere, what does that mean?" Did working on the film lead you to explore that further? Yeah, it's led me to want to destroy the sample! I mean, they can't use it for anyone else, it's for your own kids, but it made me want to draw a line under it, because who knows what the possibilities are? I told a friend about the film and her immediate reaction was that if she was in that situation she wouldn't want to know who her donor was since it's probably just someone wanking for cash. I, on the other hand, would be fascinated to know who was responsible for 50 percent of my DNA. Well I think what drove JoEllen to find Jeffrey was that mixture of fascination and curiosity. I think what stops people looking in a lot of cases are the potential stresses it might introduce into the family that they currently have. I think JoEllen was in a situation where her mom was really supportive; there were no issues about it. But I met others for whom it was too difficult to engage with. Jeffrey was just doing it for cash, but in the film he also dresses it up as these divine miracles in which he was being asked to be a 'soul-caller.' It's hard to tell if he actually thought that at the time. It is hard to tell. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought that at the time because that's very much Jeffrey's way of thinking. But I guess in the film I play with bouncing that notion of being, as he says, 'a soul-caller,' against seat covers and diagrams of how to wash your hands afterward—the clinical side of the whole thing. Yes, your film introduced me to the word 'masturbatorium.' Yeah, I think that word is unique to the California Cryobank. At one point in the film Jeffrey looks at his old donor form and explains that while he wrote he was a dancer, he was actually a Chippendales-type male revue performer. It seems vain that even in that anonymous, detached situation you'd still want to make yourself seem more attractive—an idealized version of a father. I think sperm donation uses the language of dating agencies—now even more than then. They ask you what your favorite food is, what you like doing in the evenings... things that are probably irrelevant to genetics. Those forms are reliant on what people say about themselves, just as dating sites are. Does Jeffery like the film? Yeah, he does. He feels that it sums up that bit of his life. ALEX GODFREY donorunknown.com