It's an arrangement that, over the past few decades, has become a near-cliché: gay men who donate sperm to lesbian couples so they can conceive children biologically.
The setup was enshrined in Queer as Folk, one of TV's most influential queer series, and has been studied by a number of researchers. Some of their kids call them "donor dads"; others simply call them by their names. In the broad spectrum of queer identities, these men are daddies in the literal sense, and their lives have been forever changed by the relationships that ensue with the mothers and their children.
What is life like for gay men who donate sperm to lesbian couples? For many, having kids was never a consideration until they were asked for their sperm; others imagined they might one day, but hadn't figured out the details. Each situation is wholly singular, from whether and to what extent donors enter their children's lives down to how each party's rights are protected.
Disputes between mothers and their donors over child support or custody rights may make headlines, but much more often, the creation of biological offspring with queer friends leads to a unique, harmonious relationship, one that's both at the vanguard of our modern idea of "family" and becoming more common every day. Below, five gay men told VICE about the deeply individual, often triumphant after effects of queer-to-queer sperm donation.
It was about a year before I said yes. I kind of realized, do I not want a family or do I not think I deserve one? When you talk to older gay men who survived AIDS, they can't even believe they're alive. The idea of having a child or a legacy was something I had to get my mind around, honestly.
I found an underlying homophobia in the clinics—for example, live donation could only be done through active sexual partners, so we had to pretend we were sexual partners. And clinics only have straight porn. I always joke that I could finally watch gay porn when we ultimately decided to do the insemination at home.
Our child is four now. I'm not a constant presence, because they live upstate, and I live in New York City. But there's definitely a connection; we look alike. I make a concerted effort not to say "I'm your daddy" for now; maybe later when she understands what's going on. But I'm just Mike. My friend said that recently she told our child that I "helped out." That might be the easiest way to take the first dip.
I constantly feel guilty that I'm not spending enough time with them, but I'm always working. I actually wrote about my donation adventures in an e-book, Spermhood: Diary of a Donor, which I also turned into a solo show that I'm touring. The way I comfort myself is to say, well, when she's older and can wipe her own butt and tell me she's hungry, she can come with me anywhere.
The mother's sister is my best friend, and we actually went to Bible college together. At the time, when I came out, her sister was coming out as a lesbian. The church we grew up in was teaching my friend to reject her sister and tried to put me through conversion therapy.
About 12 years after college, they asked if I'd be willing to be a donor for my friend's sister, who'd come out as a lesbian, and her wife. I didn't hesitate; I said absolutely. I had just finished my active duty orders with the Air Force in Hawaii, and my friend invited me to stay in San Francisco for a couple of months for the donation.
I wasn't sure about ever having kids myself, and I knew how much love my friend's family could give and how intelligent they were. We mutually agreed that I should be part of her life, which was a big relief to them, since they think it's important the child knows who her father is.
She's going on five now, and this year she's starting to ask questions—but she's smart. They try to explain it to her in so many words, and she throws up her hands like, "So, Uncle Clint's my dad." Like, "Let's not bullshit it, ladies. I'm figuring this out!" They're saying, "Yes, that's who your father is." We're letting it happen organically.
I met my now-husband while my friend was pregnant, and I said, "Hey, there's something you need to know. It's going on 14 years that my family won't have anything to do with me, but I'm creating a family." He was so supportive of the entire thing. We first met my daughter when she was three months old, and we just fell in love. Last year when we got married, my daughter was a flower girl and her mothers sat on my side. We're family.
We live in the Kansas City area, and she lives in San Francisco, so it's tough living so far away. But we make a point of seeing each other every two or three months. When she does leave, there's a part of me that's breaking away each time. But wherever she goes, she knows that there's so much love. She's the happiest freaking kid.
We met in 1999 when I was working as a model, and she showed up at a lunch meeting in Los Angeles. We hit it off, and she offhandedly said, "If ever I decide to have a baby, I'd love it to be yours." And I said, "Absolutely." I think it was meant to be glib.
Fast-forward years later in our friendship, and it's becoming a more serious discussion—"Let's do it before I'm 35," or "before I'm 37." I've been bicoastal most of my life, and it was maybe a week before a move back to New York City when she told me she'd been trying with someone else, and it wasn't working. The emphasis was it's now or never. I didn't think twice. I made the donation at the fertility bank and moved back to New York. About a year later, it took.
We initially thought it was going to be a bicoastal baby, like you could just FedEx a baby. It was always up to me how involved I wanted to be. But when I came back to LA for the baby shower, I knew that I needed to be an active part of this child's life, which meant moving back. We ended up moving in together. We have a nice, big three-bedroom place, two single parents raising a child together. It's kind of 1960s, kind of 1860s.
I'm the product of a one-night stand, and I've never known my dad other than in very brief, somewhat-explosive interactions. During the pregnancy, I sat down with this old friend, and he said, "You have two options: You're an uncle, or you're a dad. If you're the uncle, you stay on the East Coast and live this life of self-centered Peter Pan syndrome, or you move back and raise your baby." The closer we got to the due date, the more my heart was like, you have to show up for this child, no matter what.
When my daughter was born, I still lived with two roommates, was hunting for Thanksgiving plans, all alone. Who knew this was the family I was looking for? I wouldn't change one iota of it for the world.
I've known the mothers for a very long time—one was my roommate after I got out of the military about ten years ago. We all went to nursing school together and ended up moving to Atlanta, where they were probably among the first thousand same-sex couples to get married in Georgia. Last year, when they figured they were ready to have children, the donor they had originally asked couldn't do it because of the timing.
I had previously offered, somewhat jokingly, that if they ever wanted to have mixed-race children I would definitely be the guy for them. I never really thought it would come to fruition. But at that point, they asked me if I was really serious and I agreed. We tried for two months, and we now have twin girls.
I can't think of a more perfect situation. I don't feel like I'm in a place where I could raise a child alone, being that I'm not in a committed relationship. But it's nice to be able to give that to friends who are in a place where they can. I knew they would be great parents. Plus, I'm always with them, anyway. I thought it would be nice to have this little addition to the family we were already molding.
The race thing has been brought up a couple times; there were all sorts of questions to me, like, "How do you feel about these girls being brought up by white women?" We answer the questions that we can in the most appropriate way possible, but at the end of the day, not everybody will understand. A lot of issues people think we have are really nonissues.
It was shocking for some people, because we're the first type of modern family that they've seen with this dynamic. At the end of the day, the girls will be brought up around a huge array of family, surrounded by love. I think everything else, like the concerns of other people, just really don't matter.
I donated three times and have three kids: The first was in 1974, when I was 24. A lesbian couple in my extended circle of friends said they wanted to have a child together and weren't looking for me to co-parent, though I was welcome to be part of the child's life. I thought about it for a while; I wasn't hasty. It worked out wonderfully. My daughter is now 42, and married to a man with two kids.
In the early 80s, another lesbian friend of mine, who knew I was a donor dad, asked if I knew any gay men who would be interested in doing the same. And I said, "I might, let's talk." She said, "Really? You would do it again?" She had a daughter, my middle child. My friend was a lawyer, so she drafted a document that codified the same agreement I had with the mother of my first child, because we didn't know what courts would do.
The third time was a year later with quite a close friend, and she hoped that I would co-parent. We lived on opposite sides of the country. I was happy to help my lesbian friends achieve their dream with the small contribution I made, but I did not want to raise a kid. I was still figuring out my career and relationships, and I knew I wasn't in a position to make that commitment. She said she'd like to go forward anyway, and had a son who is now 32. My other daughter is 33. We had no doctors involved, and the inseminations were all done at home. My first daughter was pre-HIV awareness; it hadn't happened yet. But with the others, there was no way to test, so we were trusting that I was OK. Those were very scary days.
Having ties to these kids and their families has enhanced my life immeasurably. My parents were thrilled, because they had no other grandkids. It was kind of a surprise to all of us that this would be part of our lives, because I had never thought about it. I can remember as a young gay kid seeing that door closed.
Two of them lived out of state; my middle daughter lives in the Bay Area, and we see each other regularly. My older daughter lives in the Midwest, and my son is back East. There was an excitement about having half siblings. As they got a little older, it was something unique for them within their families that set them apart. With us, and with all these kids, it was just the most natural thing in the world. Their main parents were the two women, but they were largely happy and proud to introduce me, "This is my dad." It's a redefinition of what dad means.
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