Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Lesbian Mothers, Gay Sperm Donors, and Community: Ensuring the Well-Being of Children and Families

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Lesbian Mothers, Gay Sperm Donors, and Community: Ensuring the Well-Being of Children and Families

Article excerpt

Introduction

As recognition of the rights of nonheterosexual communities in Australia slowly grows, so is this accompanied by new challenges and contestations for the members of such communities. One particular example of this occurs in instances where gay men agree to donor to lesbian women who wish to become pregnant. Such negotiations between lesbians and gay men have a relatively long history, beginning most notably during the women's rights and lesbian separatist movements of the 1970s, in which lesbians sought to gain greater control over their reproductive lives (Dempsey 2005). Current negotiations between lesbians and gay men differ, however, due to the growing recognition of children's rights to information about their genetic history and the need to consider this when making decisions about conception and the status of donors in children's lives.

The assistance donors provide in the formation of lesbian families thus represents an ongoing site of contestation within non-heterosexual communities across Australia. Such contestations have sequelae for the emotional and relational well-being not only of lesbian parents and their children, but also for donors and the broader communities within which all parties live. Specifically, when negotiations between donors and recipients break down after conception or birth of a child, this can negatively affect the wellbeing of the newly formed family. Furthermore, gay men who agree to act as known donors, but who are not supported to adequately consider the implications of this for their emotional well-being following the conception and birth of the child, may face considerable challenges in understanding their place in a relationship to the child and what this means for their sense of self as a gay man. Finally, non-heterosexual communities, which are often depicted as open and inclusive, may experience considerable conflict and a lack of cohesion when the needs of differing groups within such communities are situated in direct opposition to one another.

With these challenges to the well-being of individuals, families and communities in mind, this paper examines the experiences of a group of Australian gay men who have engaged in the provision of sperm to lesbian couples. In interviews conducted by the author, some of these men- stepping outside the interview schedule and its focus on motivations to donoring-spent considerable time elaborating the perceptions they held of their engagement with the women for whom they were donoring, and what this meant for their sense of community. These men expressed concern about being treated as a means to an end, a concern expressed in previous research on the experiences of sperm donors (e.g. Daniels 1991). Where the men in the present research differed, however, was in their status as known donors, and the implications of this for their potentially ongoing relationship with the recipients of their donations and the children born to the recipients.

In order to provide a context for the data, the following sections proceed by first outlining previous instances where lesbian mothers and gay known donors have experienced legal conflict over their competing needs following donor conception, with an emphasis upon the effects of this upon both individual and family well-being. The importance of considering gay men's location as men within non-heterosexual communities is then highlighted, with attention drawn to the impact upon gay donors of social contexts wherein men's rights over parenting continue to dominate. The analysis then examines a series of extracts focusing on the theme of representations of lesbian mothers/recipients from the aforementioned research project, and in so doing highlights the experiences of gay men who act as known donors to lesbian recipients. The paper concludes by proposing that what is required is a focus not solely upon the citizenship rights and needs of lesbians and gay men, but rather upon the rights of future citizens, namely children born of donor conception. …

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