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

By Riggs, Damien W. | Health Sociology Review, October 2008 | Go to article overview

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


Riggs, Damien W., Health Sociology Review


ABSTRACT

As Australian reproductive health continues to be shaped by legal and social heterosexism, lesbian women seeking to conceive are often reliant upon gay men to act as known donors. As previous legal cases demonstrate, this can result in contestations between donors and recipients that result in negative well-being outcomes for both parties, and which highlight the limitations of coalitionism within gay and lesbian communities. Using data collected via interviews with Australian gay men who have acted as known donors, this paper examines some of the ways in which such men experience the negotiating of sperm donation, and how this is often shaped by normative assumptions surrounding lesbian parenting and reproduction. Importantly, the findings also emphasise the positive experiences of sperm donation of some gay men. Suggestions are made for opportunities to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for negotiations between donors and recipients, with a particular focus upon children's rights as citizens.

KEY WORDS

Gay sperm donors,

lesbian mothers,

children's rights,

family well-being,

sociology

Received 20 March 2008

Accepted 1 June 2008

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). …

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