OPINION: Fertility clinics must do more to support queer parents – the process makes us invisible

by Michelle Tea | Drag Queen Story Hour
Thursday, 13 October 2022 10:08 GMT

Lesbian couple and parents hold their child as they take part in an annual Gay Pride Parade in Toronto June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The paperwork and protocol of having our baby rendered me and my relationship non-existent enough to feel like a hate crime

Michelle Tea is an author and the founder of Drag Queen Story Hour. Her latest book, Knocking Myself Up A Memoir of My (In)Fertility, is out now.

I was not psyched to learn that for me to birth a baby from my own loins, I’d have to become part of the Fertility Industrial Complex. That world felt deeply intimidating. It was all expensive procedures, suspicious medication, invasive ultrasounds and confusing acronyms (Was I doing IUI? No, IVF. Wait – no, IUI! Omg, wtf!). But once the doctor saw aged ovaries, it became clear that the only way I’d get pregnant was if we transferred one of my younger partner’s eggs into my chemically enhanced uterus.

We had the money. Months of trying to get me pregnant in the classic turkey baster method honored by our lesbian forebears while, having failed, had only increased our baby mania. I held my breath and jumped into the deep end of queer family making, thinking, well, at least our San Francisco fertility clinic will be as queer as Market Street on Pride. Doesn’t Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) exist to help queer couples lacking the needed sperm, eggs or uterus to create their gaybies?

I was not up-to-date in the fertility needs of today’s heterosexuals. Apparently, they are legion. The waiting rooms, the drug demo workshop, they were full to bursting with straights. The catered orientation, held in a large theatre packed with hopeful parents-to-be, sported but three queer couples, one of which I was a part of.

This was surprising, but not a problem. I was there to get knocked up; the configurations of the other couples at the clinic didn’t matter. But, as is common, with queer invisibility comes queerphobia.

Individual workers - from the excitable grandma receptionist to the butch nurse practitioner and our beloved fertility doc - treated us with care and respect. But the paperwork and protocol rendered me and my relationship non-existent enough to feel like a hate crime. Gendered terms like mother and father, husband and wife were the norm. Once we decided I’d be gestating my partner’s egg I became the ‘surrogate’ on all paperwork, while they were listed as ‘donor.’

“We’re married,” I stressed. “This is how queer people make babies.” But the staff just apologised, and we all had to move on.

The worst part was, in order to move forward, we would have to undergo a psychological evaluation. Our doctor, without us even making a stink about it, tried to have the session waived, but it was so embedded in the protocol there was no way to progress without a psychiatrist’s blessing. It’s just the way the clinic works with surrogates.

“But I’m not a surrogate!” I fumed. “I’m just trying to have a baby with my partner, like 99% of other straight couples using this clinic, who do not have to undergo psychological evaluations!” The clinic’s inability to accommodate a common way for two uterus-havers to have a baby together was infuriating; the forced psych evaluation hearkened back to sinister moments in queer history. After all, the psychiatry bible Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, had 'homosexuality' on its list during my lifetime, leading to all sorts of unwanted, traumatizing psychological interventions on the lives of queer folk. This history haunted me. Add some synthetic hormones to the mix, and I was outraged.

I never said anything about it, though. ART is so overwhelming, exhausting and intimidating, I didn’t have it in me to be the queer freedom fighter I aspire to be. Though keeping silent takes its own toll, I hoped it would be less than fighting with caregivers. I assumed my role as ‘surrogate,’ passed the eval, had my baby. Years later, I think of how vulnerable I felt, and do wish I’d said something. If this was the case in San Francisco, how oppressive must fertility clinics feel to queers in less-progressive parts of the world? The fertility industry, like so many systems, needs to change.

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