After I came out, I almost went back into the closet. My public declaration announcing my shift in sexuality came a few years after college. I deemed myself a late bloomer, as I had not capitalised on any girl-on-girl experimenting one would expect from a formative liberal college experience. For 24 years, I liked men enough to see one as my future long-term co-pilot. Just not enough once I realised how much I preferred women.
At first, claiming my gay was empowering: new buzzing social circles, flirty love interests, an understanding of true sexual arousal. My newfound "eat, pray, love" paralleled Lil Wayne’s "pussy, money, weed". In that order.
Once I decided to quit men, my transition to women encountered few downsides. In my little queer silo, lesbian life seemed pretty damn peachy keen. Despite occasional encounters with ignorant whisperings and objectifying side-eyes.
I would chitchat with muggles, I mean straight people, as they nodded heads and made notes of our relationship differences: extra awkwardness when the bill comes on first dates, fewer discussions about action movies, the need for short, manicured nails (think about it). The list wasn’t terribly long. I could still be a girlfriend. A wife. A little spoon.
However, motherhood made the short list, as I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of exemplary parenting. Together my mum and dad proudly gifted me with invaluable guidance, unwavering support, manageable only-child syndrome, and an endearing combo of undeniable physical resemblance. Our three-pronged dynamic made me crave their own satisfaction as parents and a chance to create, grow, and shape my own mini human from scratch. But now that I was only pursuing women, scratch required sourcing a specific fancy ingredient elsewhere, one served chilled alongside a heaped scoop of rude awakening.
Leading up to this abrupt realisation, I had spent a couple of years breaking into the New York City queer scene. I dated voraciously to demystify what I valued in a potential girlfriend now that qualities weren’t tied to gendered expectations. I hoped for a more serious relationship, all along imagining a future family with a promising, multifaceted counterpart. But she’d always be lacking one thing: sperm.
As I chalked up my nearly perfect happily ever after, I slowly challenged myself to relinquish my white-knuckle grip on the ultimate straight privilege: the miraculous braiding of two DNAs. Baby creation can be a collaborative work of art between two loved ones, who each weigh in and leave imprints of themselves. I would have to work to peel my fingers back one by one, as I anxiously hyper focused on the scientific limitations regarding my offspring options.
Should I seek out a man as a primary partner and date women on the side? No, I determined I was too gay for that. Was there a chance I would fall for a trans woman? Not impossible, but unlikely, please see Lil Wayne reference above.
My physical attraction to women and their bodies was unquestionable, but these were not compatible baby making organs. My love interests’ curves felt like distractions from my familial end goal. So where would I get some? Sperm, that is. How would I choose?
Seeking out this precious unforaged semen did not feel like an exciting journey to uncover a rare and valuable find. Instead, it felt like a daunting search party. Knowing that what I was truly looking for was irreconcilably missing.
Recently cornered by glowing pregnant women while waiting for my annual at the OBGYN, I deemed this an opportune time to list my options:
I had admirable male buddies, ones with Ivy League degrees and piercing blue eyes. Some with both. Despite their pedigrees, I was worried about the contractual agreement we would form with his "child". When he saw it all swaddled up for the first time, would he feel some sort of attachment, knowing that he contributed to a little life? What would his involvement be? Would he maintain his boundaries? How would his future partner feel about him giving up his sperm exclusivity? All of which seemed suitable for a season-long hook on All My Children.
This male individual would be less close, less involved, but also less thoroughly vetted. Would I know his character well enough to deem him fit? What if he had secrets? Could I do an interview? Genetic testing? A lie-detector test? Was I getting carried away, considering this child would be raised by me and not him? It was a question of nature versus nurture, and the implications led to a scary unknown regarding the magnitude of my childrearing.
A family member (of my partner).
If my partner had a brother or a male cousin, my child would be blood-related. I could peer down at my little nugget and quite possibly say, "Oh, she has your eyes. And my nose." But there is also this eerie stigma that our child would feel like a niece to my partner or an incestual science experiment leered at by those who didn’t fully realise our reproductive limits.
Talk about paradox of choice. Intellect. Physical attractiveness. Health history. Race. Would I be a bigot if I wanted a white child? If I chose a sperm of colour, would I want my child to be occasionally mistaken as adopted? Would this make his, her, or their mysterious bloodline more apparent? What then could I give my child? A 23andme genetic breakdown chart? A distant Ancestry.com family tree? Maybe neither, depending on the signed-away anonymity?
A whole different ball game with a lengthier list of open questions. Sure, I’d be taking in a child that needs a home. But selfishly, I still want a child that is genetically mine. I want the journey of pregnancy and giving birth. (I have the hips!) Not only would my child eventually ask about his birth father, but his birth mother too. Where would that leave me? Where would that leave my wife? I feared a demotion to mother number three.
Pop culture has been playing around with best-case scenarios. Ones where lesbian couples can have biological babies without an elusive sperm contribution.
Strangers, a new TV show on Facebook Watch, uses it as a plot twist in its season two finale. Isobel, our bisexual main character, has been dating Mari, a woman in a 10-year open marriage with Mateo. Mari describes Mateo as a brother, calming Isobel’s jealousy about their legal binding and what seems to have dissipated to a friendship. Just as Mari has fallen for Isobel and is about to break off her marriage, we learn that Mari is pregnant with Mateo’s child. While Isobel is devastated that Mari has still been sleeping with Mateo, viewers are able to empathise with Mari, as she is trying to maintain a special long-term relationship all while following her true love for Isobel.
The storyline sets us up nicely for season three, which I presume would be Isobel’s opportunity to consider motherhood. The baby’s father being, not a complete stranger, but someone significant in Mari’s life: A man who has been directly vetted and, from our on-screen glimpses, appears to be dapper, compassionate, and emotionally mature. But what role will Mateo play in the raising of this child? Is there room for three parents or will someone always feel like the third wheel?
Flashback to the '90s, to a show that never gets much credit for its progressiveness, Friends. Ross' wife Carol is having an affair with Susan from the gym. Soon after Carol confesses her love for Susan and says she wants to end their marriage, she discovers she’s pregnant with Ross' baby. This unique circumstance portrays Ross as an active father and also a third wheel, but we don’t worry about him much since he seems fine – distracted by Rachel.
Or take Younger, a TV show directed at millennials on TV Land. We meet Maggie and Malkie, two supporting lesbian characters, who are approaching the ends of their reproductive windows. They turn to Josh, a smouldering, sensitive, tattoo artist and close friend, to see if he’d be willing to offer up his reproductive goods. Following their ask, Josh dreams of having his own children, choosing to preserve his seed for his one true love, Liza. We watch as he graciously declines the offer to be an "Uncle" to Maggie and Malkie.
These seemingly wild scenarios all seem to be tainted with variations of "downsides". Would these options scare me off having children altogether? Would the future hold a solution where two eggs could be genetically combined? Until then, would it always feel like settling? Especially in a society that measures success through procreation. It has made me feel only partially human: lacking and angry.
Am I being a close-minded lesbian, dismissing the privileges I do have as a single woman in her mid-20s who still has time to review her options and plan ahead? Frankly, it could be worse.
Gay men, if they want biological children, have to get a surrogate (and the considerable funds) to carry a baby for nine months. While I already have my healthy and hopefully fertile body, all I need is some potent, prized semen.
Or what about a straight couple who has been trying to get pregnant for months? Then they painfully discover that the man is in fact sterile. I strongly sympathise with that married woman who deeply loves her husband, but whose DNA braid has been lit at the ends and suddenly dissolves in flames.
Or the successful women who prioritised their careers over their relationships, and now want to be single mothers. They have to make the same choices, but perhaps more quickly, if they always thought a male partner would eventually materialise before their biological clocks clocked out.
I evaluate these case studies and ask these many questions because I want to know if I am robbing my child of a father figure. Am I forcing my child into a less fortunate, untraditional upbringing? What good is a traditional upbringing anyhow?
Studies show that children raised by lesbian parents grow up happy and well adjusted. I could lean in and teach mine the "fatherly" things: sports, manual transmission (which I learned from my mother), IKEA furniture assembly. I envision myself providing a nurturing, financially stable, gender-neutral upbringing.
I still have time to push past my paternity qualms. One day, I hope to grow more comfortable with the opportunity to make a thoughtful selection, instead of being paralysed by the overwhelming number of choices. Soon enough, the involvement of a select third party will feel enabling and not stifling in the grand parental scheme. This nuanced twist on a closed and monogamous family unit wouldn’t cause my marriage to unravel but would rather fold in and form a newly stylised braid.
I imagine myself making an exemplary parent, without the need for the "mum" title. My idea of parenting will reinforce that childrearing is an equal partnership, not one coloured by pre-assigned societal stereotypes. I can take on all responsibilities, despite these roles being typically divided between mum OR dad: I will listen while giving back rubs. I will disguise vegetables in elaborate casseroles. I will make an income to live more than just comfortably. I will even make mistakes and say the wrong things.
I may not need a "Best Mum Ever" mug someday. I’ll save that for my future wife’s morning coffee. Instead, I’ll settle for a custom T-shirt with a special shout out to dad.
Kendra Kobler is a writer based in New York City. She is currently writing a memoir on the limitations of identity, the nuances of sexuality, and the surprises of falling in love.