|Babies from Same-Sex Parents May Redefine Nuclear Families
On the phone, my mother was excited about sharing the news from her lifelong best friend's granddaughter: "You know. She's the one who lives in Los Angeles and does set designs."
"I remember." "She's a lesbian, you know." "Yes, I know." "Well, Margaret said it's alright to tell you. Her granddaughter and her partner made an arrangement with a male friend, and now they're going to have a baby. Margaret's granddaughter is carrying it. Now, isn't that something?" "That's terrific," I said. "Margaret's so excited she's already picking out baby clothes." "Bravo for Margaret!"
My mother and I got to talking about how many gay women are having babies these daysshe'd heard about Melissa Etheridge and her partner on Entertainment Tonightand how some gay men are teaming up with supportive women to carry a child for them.
"Of course, back in John's and my day," I said, "no one even thought about such possibilities.
Openly gay men either tried to adopt or, more typically, simply dismissed the notion of being a parent and got a puppy."
"That's such a shame," Mom said. "You would have made a good father."
"Maybe. Our dogs have always liked me. But, when I was young enough, fatherhood never seemed like an option. And don't you expect me to get all Tony Randall-like in my old age."
It is still a complicated task for any gay couplemale or femaleto adopt a child (in places like Florida it's still a legal impossibility), much less to produce a baby biologically related to either partner. However, some scientists now foresee a day when a gay couple is able to have a baby related genetically not just to one but to both partners.
That remarkable prospect was raised during the presentation of a report on stem cell extraction by British researchers at last month's annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. A new "cell nuclear replacement" technique could make the necessity for a "nuclear family's" father-mother teamwork obsolete. The process allows the blending of two same-sex partners' cells by emptying the genetic material from an egg and replacing it with the genetic material of another cell. The bottom line of the research for men: Eggs can be generated from exclusively male cells.
It's not quite time to start picking out a diaper-changing table yet because the process is considered a form of cloning. And you know what kind of emotional reverberations that "c"-word sets off. According to medical ethicist Anna Smajdor of the Imperial College of London, nuclear replacement "opens new and challenging possibilities" but also "raises questions about how we define parenthood and about how we decide who has access to these new technologies."
Given the snail's pace at which this country's government is moving forward with stem cell research to treat crippling diseases, it might well be another 100 years before the full potential of current breakthroughs in embryonic science gain wide acceptance. And, even though I'd prefer to be optimistic about the improvements science can make in the quality of human lives, I do worry that advances in genetic manipulation will allow unscrupulous parties (particularly governments) to practice genocide against groups of people it disfavors, including homosexuals and ethnic minorities.
Nonetheless, with sufficient caution and reasonable safeguards in place, scientific advancements have almost always prevailed over initial fears. (A mere 40 years ago, many fretted about the ethics of transplanting one human being's heart into another's chest.) So, just in case this issue of Letters is discovered in a time capsule a century from now, let me be among the first to predict that the day will definitely come when same-sex parents nurture healthy and beloved babies who are biologically related to both.
That story, of course, is tomorrow's news. Now for a bit of yesterday's news: Did you happen to catch the recent New York Times article about the death of "gaydar"? Supposedly, it's getting a lot more difficult to pick out the gay guys from the straight guys in a crowd because so many males of both sexual orientations share a newly emerging stylistic attitude called "gay vague." No, The Times says it's not simply talking about "metrosexuals;" this new trend is much more widespread and wide-ranging in direction. Lots of straight guys (urban, suburban and rural) are toning up to look hot in tight-fitting muscle shirts and are donning the once almost exclusively gay brand of 2xist underwear, while plenty of gay guys are content to wear New York Yankies caps and let their beer bellies hang over their belts. One fashion researcher was quoted as saying, "We have left the era when the defining line for men is one of sexual preference. Now it's either 'I want to be stylish' or 'I don't.'"
Excuse me, but what's so new about that? It's almost as goofy to claim that all gay men used to be stylish as it is to say that all straight guys used to be slobs. Because The Times is a serious newspaper (even in its style pages), the report concluded on a more serious note by saying that the shift to "gay vague" is deeper than painted toenails and hair highlights on heterosexuals: "It involves more than grooming and clothes. It includes an attitude of indifference to having one's sexual orientation misread."
If that is true, it does represent a worthwhile shift in self-image for all men concerned. The article expounds upon its theory by pointing out that younger gay men are interacting more with their straight peers, and straight guys have come to understand that homosexual males are not just pansies, but soldiers, professional sports players, and members of the good-old-guy gang on MTV's Real World.
In other words: Through integration and reality TV, men are becoming a more socially well adjusted and personally secure group, a fact that allows them to share the same fashion options. There are exceptions, however. Even the most "gay vague" among heterosexual American males are still not likely to show up on the beach in bikini-style swimwearincluding those exhibitionist "saggers" who wear their Diesel jeans so low that their designer pouch briefs are on public display all day long.
Contrary to The Times' assertion, gay men continue to have another edge on the straight competition. While hetero dudes may no longer be able to spot a queer in a crowd as easily, the rest of us still have our special sixth sense of "gaydar," which continues to work just fine, thank you.
Bill Sievert can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 8 July 1, 2005