Politics & Media
Jan 02, 2024, 06:27AM

No Maternal Love

Gay men are having children via adoption and surrogacy now more than ever—some conservative groups are concerned about children growing up without mothers.

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A recent internet listicle presented the best science fiction movies of 2023 that almost no one saw. Among them was The Pod Generation, a movie about a future in which couples can choose to have a baby that’s wholly gestated in a mechanical womb, not in the mother’s body.

The consultant at the company providing the android wombs does offer the wife of the couple who are the main characters the option of having a baby that is only genetically hers, with no contribution from the father (a skin cell’s nuclei can be fashioned into a pseudo-sperm). So the movie envisions biologically fatherless children, not just our current increasing population of kids raised by single moms. Artificial wombs are actually being created now, though the current functionality under development is just for gestating preemies, a new kind of neonatal intensive care.

Some are instead worried about the possibility of not fatherless, but motherless, children. Culture wars sometimes revolve around what belongs to men and what belongs to women. Progressives are willing to erase women in language—“birthing person,” “chest feeding,” “front hole”—and also take away their female-only locker rooms and bathrooms and the trophies and scholarships for women’s athletics.

Aside from a small group of radical, often lesbian, feminists, mainly conservatives are protesting this. Conservative groups like the Independent Women’s Forum and the female writers at the conservative The Federalist are leading this charge.

So it’s not surprising that some of these same people would be critical of reproducing children without a mother, removing the actual institution of motherhood from the territory owned by women. But it’s ironic, since a main group trying to reproduce humans without mothers so far are not transhumanist corporations or governments making cyborgs, but a small number of gay male couples making regular human babies, not with the intent of replacing mothers generally, but only with the aim of creating their own families. And in so doing these gays are addressing another concern of conservatives, the birth dearth.

Ironically, gay fathers include not just liberal gays like Bravo’s Andy Cohen, but right-of-center gay pundits like Dave Rubin and Guy Benson. And Peachy Keenan doesn’t approve of them.

Gays are a rare group having more children than they did only a few years ago. Everyone agrees it’s happening, from Tel Aviv to London to San Francisco. It looks like there may be more “gaybies” not necessarily because gays are producing more children per household than previously, but only because there are now more gay coupled households.

Keenan, openly a “tradmom of five,” worries about gay reproduction, arguing that at least gay male reproduction is morally wrong, because everyone should have a mother: “Despite this, my red line against men creating children doomed to a life without a mother is not about the gay part. It’s about the creating children without a mother part. That gets a hard no from me. Reader: do you have a mother? Are you glad you had a mother? Are you happy you know who your mother is? Was your life better for having been raised by your mother? We are being asked to answer a question that no one in human history has ever had to debate: Is a mother optional?”

As someone who had a mother I feel the weight of Keenan’s question. She’s likely right. Though we don’t know. Do children who never had a mother feel a void? Is it bigger than the one we think kids feel if they never had a father? Do you still feel it if the male-male couple involve grandmothers, aunts, etc. more than they otherwise would? One can find children of same-sex couples who answer that they had great childhoods. We’re reduced to claiming that these children are suffering from delusions and false consciousness. Tosca Langbert, raised by two dads, offers an activism-laden response:

“What was it like being raised by gay parents?” Such a question demands one answer: ‘Amazing!’ Any other response, even if simply accounting for a family’s nuanced experience, might as well be an outright admission of failure on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community.” (Emphasis added.)

But the real question for Keenan is: Is it better never to have existed at all, than to have existed with two loving fathers and no mother? (For what it’s worth, and it’s pretty minor, male-male couples with children are less likely to use Food Stamps or be below the poverty level than both heterosexual and female-female couples with children.)

The Federalist, where Keenan’s a senior contributor, is replete with critiques of same-sex parenting (at least deliberate creation of biological offspring), as well as gay marriage and surrogacy. Most of these articles make good points and are at least cautionary. But a few have a theological tinge, suggesting there’s a well of souls from which people are born, so that when gays (especially gay men) reproduce, they create a fetus that “captures” one of these souls, which otherwise would have gone into another fetus gestated in a married heterosexual lady to be born into a heterosexual family.

Conservative critics of gays, gay marriage, surrogacy, fertility biotechnology and other alternatives to the traditional heterosexual family get most of their intellectual depth and rhetorical juice not from such unexamined theological assumptions, but from classical political philosophy and its idea of natural law, even if served up with some religious garnish from either Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas or Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Both of these men are students of Aristotle (and Plato). Much of the current writing by conservatives on these topics, even when very good, is derivative of the work, much of it published for lay readers in the 1980s in Commentary, of Aristotelian philosopher, medical doctor, and Bush administration bioethics commission director Dr. Leon Kass. (For better or worse the current crop of writers is also less acidic than the late Midge Decter, whose Commentary article “The Boys on the Beach,” is perhaps unsurpassed as a polemic against gay life.)

When nature fails, as it does from bad eyesight to a missing limb, humans invent technology. One can view gay people as deformed or disabled if you wish—they’re denied by nature the ability to have a child that is the genetic fusion of lover and beloved. But does that mean they then must, uniquely of all infirm and imperfect humanity, forgo technological solutions?

What’s funny about conservative critics of gay parenthood is how they are automat Aristotelians (not unlike the “cafeteria Catholics” of whom they usually disapprove), retreating into their faith when it comes to the laws of identity and causality. The baby produced by two gay men with a purchased “donor” egg and a hired surrogate (or perhaps with a female friend, or with a family member of the non-biological father) is the specific baby it is with its specific identity produced by its specific causal process. It’s not a ghost captured by the gay fathers by some occult ritual. If this baby girl or boy were not born to these two fathers (and donor and surrogate) it wouldn’t exist somewhere else. Is this the one case of pre-abortion conservatives favor?

Perhaps what Keenan would like to say is that prospective gay fathers should choose not to produce a motherless child, that they should make sure there is an involved mother, a lesbian or heterosexual friend who is an involved co-parent or even primary parent (not at all impossible; I have such a child).

Conservatives have put themselves in a bad rhetorical position. Keenan and others haven’t acknowledged that gay male fatherhood with an actively involved mother is even a possibility. Instead Federalist writers like Jordan Boyd use populist language depicting unrelatable wealthy gay men who hire surrogates and buy eggs as a status symbols to produce children as accessories:

“Paying someone else to make or carry a baby that may or may not have any of your DNA is a lucrative racket that’s taken off in the U.S. and rakes in billions of dollars each year. It’s also growing increasingly popular for gay couples or even some women who want to avoid the pregnancy symptoms and body changes… Celebrities such as Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra, Elon Musk and his ex-girlfriend Grimes, and Anderson Cooper and his ex-partner have taken advantage of the expensive baby creation market and been praised for normalizing the Big Fertility industry.”

Conservatives until recently have never much concerned themselves with any special ethical needs of gays or lesbians. They do now defend gay and lesbian teens against those agents of ideology or of profit centers in the therapeutic state who want to surgically alter gay children into simulations of the opposite sex. But they don’t provide any guidance on the specifics of courtship for males attracted to males or females attracted to females, even though they almost uniquely admit the importance of the fact that the sexes are different. Nothing to say, for example, to a 17-year-old boy who’s going to be dating other college age (or graduate school age and up) males, perhaps expecting dating and romance to work the way it does in movies about idealized heterosexuals, only to find out men are different from women. At worst conservatives have the injunctions of Leviticus and at best they have nothing to say.

When Keenan concludes “Any adult who is supposed to have the best interests of his own child in mind and yet he willfully—defiantly even—deprives that biological child of the stark fact of its own biological mother ON PURPOSE—well, it all seems pretty selfish,” are the gay men going to listen to her? Or are they just going to assume a baby will imprint on a male caring for her and accept him as a “maternal figure”? And even if conservatives managed to regulate surrogacy in the U.S., the reproduction of two father babies would just move offshore.

Keenan has written “Confession: It’s the couples who can offer a child no maternal love to their children who are testing the bounds of my fervent pro-natalist attitude.” But what may be being tested is the conservative intellectual movement’s failure to offer any ethical guidance specific to gay and lesbian lives, leaving them much less likely to persuade gays and lesbians about how they ought to live.


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