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Reconsidering Reproduction

By Victoria Massie

Last Thanksgiving, I sat at the dinner table with my siblings and cousins realizing there was no kiddy table, and if there was going to be one, I’d have to have the kids. In February, my father articulated to me for the first time that he was “open” to the idea of grandkids. Then while celebrating my sister’s recent college graduation, my mom belted to the room, “When is someone gonna give me grandbabies?” I entered my late twenties, and my uterus mattered differently. Now it’s up to me to consider the next generation in a non-metaphorical sense.

At 26, I’m hesitant, and for practical reasons. I haven’t figured out how to prevent my Trader Joe’s lilies from wilting after three days, and I’m in the midst of a career transition. Everyone’s enthusiasm, while appreciated, doesn’t change these facts.

Additionally, the older I get, the more I find myself fighting the urge to fit my future family into a model never meant for me. I’m a queer black woman. I know that the recent SCOTUS decision affirms I can now marry whomever I want. But it also imposes an unnecessary burden for me to be married, now disguised as a social responsibility, despite how black and queer folks have been barred from the institution itself. We jump brooms to maintain vestiges of African customs and validate, amongst ourselves, our companionship in the eyes of a state built on breaking them. And queer folks have similarly had to manipulate the boundaries of adoption and marriage amongst ourselves in order to make our families.

The convergence of my racial and sexual identity remind me of how kinship, reproduction, and family building are and have always been a kind of “doing.” Both allow me to remember that the guise of “natural” reproduction is propagated by a myth of compulsary heterosexuality whose racialization is inextricably linked to the institution of marriage.

In other words, I refuse to be seduced by marriage’s recent inclusion. I hope to continue to honor the resistance legacies of the non-normative family structures that bore me.

What remains to be seen, however, is how to go about this in terms of access to reproductive materials. We’ve seen changes in how we wear pregnancy as companies like Butchbaby & Co produce alternity wear to destabilize the highly gendered fashion of pregnancy. But before buying a more gender inclusive wardrobe, how do we address conception itself?

Non-cisgendered and/or non-heterosexual people can conceive. We just can’t conceive a child on our own. As in times past, we need our community.

Tiq and Kim Milan pointed this out in their original pregnancy announcement. Though a black queer and trans couple, the Milans have been committed to starting their own biological family. Their willingness to include us on their journey demonstrates how the family’s some of us imagined we’d have are feasible, not fantasy. Rather, one of the major challenges is finding a sperm donor. Particularly a sperm donor who self-identified as black who was willing to donate to them without questioning their capacity to be good parents. They responded with a call to male counterparts with sperm, “Give it up.” And maybe this isn’t farfetched. Or more specifically, maybe we need to consider how we can support each other through our differently abled capacities to reproduce.

The world, as it is now, shamelessly disposes of black lives including our children. We’ve seen this with the tragic losses of kids like Tamir Rice, 12, and Aiyana Jones, 7. But this isn’t isolated to police brutality. We’ve also seen it in the area of sperm donation. In the controversial wrongful birth suit filed by a white lesbian couple against a sperm clinic who mixed up their intended white donor with a black one, Jennifer Cramblett sought $50,000 in damages for giving birth to an obviously bi-racial child. I don’t condone the clinic’s clerical error, but neither do I ignore the insidious redress of the clinic’s mistake by appealing to the legal system to symbolically kill a black child to profit off of their daughter’s experience of racism, further exacerbated by the lawsuit itself despite their “love” for her.

As some of us begin planning our prospective family units, how must we, as a community, consider negotiating the tacit parameters of how some of us are (and aren’t) expected to create them? On the one hand, this includes supporting the radical act of choosing to give birth to black children for those of us who can and want to in a world desperate to see them more dead than alive. On the other hand, however, this includes rethinking another means of collectively organizing our various resources, even reproductively, as we try to support each other, irrespective of our gender and sexuality, in bringing the next generation into being.

Victoria Massie is an anthropologist and writer. For information, you can find her onvictoriammassie.com.

Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives