About a year ago I was approached by a documentary production company, who were producing a documentary on different types of families from the UK, going through the surrogacy process. They had a straight couple, a gay couple and were looking for an individual gay man as well.
The company asked me to take part. At first, I was like ‘no, not really interested,’ and then when I mentioned it to my project manager he said “well, they can pay a lot of money”. Surrogacy is an expensive business, so I was like ‘okay, for the money’. Time past, I met them and we did some filming, but when it came to the crunch there was no money available – small production company etc… Then my first surrogate and transfers didn’t work out, so the whole thing fizzled out.
Nine months later, I had a new (and my current) surrogate and was getting ready for the next transfer. The production company contacted me and said, “well things have changed, it would just be about your journey now”. I ignored it for a bit and then thought about it in detail. Obviously, it would expose my child and me to national coverage (it’s for Channel 4), and, potentially lead to ridicule, humiliation and social media trolling (just look at the recent McCain oven chips ad for families, featuring a gay couple part way through). However, I also work in media relations and marketing. Do you know how difficult it is to get coverage or even to get prolonged coverage on an issue? For example, last year I led a big charity campaign on an emotive ongoing issue. We got the TV news, radio, press, and had a launch in the House of Commons. For one day there was a ‘buzz’ and then apart from the charity’s own community, it essentially died away. My own professional experiences like this, built up over many years balance the negatives that spring to mind. Apart from a ‘buzz’ over a day or two, what’s the worse that could happen?
I guess the realisation for me, is that this isn’t an issue about being on TV, it’s about how you belong to your wider family or friends and the values you jointly hold. To draw a correlation with my own situation, I read somewhere over the last week that the couple in the McCain oven chip ad was now saying “what a mistake it was’ to be involved in the ad”. McCain has stood by the ad, and I agree with McCain. If my charity campaign experience from last year has taught me one thing, it is that too have acceptance in the wider world, an issue must be normalised or ‘everyday,’ and to achieve this, it must be ‘visual’, on TV, on the high street, at school and in workplaces. The McCain ad has helped to normalise surrogacy in my view.
However, if I was a betting man, I would bet that the couple in the McCain ad were getting the most ‘pain’ from their parents, friends and relatives, not the man down the road or the lady in the supermarket; although the online abuse is what the media has reported about. We can all ignore Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for a couple of weeks, but we can’t run from our parents, relatives or immediate friends. (These are of course assumptions as I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with the McCain ad couple.)
I draw the correlation with the couple in Manchester because of my own family’s vociferous and I think hysteric reactions to my own filming situation. Again, it comes back to my mother. In part three, I wrote about how my mother reacted, from: “Why do this now, you’re too young” (I was 38 at the time), to a discussion about the baby’s gender, name and how I would cope. In light of this, I approached the filming discussion with her, with a touchy-feely build up. It was no good though. Despite working with the film crew for six months, having recorded video diaries and sense checking with cousins first, the result was more hysteria. Unfortunately, this time we had reached a ‘bridge too far’. Effectively my father told me that I had put their marriage at risk and my brother’s mental health was becoming unmanageable. If I was going to continue agreeing to film, it would be without the support of my parents and brother, and we would stop speaking. No amount of my professional experience or helpful insight from the production crew could change this. I spent two weeks in abject family hell.
My mother went on about how surrogacy was unnatural and how we couldn’t tell the neighbours. We were going to lie and say that the child’s mum is in the States that we’d gone through a separation and I was left with the child. (Question, which is worse in modern Britain: a child in a single parent family through divorce or through surrogacy? Also, see column seven about what we had agreed.) She said, it would be the talk of the town and that we would be humiliated, abused and shouted at, day-after-day-after-day. And then, how could you raise a baby in that situation? What’s in the best interests of your child? (Well in my opinion, not lying for a start and making everything as normal as possible.)
My brother was next, but what was worse, was that for him, this was all about me being gay. “You’re not some gay rights warrior, you have no right to raise gay issues on national television, who do you think you are’”.
I came out at 18. I’ve been humiliated for being gay in an international sales meeting, on the train, at work and in public places. At 20, I ran the LGBT society at university and was a public figurehead at uni for LGBT people and issues. I was an organiser of Yorkshire Pride at 23, and, for virtually every year since 18, I have marched in gay pride parades in London and Birmingham. So yes, I feel an important personal duty about raising gay rights.
Sadly, the fact of the matter is, that throughout all the filming so far, I’ve barely mentioned the word gay once; because I’m happy that my child will be as a result of surrogacy, but I too was scared to say that I was gay on TV. So, on the one hand, I do everything I think I can, reasonably, to raise and support gay rights, whilst considering the people around me. On the other hand, those I don’t shove it in the face of (my mother and brother), are some of the most vociferous opponents of who I am and what I choose to do with my life. Ultimately I question whether their values and my own match and although outside of being gay our values align pretty much, being gay for me is a fundamental part of who I am.
“Thinking about my unborn child, who this is most important to, I will be her father. I will try to be a role model, I will look after her, take care of her, indeed devote my life to her. But, that includes the fact that her father is gay.”
Thinking about my unborn child, who this is most important to, I will be her father. I will try to be a role model, I will look after her, take care of her, indeed devote my life to her. But, that includes the fact that her father is gay. There will be bumps in the road ahead because of this, however discreet I am about it. And, if you think about it, the haters will always hate and even if my child was not born through surrogacy or had a gay dad, other kids may pick on her hair colour, her weight or the way she talks. These are just things that we all have to struggle with in life.
Which brings me back to my own reasoning for having a family of my own. The most important thing in life is family and friends. So a duty to gay rights and a fundamental part of my life once again must take a hit, so that I continue to belong to my family. In reality, I’m furious, want to scream and shout, because my being gay and my choice to have a family is reluctantly supported by my family. I feel that they have placed their own personal needs before backing me (n.b. what we say to the neighbours).
The film company has invested time and money, understandably want to continue, but I’ll draw it to a close. The opportunities for both my own life from the pithy 15 minutes of fame, to writing or talking at public events about gay surrogacy, will have to be placed to one side while I shelve this in order to remain part of my family. (My writing name is a pseudonym.)
As you have probably guessed from the above I am expecting a daughter, so with family and friends, I have been out buying stuff from a ‘travel system’ to clothing, bottles and all sorts of stuff. This has been fun and made things more real.
Indeed, I now have seven week’s till I fly to the states and eight weeks until my child is born. The flights are booked, an Airbnb condo booked, and my parents (gotta love em) will fly out as well to ‘help’ me for two weeks while we get a birth certificate and passport. I have then agreed to move in with them for three or four months. Now, however, a little part of me desperately wants to move as far away as possible from them and start anew as quickly as possible. It was my mother’s insistence for a female influence and offers of help that brought me back. Well considering the implications of what I have to deal with, I think three months after we come back to the UK, I’ll want to be at a safe distance from them.
Finally, I just want to add a note about the NCT course I discussed in my last column. I did get back in touch and the local coordinator was apologetic, so I’ll keep the faith, get over my reluctance and sign up to a course.
A dad to be on the journey to parenthood
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