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LGBTQ+ (In)Fertilities

LGBTQ+ (In)Fertilities - Marcin Smietana

The LGBTQ+ (In)Fertilities work package looks at (1) what fertility transitions (Greenhalgh 1995) are taking place among LGBTQ+ people in several sites on the globe, as well as (2) what queering reproduction may mean in these shifting and stratified contexts, and how solidarities can be built for queer reproductive justice (Smietana, Thompson and Twine 2018).

Following the Changing In(Fertilities) project’s core question about how people’s changing perceptions of fertility and reproductivity impact on their reproductive behaviours, this work package investigates ‘how the changing perceptions and expectations of in/fertility are linked to emergent reproductive identities, transactions and practices in LGBTQ+ communities’. As such, its aim is ‘investigating fertility assemblages emerging within the LGBTQ+ population - such as gay fathers’ use of surrogacy’. Whilst these aims introduce in the work package an analysis of LGBTQ+ reproduction at large, a specific empirical study carried out within this work package focuses on ‘the intersectional reproductive transactions between surrogates and gay father families in the US and the UK, documenting both the ambivalent values these fertility contracts engender, and how these tensions are resolved’. (Franklin & Inhorn 2018, Changing In/Fertilities Grant Proposal: 12, 21, 23) 

One of the ongoing fertility transitions among LGBTQ+ people in some locations on the globe today has been a transition towards thinkability of LGBTQ+ families (see e.g. Pralat 2018). This also shows that under the ‘post-ART condition’ people understand the relation between fertility and infertility in new ways (Franklin 2013). Another key characteristic of the new reproductive transactions is how racialization accompanies LGBTQ+ parenting strategies, and specifically how it has become an increasingly prominent feature of LGBTQ+ parenting projects (alongside other stratifications and exclusions, such as through class and citizenship). This transition towards racialization of queer family projects is explored here in detail through cases from ethnographic fieldwork. The research involves two parts: (a) analysis of fieldwork recently completed with 37 gay men pursuing commercial surrogacy in the USA (a half of them from the USA and a half from Western Europe) and (b) current fieldwork with 20 gay men in the UK (10 of them pursuing altruistic surrogacy in the UK and 10 pursuing commercial surrogacy in the USA). The questions driving this research are about (1) the ways in which gay men take their reproductive decisions and (2) the ways in which social hierarchies - such as ones of race, nation, class, kinship, sexuality, gender, ability, species – are relevant to gay men’s reproductive pathways.

The work package involves putting the fieldwork research into conversation with queer and queer of colour scholarship (e.g. Puar 2007, TallBear 2018), as well as with research on lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans reproduction (e.g. Hines & Santos 2018). The situated character of the LGBTQ+ fertility transitions in question is also made evident by comparisons drawn within the Changing (In)Fertilities research network. The objective of this work is understanding the ways in which LGBTQ+ reproductive aspirations and options are stratified and distributed unevenly; as well as how contemporary LGBTQ+ reproduction may be complicit or not with hierarchies of exclusion (such as e.g. hierarchies of race). On one hand, LGBTQ+ and other ‘non-normative’ intended parents have been claiming reproductive rights, from which they have been long excluded (Briggs 2017; Hines & Santos 2018; Imaz 2017). Only some LGBTQ+ people can access reproduction, if at all, due to their social class, citizenship or race (Dahl & Gunnarsson Payne 2014). On the other hand, queer reproduction may unfold at the cost of the rights of those who help LGBTQ+ parents: gamete donors, surrogate mothers, birth parents in adoption (Marre & Briggs 2009; Posocco 2014; Rudrappa 2015; Twine 2015).

Therefore this work package asks how relationships between people taking part in LGBTQ+ reproduction could be re-choreographed so that queer reproduction will not reproduce the relations of stratified reproduction. Including the lens of stratified reproduction and reproductive justice in the analysis of queer reproduction is assumed here as a necessary step towards building the scholarly and political project of queer reproductive justice. - What can justice actually mean to different stakeholders involved? How do those meanings change from one context to another (Nordqvist 2018; Pichardo 2009; TallBear 2018)? Are the meanings of reproductive justice different for queer parents and for those who help them reproduce? How can the tensions be tackled for reproductive justice? How can we think of queer reproductive justice? - This also opens the LGBTQ+ In(Fertilities) work package to collaborative work with other work packages dealing with stratification and justice within the Changing In(Fertilities) project.

Changing (In)Fertilities is a major new collaborative interdisciplinary research project funded by the Wellcome Trust and based in the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Prof. Marcia C. Inhorn of Yale University.


We know that IVF and ARTs do not just reproduce babies: they reproduce values, norms, identities and institutions.

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This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust