For some time I have been working on a book on the subject. You can read the synopsis here.
A baby en passant
It’s hard to say how and when the dream started evolving. Who knows exactly when a dream begins? One often knows when the dream ends, because it is either dashed or came true. Our path to making our dream come true was long and difficult. Starting a family should be a happy future prospect with many positive memories. Most couples plan having a family. And even if it takes a bit longer or many attempts are made, as a couple you decide to go for it and work toward family formation. And if it doesn’t work out, then the possibility of adoption is still open to the couple.
This doesn’t apply to us. If same-sex couples, like us, wish to have a kid, romantic nights with candlelight and music are not part of the overall plan. Instead long discussions take place, and research and paperwork have to be done. Because gay couples in Germany are not allowed to adopt children. What is left for them, for us? Some couples have attempted to get an exemption for adoption and then have gone empty handed in the end – quite often with disastrous consequences for their relationship. When common dreams are dashed, interpersonal relationships often break.
Anyone with knowledge in this field knows that surrogacy and egg donation are prohibited in Germany. Having a baby en passant will never become reality for same-sex couples. Those who have not previously dealt with this issue can hardly imagine the difficulty and the great hopelessness of these endeavors. If adoption and surrogacy are not possible, many couples will give up and try to realize their dreams in other areas of life.
We want to encourage all couples, homosexuals or heterosexuals, who, despite the many troubles, the opposition, and the many prejudices, cling to their dream, to stand up for planning a family. Even if the case law in Germany does not allow gaps, this book is intended to help all gay couples become familiar with the possibilities of building a family in the 21st century. It is possible to start a family – even as a gay couple. There are several safe and legal ways to achieve this, whether through surrogacy in a safe country or by another way. But we also want to show how difficult it is to live in a society that provides role models but does not stand behind their absence.
Just to postulate it at the beginning, we naturally assume the biological necessity. It needs a male sperm to fertilize a female egg. But – families and children do not only evolve when men and women enter into relationships. They also evolve when same-sex couples or other couple constellations live up to their wishes and decide to have a child out of love. Generally, we support controlled surrogacy that should be allowed under specified conditions to avoid that women undergo surrogacy because of financial problems. The topic of surrogacy largely meets with disapproval in Germany, which probably results from a lack of knowledge. This is not to be blamed on anyone since Germany lacks any experience in this field due to the categorical prohibition of surrogacy. It’s just the bare headlines, mostly negative, that reach the public and attract attention. That’s the reason why no clear and enlightened understanding of surrogacy exists. The situation is quite different in California where surrogacy and egg donation have been practiced for a while. Germany could learn a lot from this, and California could provide some guidelines for a limited and controlled allowance of surrogacy.
California – the land of sun and children for all couples
I myself was lucky enough to study, work and live in California. California is not just a place where the sun always shines. California is a state of many possibilities. Two of these are surrogacy and egg donation. In the early nineties, adoption by same-sex couples became possible in California. By chance, I met one of the first families that had been founded in this way. Of course, for me, founding a family was still in the distant future. But the thought that it was possible in California and that it was considered as an essential part of life created a glimmer of hope in me that came to light much later. Unlike same-sex couples in Germany, I seized the opportunity to experience role models of same-sex families. In doing so, I was able to intensively engage myself in the study of the procedure, as well as in the study of the risks of surrogate motherhood and egg donation as possible options for my later foundation of a family.
California has been a state of unlimited possibilities in many ways. This federal state that has long been benefiting from the immigration of clever minds, including Germans especially during and after the war years, has not coincidentally been assuming a leading role in the field of surrogacy and reproductive medicine. Many physicians who are specialized in reproductive medicine, especially surrogacy, are not allowed to work in this field in their home countries. They have taken advantage of an unfortunate situation as an opportunity to come to the US where they may refine their skills and broaden their knowledge. This is also true for many areas of public life in the US. As a result, as is the case in many other areas, the US benefit from immigration through the freedom gap in many respects. I am aware that because of this opportunity I am an exception. That is precisely why I want to share my story, experiences, and thoughts. Because it is one of the biggest obstacles for gays and lesbians who wish to have kids that relevant role models do not exist. Today many people from all over the world come to us to listen to our story and experience. We want to share with them our individual way, the possibilities, but also the many obstacles.
Family formation against invoice, or ego against mainstream, or better to keep silent
The Germany of my childhood in the eighties was a kind of paradise decade for the West German middle class. However, one had to adapt to it and live according to its rules and norms. What did these norms encompass? A person should be white, have studied, be born to German parents, and feel attracted to the opposite gender. Too bad for those who fell outside these norms because they were foreigners or gays. These marginalized groups were not envisaged as part of the West German prosperous society. There was no space for them, and no one stood up for them. It was not even worth paying attention to them.
To this day, these marginalized groups in Germany have been experiencing the phenomenon that the concept of diversity and generally the designation, the acknowledgment and the express acceptance of otherness in the West German society are not envisaged. This stubborn heteronormativity can be experienced in all areas of life and is drilled into kid’s heads. Teachers show little sensitivity towards differences in the personality of students and the needs resulting therefrom. The school system offers little to no choice. The normative influence of society makes the individual behave in such a way that it does not attract any negative attention by deviating from the group’s norms, that it does not make a spectacle of itself.
It is not easy to individually and personally develop within this conformism since individuals feel strong pressures to conform to norms that are imposed on them by society, family, and attitudes. In this context, individualism clashes with conformism, ego with mainstream. In particular, role models for individuality are missing. How shall an independent individual develop in such an environment? How shall an individual feel and express freely? Added to that, what happens if an individual suddenly feels attracted to the other sex? Without having a role model? Role models are important in development, in every development – this applies to children and adults, no matter whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.
Missing role models, or the tragedy of silence
The lack of positive, gay role models makes development in a highly hetero-dominated society anything but easy. And who dares under these conditions as a homosexual to talk about starting a family or having children? But why not? Why should a society, which praises family so highly and loves children, refuse children to same-sex couples? What is so strange or even incomprehensible that this subject is still taboo?
In a recent radio show the lack of tender male role models was bemoaned, mainly focusing on the role model and the male role. Feminism has contributed to a shift in role models, perhaps even to the creation of a new definition, both for man and woman. Against this background, the desire for more tender male role models has emerged. The same also applies to role models for same-sex family constellations. However, neither feminism nor any other social currents had preceded it. Like feminism or other trends, the normative heterosexuality needs to be rethought, thus bringing about a change in norms, a “softer” form of norms that also allow same-sex couples to have families and children. In contrast to feminism, which has led to the creation of role models, homosexuality still lacks positively connoted role models. Be these gay couples or even homosexuals with children as role models. If I had not had the opportunity to travel to the US and had not seen the wide range of options at that time, I would not have, like many thousands of other couples, come up with the idea of wanting to have children of my own.
It is highly tragic that due to this situation couples do not even dare to rethink their dreams of family and children like any other couple. How much life does not evolve and how much parental and children’s happiness does not develop in Germany. Particularly, same-sex couples, who will never know how it feels when a child simply falls into their lap, are forced to take thousands of detours and to overcome obstacles to finally remove the wish for having a family from their plan.
Consequently, many relationships fail, and couples abandon their dream and their individuality. That hurts, and exactly that’s the mood in Germany. Nobody really wants such a mood, but no one really knows exactly what the problem is. And therein lies the problem. Curiously, many people perceive this phenomenon in a completely different way. Especially those people who think that others are not capable of assuming the parents’ role.
Gays have no dreams
Despite so many movements, Germany is still lagging behind the United States, Spain, France, England and many other countries, just think of the possibility of marriage for homosexuals. In 1992, the Newsweek magazine published the headline “Gays Under Fire” that clearly illustrated that the social debate was a controversial, but at least a public one. People talked about it, they discussed it. Of course, there were pro and con arguments. But in the end, the majority of the American population expressed support for health insurance, inheritance matters, and social security for gay partners in 1992. Even though the issues marriage and adoption were not supported in this year, they were discussed. This ultimately led to the fact that some years later marriage and adoption were implemented in national legal frameworks – even if the legislature at the national and state level continued fighting for some time. But it was talked, negotiated and discussed about the issues – publicly and everywhere. And there is more to come. Today, the American public is debating about bathrooms for transgender people. And have you ever noticed how many different types of sex are to be found on Facebook? In the United States, people speak publicly about issues that are not even discussed at the family table in Germany. Thanks to the distinctly taboo-free discussion-friendliness of the US, there are now more possibilities for homosexuals. And how are these issues tackled in Germany? Silence.
There are many different reasons for this. Sabine Bode has been dealing with the effects of the disastrous war of the 20th century on German collective perception, the exploration of innovations, and openness to future life-styles and change. Although Germany strongly experienced the 1968 movement as a counter-movement of the encrustation of the Third Reich, it still remained a marginal movement in many ways that could not reach the rest of the population in many respects. Better to remain silent, to demonstrate lack of knowledge, to look away, or to not listen at all. These are the consequences. Issues are simply swept under the table, and people keep quiet. Actually, it is best to remain resolutely silent. Of course, the media also play an important role. In the US issues are communicated quite differently, a lot more media are present, and countless types of media channels exist. On the other hand, the media in Germany, mostly the state media, usually only choose what is socially acceptable and has majority appeal. On this background, there is only little room left to debate on the different aspects of homosexuality. And if some news hit the headlines on the front page, then these news are negatively connoted and contribute to a falsification of the image of gays and lesbians, which brings us back to the debate on the lack of role models.
But what has actually caused me to raise this issue, to cling to it and to not give up? In the green south of Essen, where I grew up, there were countless families, some with up to six children. And it was always the standard to come from a large family. We always played in the streets together, there were different children from different families meeting outside every day and joining each others’ games. Children were always everywhere. For me it was always clear that I wanted to have a family – I became clearly aware of my wish at the age of 12. This did not change when I first met A. in the first year of high school. It was clear to me that everything was different. Gone was the time of childish play, of elementary school friendships, of packed lunches, and of meetings with my friends from the neighborhood I had grown up with. High school opened a new world to me. Suddenly new faces, a new class with new names and characteristics that seemed almost exotic to me. But also I, myself, became more mature, independent, and changed. A. was in the same class. We spent a lot of time together. A. came from a large Catholic family with five children. To me, A.’s family was a perfect family. I immediately became familiar with the interaction of his parents and their close relationship to their children. It was love at first sight. Certainly, I also fell in love with the form of communication and the presence of the family.
Even when the otherness became an issue, the idea of having children and a family of my own did not fade. For me, the idea of having a family has always been important and was not triggered by some key experience as a gay man. There were no fateful encounters with some other same-sex couple with children or any other coincidence that would have put the abstruse possibility of having children in my head. For me, as a young man at that time, as well as a gay man, it was just clear that a family would always be part of my life. It was probably also the environment I grew up in that shaped me and had some impact on me – especially the familiar people around me who approached me and became important to me. They represented the natural knitting pattern of life – without any exception it was the family life with children. Although this idea and this desire were often a hindrance on the way to gay self-discovery, for who dared to think about family and children when the issue of homosexuality was already difficult in itself. I experienced over and over again how difficult it was to make the desire for children public considering the self-definition. I felt and experienced a strong isolation and alienation many times, and more than once I got a bloody nose in the form of a rebuff or disapproval. That was painful, and I understand every homosexual who keeps his dreams a secret and even gives them up, because the public is not as open and not ready to talk about it, let alone to accept it.
The silence, sadness, and hopelessness, as well as the lack of positive gay role models explain my readiness to go public with my story. Against all disapproval and discussions I did not give up and held on to my dream and desire to have a family. And I would like to encourage all those who keep having dreams of a family. In August 1998, when I was on a quick visit with my parents in Germany, a man named Andreas encouraged me to go my own way. He was the first person who was listening to me and who did not reject the family issue when I started talking about it. Later in life Andreas became my husband and father of our kids.
After all, gays have dreams too
And this is no exception. No matter whether gay, lesbian or not, every human being has dreams and desires, and one of the dreams is usually to build a family. Only, as a gay man, this is not quite so simple – neither for me. In suburban Essen, between the villas of the Albrecht family, being different and deviating from the norm was just not possible. Why should it have been? People had to adhere to the established norms. There was no room for otherness, and it was not accepted. It probably had less to do with the location than the time. Being gay, being different was and has partly been a taboo until day, let alone having children as a gay couple.
But let’s start from the beginning. I remember my family life as reasonably harmonious although it really wasn’t like this. But which family life is like this? There are always different characters and interests that inevitably lead to conflicts and complications – be a baby who wants to drink milk while the mother wants to sleep. Nevertheless, our family life shaped me in a way that I could exactly imagine this form of family life for myself, and I saw and have seen no reason up to now to move away from it.