queer reproduction p.2

Families We Choose

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This leads us to the blog post you are reading, the second installment of our queer reproduction series. We have already discussed the issue of the New Reproductive Technologies (NRTs) in Greece and the exclusions and accessibilities the respective laws enable regarding queer persons’ reproductive rights. As we have hinted before, both the parliamentary and mass media discussions on the occasion of the recent legislative reforms on same-sex marriage and joint adoption released an unprecedented queerphobic outburst across the political spectrum in the public sphere that is exemplary of the deep-seated beliefs of a part of the Greek society that seem out of sync with the lived realities of LGBTIQA+ persons these very laws attempt to legally recognize. This fact points right to the heart of the matter of queer reproductive justice that far exceeds the right to resort to Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) and draws our attention to making kin as a form of queer world-making beyond the heteronormative and homonormative definitions of kinship and relationality. In the first half of what follows, we are going to look closer at some of these queerphobic arguments against the access of queer persons to NRTs and the formation of certain familial bonds, while, in the second half and as a remedy to this rhetoric, we will talk about the families we choose and the collective processes of making kin otherwise. 

Let’s begin with two public statements by two elected leaders of political parties exemplary of their queerphobic sentiments and the reasoning behind their voting against same-sex civil marriage and joint adoption. Even if this law was not meant to change the status quo regarding the access of queer persons and couples to NRTs, to begin with, a considerable amount of effort has been put into refuting this hypothetical scenario rendering obvious that kinship and family is an extremely touchy topic in Greece due to interchangeability among the three pillars of Greekness, that is ‘homeland, religion and family’ as the old Greek saying goes.

Kyriakos Velopoulos, the leader of the ‘Greek Solution’ far-right party, on the highly popular TV show ‘Good Morning Greece’, on 17/01/2024: 

‘For me, the Greek mother is something sacred. I cannot consent for her to become an incubator for eggs and sperm. I cannot replace the Greek mother with two men. Just picture it. I cannot replace in my mind the family with two men. I just cannot...Suddenly, everybody wants a child. This drives me crazy. Let’s take a good look at the normal family and then think hard about whether we need new types of kids and under which conditions. I take a dog in demand and I feel bad, let alone taking a child on demand! What kind of person is a surrogate mother?’ 

In the discourse of Greek Solution, motherhood is an untouchable -almost sacred Madonna-like- figure, the moral bedrock of the Greek nation, intelligible only as a cis heterosexual woman, the one half of a monogamous marriage with another cis heterosexual man, and thus cannot be replaced or its notion resignified. Also, these new ‘anti-Christian’ and ‘anti-social’ laws are considered to be an invasion of ‘alien morals and mores’ coming from abroad, usually from the ‘woke’ European Union complying with the cultural demands of a ‘New World Order’ in order to corrupt the Greek society in hope of creating a homogenous nation-less global state.

Dimitris Koutsoumbas, the General Secretary of the neoconservative ‘Communist Party of Greece’, at the Parliament discussion on the abovementioned laws, on 15/02/2024: 

It is the right of every individual to marry a person of the same sex and that is no one’s business. But, here, we are talking about a relationship between adults and kids. And since we are talking about kids, by definition we are talking about a social matter, an issue that overcomes the individual desires of adults. Our party here has as its compass the interest of the child…Regarding the matter of the joint adoption by same-sex couples, the government goes against the majority of the public opinion as it is reflected in every poll…We disagree with the strategy of promoting irrational theories that deny biological sex in the name of promoting individual rights…The civil same-sex marriage automatically produces shared custody and as a result it abolishes the unity motherhood-fatherhood. Parent 1, 2, etc. would never happen….The social need of the child for its relationship with a mother and a father has as its objective basis the complimentary function of a man and a woman during reproduction….The joint custody by same-sex couples opens a dangerous road since it is accompanied by irrational and anti-scientific opinions on gender fluidity and the social construction of the gender.’ 

Here, it is the figure of the child that does the ideological work, not the mother alone, since it is the child’s well-being and interest that is the main argumentative strategy against queer parenting. The emotional and social needs of the child are supposed to be based on the biological fact of reproduction between a man and a woman, while joint custody poses the ‘dangerous’ threat of de-gendering the father and mother as parent 1 and parent 2. As a sign of the pseudo-progress that is imposed by the capitalist European Union, the ‘gender ideology’ threatens the foundations of Greek society. In this context, the social construction of the gender and the fluidity of the latter are considered to be false illusions that do not correspond to the hard facts of biology and, since societal formations are the mirror image of biological processes, these theories are dangerously anti-social as they promote a capitalist individualism and the commercialization of surrogates’ bodies. To put it simply, Gender Studies and their ‘theories’ are mere ‘opinions’, ‘irrational and anti-scientific’ to be exact.

But how social sciences and humanities, particularly Gender Studies and Queer Theory, have responded over the last decades to queerphobic reactions, such as these, against queer reproduction and kin-making? How do these ‘theories’ help us imagine other relational possibilities, kinship formation, and catachrestic uses of NRTs against the heteronormative grain? First of all, there has been a growing critique against understanding the social in terms of the biological, or against the reduction of social production to biological reproduction. Here, time is of the essence! Not only resignifies the use of NRTs the traditional notion of kinship as social and emotional -artificial- relationality rather than a -natural- biological one, but a queer critique also challenges the dominant discourse around the NRTs which resorts to a futurism for the legitimation of the latter. This futurism secured synecdochically by reproduction, NRTs as reproducing the future, is a temporal horizon heavily invested with hopes and fantasies of a good life, personal success, and social happiness as long as a person has become a parent. This way parenthood is a ticket to belonging to ‘society’ by being a reproductive and thus productive member of it. In addition, the hope these fantasies sustain is a powerful ideological mechanism for the people to continue investing in certain political promises despite them being miserable in the present. In other words, the future colors the present in a specific political light as it holds the hopeful promise of happiness and success. This carefully curated image of the future trumps the current and lived social problems, the cheerful hope trumps the gloomy despair.

Notions developed by prominent queer and feminist theorists, such as the ‘reproductive futurism’ by Lee Edelman, the ‘repro-sexuality’ or ‘repro-dogma’ by Michael Warner, and the ‘hetero-reproduction’ by Jack Halberstam, have as their target the teleological understanding of both the history of the Nation and the intergenerational and interpersonal relations in the context of the hegemonic understanding of kinship. This understanding marks the non-reproductive queer subjects and couples as egotistical and useless members of society, caring only for their individual pleasure-as-sex and not the social good-as-family. It is important to keep in mind that here temporality is not just time passing by, but rather a social and political construction imbued with meaning, fantasies, and emotions. Against regimes of hetero-chrono-normativity, an understanding of time as a normative succession of predetermined events dictated by the biological rhythms of reproduction, these queer and feminist theorists expose hetero-temporality as constructed along the lines of biological reproduction that treats reproduction solely in terms of sexual reproduction between a cis straight man and a cis straight woman. Furthermore, Lee Edelman has extensively written in his canonical No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004) book about the ideological use of the fetishized image of the Child by the Moral Majority, right-wing politicians, and neoconservatives in the context of the heated and ongoing debate on abortion in the USA. For Edelman, the Child as the paradigmatic image of normalcy, family, and nation is pitted against the Queer as the paradigmatic image of deviance, lustfulness, and antisociality.

On the other hand, there is an important body of scholarship that has put the heteronormative notion of the nuclear family into question by bringing into view the colorful palette of rainbow families beyond the limits of monogamous, coupled, and heterosexually reproduced kinship. This research has also pointed out all the ways LGBTIQA+ persons have queered the use of NRTs against lawmakers’ stated intentions in order to form families otherwise. Here, the reference book is none other than Families we choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship (1991) by the prominent queer anthropologist Kath Weston. Drawing upon fieldwork and interviews conducted in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1980s, Weston explores the ways in which gay men and lesbians are constructing their own notions of kinship by drawing on the symbolism of love, friendship, and biology despite their depiction as exiles from the realm of kinship. Weston argues that "chosen" families cannot be understood apart from the families in which their members grew up, and the very existence of homosexuality as a cultural phenomenon has an unavoidable impact on how we understand family and vice versa. ‘Gay families’, chosen families comprised of friends but not quite the same as a network of friends, prove to be more supportive and enduring than one’s biological family, especially in the case of coming out. Instead of blood, it is choice that is the basis of gay families and, as such, the mythology of ‘blood makes a family’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’ is challenged. A host of meanings, like durability, resilience, and permanence, are transferred from the blood kinship to the chosen families without the latter being necessarily a substitute for the loss of blood ties due to homophobia. A powerful example is the case of lesbians as iconic mothers caring for gay men with AIDS after their being abandoned by their biological families due to the double stigma of homosexuality and HIV.

However, the chosen families that are not formed via reproduction are not the only alternative to making kin for LGBTIQA+ persons in the 21st century which has seen the rise of the NRTs. An exemplary study on the use of NRTs by queer persons is Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technoscience (2007) authored by the sociologist Laura Mamo. Here, Mamo draws on interviews with lesbians who have been or are seeking to become pregnant in order to examine their use of fertility treatments originally developed for heterosexual couples. According to the author, these treatments result in heavily medicalizing reproduction disproportionally for lesbian ‘patients’ due to their sexual orientation. In addition, while the use of these treatments comes with reinforcing heteronormative ideals about motherhood and the imperative to reproduce, the breaking of the link between heterosexuality and parenthood offers chances for a queering of reproduction. 

On the other hand, the renowned feminist philosopher Donna Haraway in her Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016) takes a step further in thinking about making kin beyond its usual anthropocentric understanding in the age of ecological devastation. This Chthulucene urges us to reconceptualize kinship by taking into serious consideration the fact that the human and nonhuman are inextricably linked and both subjected to ecological precarity. As she puts it in an interview, ‘making kin seems to me the thing that we most need to be doing in a world that rips us apart from each other, in a world that has already more than seven and a half billion human beings with very unequal and unjust patterns of suffering and well-being. By kin I mean those who have an enduring mutual, obligatory, non-optional, you-can’t-just-cast-that-away-when-it-gets-inconvenient, enduring relatedness that carries consequences. I have a cousin, the cousin has me; I have a dog, a dog has me.’ The ‘obligatory relatedness’ she talks about has nothing to do with blood kinship and sexual reproduction, but she rather calls our attention to the obligatory ethical responsibility we as humans have to the other cohabitants of the earth to whom we are ecologically connected beyond our will. For that reason, ‘make kin, not babies’!