I am currently working as a facilitator for the Sherbourne Family Planning Network, which is a network for 2SLGBTQI* and questioning people who are thinking about starting a family or figuring out ways to bring little or young people into their lives. It is important for resources to be available to us to create families for a variety of reasons, the biggest reason being that we deserve it.
Illustration by Eli WiPe
Many of us go to western medicalized spaces where you should be able to go to a doctor and talk to them about their options of having a family, but this is not an option because of how homophobic and transphobic these spaces can be. It is hard for our communities to access not only good medical services but also supportive medical services.
That then leads us to not actually having the information we need to make really good choices about our own physical health and what is possible for us to start a family. When I say family, I don’t mean just the process of making and having a baby. I also mean the complex and complicated paths to parenthood around adoption and fostering or co-parenting, or supporting a young person that already exists in the world through all of the different ways that families come together. Families for queer people and trans people have always been different. And for myself anyways, I have always looked at how traditionally our communities (BIPOC communities in particular) have always been creating families in different ways that are not based in heteronormative, white-supremacist, nuclear family ways.
The conversation for queer and trans people around what it looks like to bring a baby into their community is a very different conversation than a heterosexual couple that sometimes have accidental pregnancies. That’s really nice if that’s an option for you, but that’s not always the case for us. Even though many medical spaces say that they are queer and trans positive, that stops at a certain point and does not always include us starting a family. Places like the Sherbourne are important for knowing whatever our path looks like, whether that’s making a baby or supporting a child that’s already in our life.
Start with big questions
First of all, ask yourself: “How do I want to bring parenthood into my life? What does that look like?” think about what your family looks like, ideas about what it means to create a family and also think about your (our) trauma around parenthood and family. There are so many pathways to parenthood for us and with that comes more questions that you should ask yourself. Things like, “How do I wanna have kids?” “Do I wanna have a kid through my body?” “Do I want to support my partner to do that?” “What does this look like in a poly or open relationship?” “Are there are multiple people in my family right now with whom I want to raise a child with?” “Do we want to ask somebody else to carry a child?” “Are there people I am not in an intimate relationship with that I would want to co-parent with?” “Is there a child in my life that I would like to take a more serious role with?”
Get ready for the feels
Family is such a huge trigger point for so many of us because of how complicated our paths have been to becoming who we are. Think through the things you need to work on for yourself, what family brings up for you and how to support and love up yourself in the process.
It can get us thinking about how we weren’t parented or how we lacked parenting. How we wished for some other kind of parenting, or wish that we had more supportive parenting. Maybe we don’t have parents in our lives anymore in the same way that we would have wanted and starting a family is going to bring up all your shit. Prepare yourself! Even though there are so many decisions to make, the thing that I love about our community and about this process is that it is so different than a heteronormative couples; we get to choose how and what and when and why and we get to think through these things in a different way. We get to work through and process these things in ways that the rest of the world doesn’t get to unfortunately because they don’t have to (or think they should).
A co-parent is someone who you’re choosing to share parenting responsibilities with; so that can mean that this person is on the birth certificate of the child and maybe not. Now on birth certificates, we have things called “intending parents”. What that means is that if you have someone who maybe you’re partnering with in terms of raising a child whether it be your best friend, cousin, sister or whatever; basically a person in your community this is someone that you would consider to be a “co-parent”. By writing that they are an “intending parent” on the birth certificate you are formalizing that process. This provides us the opportunity to have it reflect what happens in a lot of communities, especially BIPOC communities. BIPOC communities have given us many examples of co-parenting before the term “co-parenting” even existed. A village raising our children is a great example of how co-parenting is a beautiful option!
Have an agreement
Having a formal agreement helps define who is going to be part of a kids life, why for how long and what it is going to look like. It can also set out what will happen if a relationship between you and other parent(s) breaks down. A lot of co-parents will make co-parenting agreements before they take on a child/baby so the terms in a co-parenting relationship are laid out. There can also be an agreement between a donor and the co-parents. It can be as long or short as you all collectively want but it is very important to make sure to develop an understanding of what you want this to look like. There is this great example of a co-parenting family where it was two couples; two gender-queer folks and two gay, cis men who came together to parent a child and so far it has been great for them but they had to set out what this would look like before they embarked on this journey together. You can find their story if you google it, it was featured in Toronto newspapers.
Sometimes instead of co-parenting, parents will create “parenting collectives”. It is the same type of concept, where you’re sharing responsibility for littles with other people (in intimate relationships or not). Sometimes it could mean that you’re bringing in a group of people from the community. We see this in Toronto a lot. There is also different ways to create parenting collectives that are really manageable and amazing and because of the magic of queerness where we have tons of people in the community who we share time with once in a while. It means that this kid gets to grow up with so many different aunties and uncles. To make this work means having a really organized and structured way of getting everybody on the same page about the whole responsibility chart. It really depends again on what kind of situation you’re getting into and why. If you want more information about contracts and what they look like there are lots of drafts online as well as more details on collectives and co-parenting.
If someone in your family is going to have a baby:
Let’s say you have decided that someone in your family wants to make a baby through yours or their bodies. You need: an egg, sperm and a place to grow. There are so many different combinations of what you might need and how you might get them if you don’t have one or more of these ingredients. You need to figure out which one you need and what route you want to go.
Things to point out: There is a huge lack of donors in Canada, especially BIPOC donors. Think about cost (how much money are you willing to put into this process) , consider trauma and how it will impact your body and mental health as it can be a very intense physical process (make sure you have lots of support if possible). If you are finding yourself needing one or more of these things (eggs, sperm or place to grow), there are known and unknown donor options. Surrogacy is an option, as is sperm donors and egg donors. If you are BIPOC and are looking for a non-white donor it’s important to think about the community you are in and how you would want to approach someone in acquiring sperm from. This is an option as well as buying sperm from a cryobank, which costs a lot more than a known donor. There is a significant lack of donor sperm that is BIPOC, which is a huge issue for those looking for BIPOC sperm. If you are unaware about your own fertility, it may be useful to go to your family doctor and ask if they can refer you to a fertility clinic or get blood and other tests done. There are a few really great LGBTQ positive and supportive fertility clinics in the GTA or Toronto. If you want to look into some of these there are links on the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting website.
How will the Law impact our families?
There is actually some pretty important legislation that was recently passed that relates to co-parenting that I wanted to mention. As of January 1st 2017, the All Families Are Equal Act was passed which basically reduces the distinction between types of parents. A parent who gives birth will not have more legal rights than a parent who does not give birth and sperm donors are recognized as donors not as parents. A legal case has already been decided where a donor was recognized as a donor and not held responsible for child support. Multi-parent families no longer need to go to court in order to recognize that there can be many parents involved in a child’s life. The legislation is written in language that recognizes the range of gender identities in our communities. It is no longer necessary to go to court to recognize parents through surrogacy in most cases. When there is a surrogacy agreement in place, and all parents and the gestational carrier or surrogate agree, the parents and the carrier or surrogate can sign affidavits after the baby is at least 7 days old and the parent or parents will be able to register the birth. Additionally, adoptive parents now have inclusive titles to choose from including “Mother”, “Father” and “Parent.”
Lastly, there is also the option of adoption and fostering. When thinking about adoption and fostering it is important to remember that the systems that you have to go through in that process are complex and have a long history of being a mechanism of colonialism, genocide and anti-Black racism in this country. Although services carrying out these options have acknowledged this history, there are still disproportionately more Indigenous and Black young people in foster care and in CAS care. If you are going through this route it is important to think about how you are going to honour and not continue to be part of damage and harm to Black and Indigenous communities if you are not connected/from those communities. It’s important to think through what it means spiritually, emotional, mentally for a child to be literally taken away from their loved ones which then leads to you having a child in your life. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an option, but I do think it’s important to understand the current implications of this system. Perhaps that means asking yourself, how do you instead support Indigenous and Black families that are asking for support, transforming the system instead of taking kids away as well as thinking of ways to support families that already exist.
This is just an overview of all of the pathways to parenthood and options that are available.
I would like to remind the reader that the ways that we imagine and can think of family is infinite. If you can imagine it, it can happen, and so remembering to not feel boxed in by how we understand family but knowing that family is whatever we create it to be. And that is the magic and brilliance of our communities; all things are possible because we’re not boxed-in, we don’t have to be boxed in, we get to choose who we want and how it happens. So, if you can imagine it, you can make it happen; and it does not have to be any other way than what you want it to be.
If you are reading this article and are looking for more resources the best place to go would be the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting network, their website has so much information on it! They have lots of videos and info sheets that outline different pathways to parenthood.
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names