Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
The English speaking world now has a “Truly Inclusive Way to Answer the Question ‘Where Do Babies Come From?’” Noah Berlatsky writes on The Atlantic of a new children’s book authored by sex educator Cory Silverberg that “does not presume a ‘normal’ one-fertile-mommy-one-fertile-daddy household.” Berlatsky celebrates the fact that the book “doesn’t even mention the word ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy,’” but instead instructs: “‘Not all bodies have eggs in them. Some do, and some do not … ‘Not all bodies have sperm in them. Some do, and some do not.’”
And of course, sex has little to do with it. Sex, Berlatsky reports, “is relegated to one unspecified option among many.” None of this old-fashioned “when a mom and dad love each other very much …” business. Nope. Now, children can learn that “when grown-ups want to make a baby they need to get an egg from one body and sperm from another body. They also need a place where a baby can grow.”
Berlatsky acknowledges that although the book intends to “open up possibilities and conversations,” it also “presents a very specific vision.” It “presents – both iconographically and philosophically – a version of gay, or queer, utopia,” he writes. Berlatsky describes the members of this utopia are illustrated in the book as “individuals with or without uteruses, with or without sperm, as colorful, smiling, slick, amoeba-like outlines—a world of cheerfully, only-mildly differentiated, maybe nude frolicking bodies.”
Biological relation is merely incidental, as “the important question becomes not how close your family is to normal, but rather, ‘Who was happy that it was YOU who grew?’” Besides the obvious dismissal of the necessity of a man and woman – not merely a hodgepodge of “bodies” that happen to have eggs, sperm, and a uterus – for reproduction, the book furthers the commodification of human life. In trying to accommodate families of all shapes and sizes, it seems the only children left out are the nearly 40% born as a result of an “unintended” pregnancy.
“Who was happy it was YOU who grew” implies the adult(s) chose intentionally to create a child, and that choice confers value upon the child’s life. In one sense, a child could feel special knowing his parent(s) went to extreme lengths, paid up to thousands of dollars gathering various genetic materials to create him. But one wonders how much a four year old can understand about the separation of genetics from parentage. How will this influence his self-perception as he grows up? Even today humans have a natural, if quieted, desire to know who we are and where we come from. But in an era of extreme individualism and commodified reproduction, the link between ourselves and our heritage becomes unimportant or non-existent. We are mere individuals existing in our own time and place, disconnected from our ancestors.
As much as our individualistic tendencies lead us to isolate ourselves from our heritage, we cannot escape it. We physically resemble our biological parents, we inherit both talents and health conditions from them. We are each the unique result of the combination of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.
Indeed, a “utopia” of undifferentiated bodies is the logical end of an individualistic, atomized view of the family. Even the child’s connection to her parents is selected and purchased, not inherited. When the individual is “freed” from all moral, religious, and familial restraints – free to choose even his gender, where does that leave children who need guidance, structure, and boundaries? A world of commodified human life is already upon us, and it is no utopia. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Commodified life places children at the mercy of adult wishes. A child’s value is derived from the fact that someone wants him. An extreme example of this mentality was illustrated by the pseudonymous “Albert Garland,” who wrote last month of the inconvenience he and his wife face having conceived twin boys instead of one girl through In Vitro Fertilization.
Though extreme, “Garland” shows the potential implications of defining family and the value of human life through the unrestrained choices of adults. This world may not be so “inclusive” after all.