Michelle Tea: Homophobia at the Fertility Clinic

One of the side effects of living in a homophobic world is a disassociation with your own experience.
Publish date:
October 5, 2012

A word on the appropriateness of delivering serious news via email. While a text, I understand, is a tacky medium to communicate something heavy, I really think an email is fine. I mean, an email is the handwritten letter of our time, is it not? And in ye olden days of not even that long ago, to transcribe a letter would have been viewed as the ultimate thoughtful way to communicate.

I think better and communicate better when I’m writing. Like perhaps everyone, I rarely talk on the telephone, an instrument that tends to get wicked staticky and drop calls with no rhyme or reason. My telephone skills have plummeted since the golden days of the 1980s, when I talked on the phone nearly constantly. Today I find speaking on the phone more awkward than ever, and by the amount of people I know who routinely let theirs go to voice mail, I know I’m not alone.

And yet I detect a persistent sentiment that sending important info via email is tacky or careless. I say no to this! I am way more classier and thoughtful and present in an email than I am on the phone, where I leave my body frequently.

Anyway, that was just a random rant (more to come!). No one was upset that I sent an email informing my beloved team that my eggs were busted and that our insemination celebrations would be ending, just in time for Rhonda to skate off to her little turquoise home in Los Angeles.

I took the team out to dinner at a restaurant known for its gluten-free options, but the food wasn’t that great and the gathering was actually kind of anti-climactic –- sort of like the whole insemination process. It would be our last time together. Soon after Rhonda moves, Quentin will take off to Santa Cruz for grad school. I give him an envelope with a gift inside. What do you give the drag queen who worked very hard for six months trying to get you pregnant? A gift certificate to a Japanese spa.

Meanwhile, me and Dashiell start getting mail from the fertility clinic. It comes not to our regular email but to a private inter-clinic site, which is top secret and requires passing through many virtual iron gates. As you might imagine, I have a laissez-faire attitude about privacy and wish they could just send me regular emails because I can’t ever keep my passwords straight. My passwords are all the names of various dead cats that used to belong to friends of mine, plus a number. Don’t ask.

A financial template from Juanita outlining the expenses of "Outside Ovum Donation" arrives. I decide not to actually add it all up, keeping it fragmented in amounts ranging from $150 to $2750. It looks manageable broken down like that, but I know if I add it up my heart will start beating. Right now, looking at it, I don’t feel scared, just excited.

Meanwhile, Dashiell receives her initial questionnaire and is annoyed at how heteronormative it is. She writes Female Partner beside "spouse" on the form and circles it. We’re both confused about the questions regarding "intercourse."

"How many times a week do you have intercourse?" Clearly they don’t want to know about our sex life -– or DO they? How hard would it be to have separate forms for lesbian and heterosexual couples?

When I was in my 20s, I had a job working to get lead paint out of homes in the Tenderloin –- a really broke neighborhood full of immigrant families who lived in aged apartments with lots of lead paint peeling from the walls. We had our paperwork in like 10 different languages, so we could best serve the people we were working with. Even though lezzies aren’t the majority of couples seeking test tube babies the way I thought, there has to be enough of us to warrant a change in paperwork!

Is she going to complain about this in every single blog for the rest of her life? an understanding but bored readership asks. I might. It doesn’t stop feeling crazy.

I’m happy –- or, relieved -– to see Dashiell is pissed about the questionnaire, too. I was afraid I might have been being reactionary, out of nerves.

“I might be, too,” Dashiell admits, a little confused. One of the side effects of living in a homophobic world is a disassociation with your own experience. If you walk around totally clued in to the very real homophobia all around A. You’ll go crazy, B. You’ll annoy people, even other queers who are trying to live a happy life and not be bummed out about homophobia all the time C. You will encounter denial on the part of straight people who are so entrenched in their own straightness, and, never having experienced homophobia directly, think it is not such a big deal, something mainly practiced by wack-job Evangelical Christians in Wyoming –- not, say, their friends and families and co-workers.

A queer person living in a big, integrated city like San Francisco can almost forget that they are existing in a quiet, very real web of homophobia at all times!

And then when something unmistakably homophobic occurs, like a batch of hetero-centric paperwork that completely ignores your existence, and you have a FEELING about it, you swiftly feel CRAZY, because you were going along acting as if we live in a just society, for the sake of your sanity, which has been compromised for the sake of your sanity.

Get it? Get it? OK.

“This process is nerve-wracking,” Dashiell says, “And that is all the more reason for them to make it as comfortable for people as possible. We’re going to be giving them a lot of money! I mean, from a consumer perspective this just isn’t OK.”

You know when you bring in the consumer perspective you are really backed up against the wall, and we are. I agree with Dashiell. If we’re going to be forking over thousands of dollars to this institution, they at the very least could not be totally homophobic in their paperwork.

Later that day, I talk to my sister on my front stoop. She is looking into getting her placenta freeze-dried so she can take it in capsules to help her get hormonally situated. The placenta, in case you don’t know, is chalk full of restorative female hormones, not to mention other nutritional goodies. Once, under the auspices of Bernadine’s Food Adventure Club, a bunch of us ate a human placenta.

The placenta was donated by a lady who had just given birth and didn’t have any special plans for it. Bernadine butchered the placenta -- a grisly experience, as the organ comes wrapped in a tough membrane –- and then made a rumaki from it. She marinated the placenta in soy, garlic and ginger, wrapped it in bacon and broiled it.

In Food Adventure Club –- which also hosts more benign culinary adventures, like recreating Momofuku’s kimchi, or baking croissants or harvesting mussels from the San Francisco Bay -– if you come to the adventure, you are forced to participate, and you earn a badge. In addition to the rumaki, Bernadine had graciously made some placenta tinctures that people could take and earn their badge that way, which I thought was a total cop-out.

I don’t think anyone took the tincture, anyway. The placenta adventure was easily the club’s most controversial outing, dividing the membership and attracting a writer from The San Francisco Chronicle, who documented the event in an article that inspired such slurs as "hipster cannibals" in the comments section. The people who had come to the placenta adventure were die-hard food daredevils, and we all went right for the rumaki.

I prepared to gag, to choke it down. I popped it into my mouth. It was delicious. Anything wrapped in bacon is delicious. Add to that a soak in a garlic bath, and it is going to taste incredible. I immediately wanted seconds –- lots of people did –- but didn’t follow through. Even though I craved that yumminess in my mouth again, I was afraid something psychological would collapse and I’d throw up. Instead, I was grateful to have earned my badge so easily, and hung out in Bernadine’s bacony kitchen, chatting with my fellow adventurers about organ meats. Bernadine later took all the unused placenta tinctures and served placenta micheladas at a queer food event.

Anyway, my sister will not be preparing her placenta rumaki-style, or drinking it in a cerveza. To ward off post-partum depression, to which she is vulnerable, she will pay for people to bring their freeze-drying equipment into her home and shrink it into pellets for her to swallow.

“When you give birth,’” Madeline tells me, “You are at 300x your normal hormone level. And when you’re done giving birth, your hormones have fallen beneath even your normal amount. The placenta just takes the edge off.” I’m sold. Madeline is working on selling our mom, who will have to ferry the placenta home from the hospital in a plastic bag inside an ice-filled cooler.

“I’m just urging her to Google it,” Madeline says. “I’m stressing how normal it is. It’s not just some hippie thing. One of my friends did it and it helped her a lot.”

Apparently there are various placenta packages a new mother can buy, some offering extras that Madeline doesn’t wish to take advantage of.

“Some places dry the umbilical cord in a heart shape and give it to you in a card,” she says with an audible shudder. “Another place takes a blood print of the placenta! It looks like a tree and they call it ‘The Tree of Life’ and they give it to you in a fucking print!’” I imagine Madeline’s placenta print framed and hung above her tasteful couch, replacing the Kandinsky print currently on view.

“Hey, I’m talking to you from the bathroom,” Madeline interrupts herself, “And I’m bleeding but I don’t know from where so I should call you back.”

OK, I say, not knowing how alarmed to be. Some women bleed throughout their whole pregnancies, I’ve been told. Madeline has already had to go to the hospital to check out some contractions she was having –- Braxton Hicks contractions, which she now calls her "Toni Braxtons." In another week, the baby inside my sister will be a viable life, able to survive on his own if he comes early.

By the time I get upstairs, I have a text from Madeline on my phone: "Just a hemorrhoid! Call you after Olivia’s swim lesson!"