For most of my adult life, my mantra was—"I don’t want kids!"
In my 20s, forging a career as a freelancer writer and performer, kids scared me. They seemed like delicate antique clocks—full of internal gears that I didn’t know how to work and shouldn’t touch because I might break them. They were major responsibilities, and I was more into running around New York City's East Village, hanging out in gay rock 'n' roll bars with my hair in Bjork buns and wearing a girl’s top from Kmart. (It was a trend.)
In my 30s, nearly all my female friends settled down and gave birth. The only way to hang out with them was to go over to their apartments and drink in the kitchen, helping them feed their children as many vegetables as possible between cereal and pasta. When the kids finally fell asleep, we adults, supplied with five bottles of wine, would compete to show each other the most insane YouTube video.
My friends' kids made children seem less scary. They were just fun. But no matter how much I adored these new additions to my social sphere, the concept of children still seemed separate from me. As did all the things one needed to make them happy, including a regular paycheck and a savings account. (We writer-performers don’t always have a reliable income.) Oh, and there was also the deeply ingrained notion I'd held since I was a teenager—that, as a gay man, I was somehow inherently unfit to be a parent. That my sexuality made me "dirty." That I was constantly at risk of contracting a deadly disease. That I wasn't deserving.
Then one day a few years ago, my close friend, a lesbian, asked me to donate sperm to help her and her partner make a baby. At first I said no, because, well—see above.
But then, I decided to donate. I’m not exactly sure what made me change my mind. Maybe it was because, at first, I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal for me—what’s so hard about jerking off? Also, my friends would be the primary parents. They wanted me to be involved however I wanted to be involved. The pressure was off.
Twice a month, when my friend was ovulating, I would trek over to a clinic and leave my gift in a cup. An hour or so later, my friend would go in and get inseminated. The insemination didn’t “take” at first, and we had to keep trying, for a total of ten months.
The process was not as easy as I expected. First of all, donation clinics are very weird. Try getting off to a DVD of bad straight porn while sitting in a chair covered in butcher paper and tell me how sexy you feel. But something deeper was going on in me.
Every month, donation by donation, I was forced to confront my deepest anxieties about my own worth. That's when I started to realize that my feelings about kids were more complex than simply "I don't want a family!"—I had been defining myself and my future through fear for most of my life.
In the early '80s, when I was just teenage virgin longing for love and a life outside of my suburban heterosexual home, I remember seeing early reports about AIDS on TV. I’d be setting the table and the evening news on my mom’s kitchen TV would report on the deadly sex and sleazy life of gay people. I remember seeing images of gay pride parades (called words like "hedonistic" and "careless"), and then footage of men in hospital beds, wasting away, nearly dead.
The summer before college, I had my first sexual experience with a friend. And then, roiling with fear, I got an HIV test—even though all we did was have oral sex a couple of times.
This all flooded back to me during donation. I had to confront traumas, fears, and a lot of self-sabotaging mental booby traps I had created for myself. Donating sperm brought me right back to my 18-year-old self, sitting there and convinced I had contracted HIV, afraid that I would never have something lasting in my life.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is true and what you have been told to think is true. We gay guys are often told we are “in an extended adolescence,” and in the media, we are often portrayed as tragic, hapless, materialistic, scattered. Whether or not I had kids should be my choice, but I was beginning to see that—until very recently—I was never encouraged by the culture around me to think I ever should have kids.
Times are different now. HIV isn’t a death sentence, gay representations are broadening, and gay people are procreating more and more. It’s my hope that, today, a young gay man may not have the specter of death and illness lurking over him all the time, and that he can feel like he deserves to build a future for himself that is full of love and community.
If I could go back in time and talk to my 20-year-old self, I would tell him he would make a great father. That he deserves to love someone. And I would ask him: Do you not want a child, or do you think you don’t deserve one?
Were my friends and I successful? Do I have a kid? Read my new Kindle Single Spermhood to find out.
Mike Albo is the author of the Amazon Kindle Single, Spermhood: Diary of a Donor, as well as the novels Hornito, The Underminer, and the novella The Junket.