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VillageQ Advice from Ms. Radcliffe: Fatigue from Fielding Fatherhood Questions

Stork-Baby-DeliveryDear Ms. Radcliffe,

My husband and I have two children. We conceived via surrogate, and I am just exasperated with how often we are asked invasive, personal questions about how we conceived. People ask us whether we used a surrogate (we did); whether we commingled the sperm (we did); who the “real father” is (the kids are both carbon copies of my husband—no secret there). I’ve had it! I feel like the next time somebody asks us this, I will scream. My husband says I am being oversensitive. Is he right?


Furious in Flushing, N.Y.

Dear Furious,

First of all, if you are in the market for a happy marriage, then you should never publicly ask someone else if your husband is right. Chances are, he is always right, and if he is not right, he certainly wouldn’t want me or anyone else to know it, anonymous or not. This is about your frustration with bystanders without boundaries and not about taking sides. Consider my relationship advice a cherry on your sundae. Now on to those pesky boundary-busting boobs.

Unfortunately, as you’ve learned, procreating outside the norm (e.g, heterosexual missionary position, preferably with rhythm method as birth control) invites tremendous curiosity from the heterosexually privileged. The moment you hire a surrogate or sign up for in vitro fertilization trials, you simultaneously sign away your rights to privacy about the most personal details of your intimate life. Or so it would seem.

Why? No one knows for sure. It’s possible that it’s an updated version of, “So what exactly do you guys do in bed?” which has gone somewhat out of fashion as appropriate preschool pickup conversation. But similarly, it is an expression of heteronormative privilege, an assertion of power. “It’s a bit like, ‘You are lower down on the social hierarchy than I am; therefore I am entitled to ask you personal questions and to know more about you than you know about me,’” explains Charlotte Beale, director of the San Francisco-based Center for Homonormative Power. “Keep in mind, this is usually happening on an unconscious level. I’m not telling anyone to tolerate it, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that most people don’t mean to spew heteronormative bile. It just comes out.”

Another possibility is that, while still about privilege and power, these inquisitions are unrelated to sexuality: those who have procreated “normally” simply feel entitled to out, scrutinize, and otherwise shame those who have not. That includes single moms and heterosexual parents of twins, whose apparently freakish duplicate spawn invite open speculation about whether the couple used IVF. “We call this the ‘Dolce-and-Gabbanite Theory of Reproductive Superiority,’” explains Beale, adding: “But sometimes, people are just stupid.”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Whatever the reason, Furious, you should not feel bullied into giving anyone details about how your children were conceived. And lest anyone confuse that with shame over your method of conception, let’s be clear: You can be perfectly proud of how you had your children, and still not want to discuss your ejaculate, or what you did with it, with a neighbor down the street.

Those questions will probably keep coming, so here are a few suggestions for how to handle them with grace and humor. Boundary Busting Budinsky: Cute kids! So did you adopt or use a surrogate? You: (with sweeping gesture at the little ones) Isn’t it obvious?

Most people will laugh and nod and leave it at that, but if you run into a persistent bugger, try:

You: We promised my mother on her deathbed that she would be the first to know. Unfortunately, she died before the babies were born, so…we’re kind of stuck now. Sorry.


You: These kids? They were in an unattended shopping cart at the supermarket. I bet you didn’t know that if you take children home from the supermarket, you’re entitled to whatever groceries are in the cart, as well.
baby in shopping cart

Budinsky: So, did you use both of your sperm or did you choose one or what?

You: Actually, we invited some friends and hosted a circle jerk into a petrie dish. We decided that “it takes a village” starts at conception.

Budinsky: Which one of you is the father?

You: We implanted my partner’s sperm in my scrotum, so our babies are the product of IVSE, In Vitro Scrotal Ejaculate.

Again, nine times out of 10, although what you said makes no sense, they will pretend they get it. But then there’s that 10 percent who persist.

Budinsky: No, really, who is the real father?

You: Well, considering the fact that the two of us are cousins, we figured it didn’t really matter. And only one of them has webbed feet.

Point is, there will always be people who will ask personal questions without considering whether they have the right to do so. Most of those people don’t mean any harm, but they’re just plain clueless. Whether or not you become frustrated by their inquiries is a choice. You can choose to be upset, or you can take a deep breath, try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and have a little fun at their expense. I personally recommend the latter for your own sanity.

Dear Ms. Radcliffe is an advice column for LGBTQ parents. Have a question for Ms. Radcliffe? Send her a confidential email at

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One Comment

  1. Vikki Reich says:

    A circle jerk? I KNEW IT!

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