Queer Tribalism

It wasn’t until my girlfriend and I were scanning the catalogs of sperm banks that I became aware of my Jewish identity. Suddenly it mattered, the fact that I was Jewish and my girlfriend was Jewish, and—most importantly—that the sperm … Read More

By / November 30, 2006
It wasn’t until my girlfriend and I were scanning the catalogs of sperm banks that I became aware of my Jewish identity. Suddenly it mattered, the fact that I was Jewish and my girlfriend was Jewish, and—most importantly—that the sperm with which we would merge first one of my eggs, and later one of hers, be Jewish.
It didn’t have to do with Hebrew classes, Bat Mitzvahs, or Israel. Not being able to see or speak to our future children’s biological father, we told ourselves that our donor’s Jewishness would create a smidgen of connection in the artificial, anonymous insemination process. You might not otherwise mingle with your own, but in matters as dramatic as birth and death, there's comfort in sticking close to the bloodline. If I were to awaken one morning single, lonely, and straight, I know I would register with JDate.

Zeroing in on Jewish sperm was also a way to mimic our heterosexual peers, which helped normalize the process for our families. We found ourselves publicly declaring our desire for Jewish sperm the way some women announce they want to meet a nice Jewish man. Our parents’ preference for Jew-on-Jew mating likely had more to do with eugenics than our own. But when my partner Faith and I forced ourselves to imagine having a baby with one of our male friends, we always preferred the scenarios that involved Jews. Even the ickiest of our own kind was in some way warm, fuzzy, and familiar. Maybe our parents were right; we were probably better off taking a chance with one of our own.

To satisfy this hunch, we paid a hundred dollars to register with a sperm bank in Georgia that featured photos of each of their donors. First we read the essays the men had written about why they wanted to donate sperm, making a list of the best. Next we looked at pictures of all the men and made a new list of those we thought were the most physically appealing. Mind you, it was not drop-dead handsome we were after, just a friendly, benign-enough face we could bear melding with our own and then have reflected back to us over breakfast each morning for the next eighteen years, or the rest of our lives, whichever came first.

After three hours of strenuous research, we were ready for the climactic unveiling, the cross-referencing of language-arts skills and ethno-religious identification.

While not every articulate essay had been written by a Jewish man, every Jewish man, indeed, had written an articulate essay! We yelped with joy, if not for having validated our sperm-shopping approach, then for being Jews ourselves—daughters of an enterprising people who valued education and could write so well.

Now trusting fully that our Jewish donor would be a decent chap who could pen an essay, all we had to do now was find one with a clean medical history. This decision narrowed the sperm-shopping field dramatically. Out of hundreds of possible sperm donors nationwide, we were left with approximately twenty. We found three identity-release Jewish sperm donors who fit the medical bill and numbered them in order of preference: (1) Tall, Dark, and Handsome; (2) Unibrow; and (3) Baldie. Numbers one and two were no longer available. And so, $3,000 later, Baldie was granted the gift of fathering our Jewish children.

Faith and I began inseminating the romantic way—at home with a syringe and a smoking cauldron of liquid nitrogen. When that failed, we decided to enlist a professional sperm handler to inject Baldie’s donation intracervically. When that also didn’t work, we moved on to intrauterine inseminations, the insertion of chemically washed vials of Baldie’s semen directly into my uterus. When four months’ worth of intrauterine inseminations proved unsuccessful, my fertility was called into question, invasive medical procedures were initiated, and a treatment with synthetic hormones was kindly but firmly suggested.

Baldie let us down six months in a row. Finally, I called the sperm bank and asked if Baldie had gotten anybody else pregnant. Their answer: No. It seemed that at least three other women had failed to conceive via Baldie, that Baldie had chosen to donate sperm because his spouse could not get pregnant and he wanted to get his genes into the next generation, and that the sperm bank now doubted Baldie’s fertility and was taking him off the market.

Back at the drawing board, everything had changed. The days of looking for a Jewish donor were over. It wasn’t just that there was not a decent Jew to be found (the other identity-release provider seemed to be running a special on Jews with mental illnesses). But another factor had begun to assert itself—something deep, primordial, and blindly determined. My biological clock was ticking loudly.

Demanding nothing less than pregnancy by the time I was forty (two months from the news of Baldie’s infertility), I suddenly found myself wanting the seed of someone entirely different—from Baldie, from me, from our people. I imagined Baldie was so genetically similar as to be almost invisible, as if my eggs didn’t even notice his passive little sperm, which slouched into my womb like spoiled, familiar brats. Now I wanted foreign sperm, sperm that shouted, “I’m here!” and looked so utterly different from my Ashkenazi eggs that they perked up and took heed. Raising children with our Jewish hearts and Jewish souls would have to be Jewishness enough. We were inseminating with the first medically sound identity-release donor we could find, religious background be damned.

As it turned out, the future grandparents agreed. Their new overriding wish: Do whatever you must to give us a grandchild! I’d like to think that watching us go through the trials of trying to get pregnant had made them see us not only as parents, but as an independent couple. My guess is that once the idea of a Jewish donor pried open their hearts, the gap just kept widening. Would they have preferred we found a Jewish donor? Maybe. Would they have preferred we were two married women impregnating with husbands? Definitely. But what mattered most of all was that the next generation got here as soon as possible.

Nine months before Faith and I became doting Jewish mothers to a beautiful baby girl, I closed my eyes and imagined a school of uncircumcised spermatozoa crossing themselves before swimming toward my little Jewish egg. I hoped they were not anti-Semitic, those microscopic Catholic/Buddhist sperm, and wished that they would treat my egg with respect and roll back their foreskin before doing the deed.

The insemination was the first time I ever had non-Jewish sperm inside me. Lying back on an exam table, feet in stirrups, it struck me any man or woman I ever had fallen for, dreamt of spending my life with, and regularly shared bed and bodily fluids with, had been Jewish. Without ever joining a temple, learning to count to ten in Hebrew, or comprehending the meaning of Purim, being Jewish had informed everything about me—from my sense of humor and taste in food to the process by which I finally found a donor. Jewish law aside, there was no way a child of ours could be anything but Jewish—at least in the way that it mattered to Faith and me.

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