by Alan Neale
As with "transgenderism," surrogacy is a huge opportunity for the medical industry to profit from dissociation. Gestational surrogacy (surrogacy that starts with IVF) is far removed from the natural process of procreation. A sophisticated supply chain has been created to cater for rich customers who feel entitled to use women’s bodies to provide them with children. The woman who provides the eggs, the man who provides the sperm and the woman who goes through pregnancy and childbirth can be unknown to each other, and living in different parts of the globe.
By targeting infertile heterosexual couples, gay male couples, and single men, the fertility industry has extended its market coverage, and boosted its profits. Claiming that ‘reproductive freedom’ (getting a woman to bear ‘your’ child) is a human right (rather than an erosion of the rights of the women it exploits and the children it produces) is a big part of the sales pitch.
The network of interlinking agencies that celebrate and promote ‘reproductive freedom’ is demonstrated in trade fairs like The Fertility Show, an annual event held in London’s Olympia that has been described as an Ideal Home Exhibition for making babies. At last year’s event in early May there were over 100 exhibitors. The range of services on offer was extensive - including adoption agencies, holistic therapists, sperm and egg banks, law firms specializing in surrogacy arrangements, insurance providers, etc. But most of the exhibitors were clinics offering a full range of IVF and surrogacy services. The majority were based in the UK, but some were based overseas - in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, India, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the USA (Ukraine will be absent in this years show, for obvious reasons).
One of the exhibitors at The Fertility Show was My Surrogacy Journey, an agency founded by Michael and Wes Johnson Ellis, two men who have used three different women (a surrogate mother and two egg donors) to produce ‘their’ children. Also known as Two Dads, they have set up their own Modern Family Show, specifically aimed at the LGBTQ+ market. The first event was in London in September 2021. Jennifer Bilek has described how The Modern Family Show exemplifies the financial significance of adding T+ to LGB - “it breaks the boundary between the male and female sexes and opens our humanity, rooted in sex, for capitalist commoditization.”
Not content with being limited to the UK market, a repeat of The Modern Family Show in London this September will be followed by an event in San Francisco in October. Right on cue, the media are preparing the ground for it. Louis Jones TV in California is bringing out a new film this Spring. Called Intended Parents, it is about a couple “with one partner identifying as a transgender woman” who are “seeking to expand their family through surrogacy.”
The language of surrogacy is based entirely on denial of reality. The word surrogate means substitute. In reality, it is the commissioning parents who substitute as legal parents for the mother who carries the baby. But it’s the latter who is called the surrogate mother. And even this terminology becomes more reductive over time, as the surrogacy clinics and the commissioning parents seek to downplay her role. The ‘surrogate mother’ became the ‘surrogate’, and now, increasingly, she is described as the ‘gestational carrier’.
Surrogacy is based on dissociation, a dissociation that is amplified by the reductive language which is used to label the actual mothers from whose wombs the children are taken. At the same time, the commercial reality of the term ‘commissioning parent’ is being softened by using the term ‘intended parent’ in its place.
‘Building Families Through Surrogacy’
Currently the worst excesses of commercial surrogacy are avoided in the UK by a legal framework that only allows ‘altruistic’ surrogacy (though the expenses that are allowed are sometimes hard to distinguish from commercial payments). Commissioning parents can, and do, avoid the restrictions, though, by exploiting women in countries where the industry is less regulated.
The Law Commissions in England & Wales and Scotland are currently drawing up a suggested revision of the law governing surrogacy, to make it less restrictive. Their main aim, as outlined in their consultation document Building families through surrogacy, is to “encourage those wishing to enter surrogacy arrangements to do so in the UK rather than overseas.” Their proposal, which is yet to be finalized, falls short of full commercialization, but it would allow advertising, and mark a significant intensification of the dissociation inherent in the surrogacy process. The legal fiction that they want to create suggests that the ‘intended parents’ who have commissioned the child become the parents at the time of birth, so that the actual mother who has carried the child in her womb and given birth would not even be recorded as a parent on the child’s original birth record. She would literally be erased from the record, though she would be allowed to reappear when the child she had given life to reached adulthood.
It is hard to imagine the trauma of discovering at eighteen that you are the product of a commercial transaction that exploited your mother who you’ve never met. It is certainly not something that the Law Commissioners have expressed any concern about.
The Birth of Transurrogacy
Until recently, the only links between "transgenderism" and surrogacy were the drugs that involved. Lupron is not only used as a puberty blocker in gender clinics, it is also used in the surrogacy clinics to overrule the natural cycles of egg provider and surrogate mother. Regret at loss of fertility has been one of the poorly acknowledged side effects of 'gender affirming' medication. But what could have been a threat to the gender industry is now being turned into an opportunity, by bringing egg and sperm freezing and the exploitation of surrogate mothers into the picture.
This March, Stonewall released a 2 minute TikTok videoclip featuring Jake and Hannah Graf, to celebrate 'Trans Day of Visibility.' This heterosexual 'trans' couple have sough, and achieved, celebrity status as 'trans' surrogacy role models. They are patrons of Mermaids, the organization at the forefront of the UK campaign to block puberty for gender nonconforming children, and one of the two major charity partners that sponsored The Modern Family Show in 2021. In the videoclip, Jake explains how, "I had always wanted to be a father....A few years ago, I stopped testosterone for six months and had eggs harvested and fertilized and frozen...We found a wonderful surrogate who wanted to help us." Jake doesn't mention that as part of "helping" them for an expected second child, their "wonderful surrogate" had to endure an ectopic pregnancy.
Hannah shares that he does not mind that he is not genetically linked to the child, but he offers advice "to all young trans folk," by telling them to "consider your fertility options before jumping into puberty blockers and hormones. I was offered the option to store my gametes but I declined because I simply didn't believe I would ever have a use for them....I do wish I'd given myself this option."
Why are Stonewall and Mermaids putting out this message at this time?
It would appear that, having spent years arguing that there are no downsides to injecting young people with puberty blocking drugs, and cross-sex hormones, they now recognize loss of fertility as a consequence. Instead of this giving them pause for thought, they've come up with a new solution: freeze your eggs and sperm and later on, use your privilege to exploit a woman's body so that she can produce 'your' child.
This is a marketing opportunity that will benefit both the gender and fertility branches of the medical industrial complex. Growth in demand for transurrogacy will synergistically boost profits for the industry as a whole, at a time when growth in IVF treatments for heterosexual couples who are naturally infertile is slackening. No wonder celebrities who have chosen medical procedures to make themselves infertile and then gone on to use surrogate mothers to give them 'their' children are now being given such media publicity.
Alan Neale is a retired university lecturer and researcher, now a full time carer. He likes to believe that patriarchal capitalism's colonization of our bodies and nature can be halted before it becomes total. He tweets occasionally @canfordheather