The “I’m Queer, I’m Desi, & I want to Have Kids” had panelists who represented a wide range of experiences of queer desi couples with kids. The panel discussed issues that come up when queer couples decide to have kids. Due to diverse nature of the panel, the audience was able to get an insight into not only the experiences of biological parents but also those of non-biological parents. The issue of race of donors was also discussed extensively since many of the couples on the panel were bi-racial. The panel was thus a great way to learn more about the challenges of conception, adoption and parenting that queer desis face in North America.
Chandra, the non-biological parent to his son, related his experience of surrogacy in India. Chandra, like many other panelists, admitted that he had always desired having kids. According to most of the panelists, they knew they wanted to have kids as soon as they came out and started entertaining possibilities of raising families with a same sex partner. Chandra and his partner traveled to India to have a baby through the process of surrogacy. They got in touch with an agency in Mumbai that guided them through the entire process. Surrogacy, even when undertaken in India, is an expensive process. Chandra and his partner shelled out close to $60,000 for the entire procedure including neo-natal care for their son who was born prematurely. According to Uday, a substantial number of surrogate babies are born prematurely.
Hema Sarang-Sieminski is the non-biological parent of twins with her partner of 15 years. Hema and her partner decided to have children through artificial insemination as many lesbian couples do. Hema shared their experience with choosing a donor, the process of insemination itself and their families’ reaction to their decision of having kids. One of the challenges that the couple faced was choosing a suitable donor and more specifically choosing the race of the donor. Since Hema’s partner is white, initially they decided that they wanted to have half-white and half South Asian kids. However, after much consideration they decided to have the same donor (White donor) for all their children. Hema also talked about challenges that non-biological parents face. Queer parents, especially bi-racial couples, often face special challenges in a racist society like ours. Hema mentioned that she often gets asked if the twins, who do not share the same skin colour as hers, are her children. In a society where non-biological queer parents are not considered the “real” parent, it can be especially hard to be a non-white non-biological parent in a bi-racial partnership.
Punam Shaida, the biological parent of her son Arjun, shared her experience of having and raising a baby boy with her now ex-partner. Punam has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) a condition in which women do not regularly ovulate making it harder for them to conceive. Punam and her partner at the time decided to go through a UCSF program. They also decided to buy all the available vials, about 16, of sperm from the donor of their choice. At $680 per vial, it was a substantial investment. The process of having children is quite expensive in general but it is especially so for queer couples. The doctors at UCSF closely monitored the size of the ovum in order to determine the right time for insemination. Due to the excellent care at the center and plenty of precautions the couple were able to conceive in the very first attempt. Punam also mentioned rebuilding relationships with her straight friends, who are parents themselves. She was able to connect with the straight community of friends due to their shared experience of parenthood. Having children has allowed many couples to rekindle relationships with not only family but also friends, who form an important support system for new parents.
Guru and his partner are adoptive parents to two children aged 11 and 13. Guru and his partner decided to adopt older kids through the foster system since they felt that would be right thing for them to do. They discussed having kids on their first date and started exploring options as soon as they moved in with each other. After going to an adoption fair and exploring other options, the couple decided that they wanted to adopt older children. They picked an agency and were soon enrolled in the Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training, a state funded program to train and prepare prospective parents of challenges of adopting kids. The couple was soon matched up with their son Gabriel, aged 6 at the time. Following a successful 3-week visitation period, Gabriel moved in with Guru and his partner. Couples are usually able to legally adopt children they have been fostering within 6 months to a year.
Many panelists reported that having children led to greater acceptance from their families of origin. Parents of queer couples made attempts to repair relationships with the couple and become more involved once the couple decided to have children. Grandchildren allowed the families of origin to engage with the couple in ways that they felt comfortable- helping raise children. Parents, who are often reluctant to get involved in the lives of their queer married children, start to feel more comfortable with the topic of grandchildren since child rearing is an experience that they can share with their own children and their spouses. The experience of parenting allows many desi (and non-desi) parents to find common ground with their queer children who are now parents themselves, share their experiences, and meaningfully contribute to their grandkids lives.
Another issue that the panel discussed extensively was the role of race and culture in the whole process of raising kids. Priti Narayanan, the facilitator for the panel, shared hers and her partner Madhuri (Mads) Anji’s experience in picking a sperm donor. Since Mads is half German, the couple was specifically looking at half German donor. For Guru and his partner, it is very important to ensure that their children keep in touch with their roots. Guru’s daughter, aged 11, is Puerto Rican. Couple tries to ensure that they are able to help her connect to her roots through vacations to Puerto Rico and other forms of engagement with Puerto Rican culture.
During the Q&A, there was extensive discussion about perception of gay couples that decide to have children through surrogacy in India. One of the audience members asked Chandra if he and his partner experienced any kind of homophobia or discrimination from hospital staff, staff at their apartment complex or domestic help. Chandra replied that he did not and in fact gay couples traveling to India for surrogacy is so common that they had a whole community to support them through the process. Surrogacy might no longer be an option for gay couples traveling from abroad under new Indian laws regarding surrogacy. One of audience members, who identified himself as a gay man living in India who decided to have children through surrogates, specified that India is indeed a very child friendly society. People, ranging from families, staff and domestic help, generally do not discriminate against gay parents due to their sexual orientation. In the eyes of many Indians a parent, whether gay or straight, is just a parent.