The Path to Parenthood Can Be Isolating for Gay Men — Here's Why.
In societal conversations about pregnancy loss and failed fertility treatments, we often talk about what people with uteruses endure. But a recent podcast conversation between Lance Bass and New Kids on the Block member Jonathan Knight is bringing an underrepresented perspective to light.
Knight and his husband, Harley Rodriguez, pursued parenthood for five heartbreaking years. Ultimately, the process didn’t work for them.
"We tried it. We went through the journey for about five years, and it just didn't happen for us," Knight said during an appearance on the Lance Bass Presents: Frosted Tips podcast. "Going through the process, like, 'Today's the day the eggs are being [transferred], you're so excited, and you're so happy. And then, you know, a week later it's like, 'No, you're back to square one.'"
Knight is not the first celebrity who has spoken out about unsuccessful IVF attempts. Stars like Idina Menzel and Ana Navarro have shared their stories as well, and those experiences are so important to consider and discuss. But of course, Knight’s story has a whole additional element: As gay men, he and his husband didn’t have access to the range of resources and communities centered on the experience of trying to build a family as women, who are typically centered in conversations about reproductive issues, do.
When he and his husband were building their family through a mixture of adoption and surrogacy, Brian Rosenberg quickly realized how few resources existed for gay men pursuing parenthood. His experiences inspired him to found Gays With Kids, an online resource for gay dads.
“Honestly there were absolutely no resources for us. It was so challenging. There wasn’t a time during either of our journeys that we felt truly confident with the decisions we were making, that really we felt completely informed and understood what was going on. As we were going through the journey, I thought ‘wow, I should share my experiences to help others’. So that was the initial launch of Gays With Kids, to help others become dads and build a community,” says Rosenberg.
When people with uteruses attempt to conceive for a year with no luck, it’s called infertility. That term puts a name to the experience, and it gives us direction when seeking out communities or experiences that mirror our own. But for gay men, space within the infertility community doesn’t exist — in part because, as Rosenberg points out, what they experience is not infertility.
“We don’t call it infertility,” he says. “It’s not infertility. I don’t have a womb.” Rosenberg adds that there’s no singular term to describe the experience of struggling to build a family for people who don’t have uteruses. “We just say it’s part of the journey,” he says. “If you want to become a biological parent, this is what you have to go through.”
People with uteruses typically have to try to conceive for at least a year before seeking out fertility treatments, which amounts to a lot of heartbreak. That explains why discussions and communities dedicated to infertility experience are accessible — that heartbreak is an increasingly common experience. But for gay men, heartbreak and loss aren’t a part of every single journey…even though many people do experience setbacks and pain along the way.
“I used to think that every gay man going through this experienced some sense of loss during our journey, whether it was through adoption, foster-adoption, or surrogacy,” says Rosenberg. “I don’t really feel that way anymore because the technology has changed so much. A lot fewer people are experiencing loss or challenges.” But for gay men who do face losses or disappointments, that experience can be even more isolating as it becomes less common.
That’s something Knight and Bass spoke about during their podcast conversation. "No one understands that emotional journey," Bass, who is a dad to twins, shared. "It took us almost five years to have our kids.”
That lack of understanding is something that needs to be explored and discussed.
For Colin Goldsmith and his husband, who spent nearly two years navigating the world of assisted reproduction, facing loss, complications, and medical errors along the way, spaces that offered support or community through the process would have been invaluable.
“There [are] spaces, but the resourcing [often takes the form of a roadmap,] but the roadmap doesn’t always work, and that’s the problem,” he says. “When you have problems, all you get is ‘just trust the process, I guarantee you’ll have a kid one day’. And you’re like ‘I don’t need [that]. I need to grieve for a minute, I need to honor this roadblock. And I didn’t.”
“The lows were horrific,” he adds.
It isn’t just about social support, though. Logistically, pursuing fatherhood as a gay man can be a minefield, complete with discriminatory practices, exclusive language, and complicated legal processes along the way. “[What we experience is] not infertility, and that’s a really big deal because insurance says you’ve got to have infertility issues, which is discriminatory,” says Rosenberg. “Because of that, we’re not eligible for a lot of funding, and we have to cover a lot of it on our own.”
When Rosenberg founded Gays With Kids nine years ago, his intent was to share his experiences and build a community. More recently, he decided to not just inspire, but also help other gay men become dads. With the launch of the GWK Academy app, he’s helping demystify the processes of becoming a dad via surrogacy or adoption, mapping out various elements of both options so others may navigate it in a more informed way.
Because ultimately, people need community when going through hard things — and these conversations and spaces where they can be centered are key to building those connections around an underrepresented experience.
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.