Sperm donors are generally anonymous, for many good reasons. But their stories are also worth hearing. Lucky for us, Mike Albo, author of The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life, Hornito, and The Junket, and a well-known performance artist, has written Spermhood: Diary of a Donor to let us know what his experience was like. Read on for an excerpt.
Caroline and I were in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, having just visited a friend and her new baby, and we stopped in a restaurant for a drink. This was 2011, early fall, and Cobble Hill was hitting its peak in trendiness. The neighborhood’s numerous Italian funeral homes were being turned into restaurants with names like Milkbucket Wheatcracker, Pussywillow Holler, or simply: Crust.
We ordered $14 glasses of wine and a small plate of “sour olives” that was as expensive as an entrée would have been in 1998. And because financially I still live in 1998, I quickly scanned my head to see whether my debit card could survive being gored of $60 for a dining experience that contained zero nutritional value. Then Caroline popped the question:
“Pat and I want you to think about being a sperm donor for us.”
This was the last thing I thought she was going to say to me. A donor. For one of my closest friends and her girlfriend. This was not something I had considered, ever. I was flattered and frightened, and, confronting a new paradigm, I was also speechless, like a 1500s Portuguese Marquis trying to get his mind around the concept that the world is round. Me? A child? A family? That stuff people have who wake up early in their heirloom apartments for their six-figure-income jobs?
As usual, I joked to cover my nerves. “The idea of having a baby freaks me out. I mean, what if it comes out shaped like a fin?”
“Then I’ll call it Fin,” Caroline said, smiling, her big, lovely eyes looking into mine. She was serious. “We would want you to be involved however you want to be.”
They didn’t want an anonymous donor, she explained.
“Oh, I totally get that,” I said. “Like you wouldn’t know if the guy was some Florida homophobe.”
“Right,” she answered. “But we also want you, because you’re you, Mike.”
She said this and I got that warm “someone thinks I matter” feeling. That feeling you get when your mom puts a Band-Aid on you, or when your fifth-grade teacher leans over your desk and compliments your drawing.
But at some point in my life my emotions and my mouth got disconnected. They split apart like halves of a pear, and I have a very hard time expressing what I am feeling in the moment. So I responded politely, “That is SO NICE of you to ask me!” as if Caroline were offering me a futon that I wasn’t sure I needed. And that was because I didn’t know what I needed. I never know what I need, until, years later, I say to myself, “Wow, in retrospect, I really needed that! Oh well, guess it slipped through my fingers like sand!”
I told her I would think about it, and give her an answer in a couple of months. She agreed, but I could tell that she needed an answer sooner rather than later. She was in her late 30s and time was ticking (she may have said this or may have just beamed this message to me with her eyes because Caroline can do that).
She kindly picked up the check and we left. Instead of taking a cab, I was going to walk a mile home through Boerum Hill to my apartment in Park Slope to save money. I said good-bye to her, hugged her, and told her I would think about it. Then I walked away and felt a spark inside.
Just to be clear here, I have never had sex with a woman. I didn’t even experiment when I was a teenager like some of my gay guy friends (why do they always say, “But it does feel really good,” like they temporarily put on a rabbit fur coat?). I was born 100 percent, head-to-toe gay.
That said, I have always adored women. On the playground I avoided the boys as they ran around getting into fights and destroying things and made a beeline to the girls, so I could hang upside-down on the jungle gym, play hand-clap games, and gossip.
I met Caroline at an artists’ colony six or so years before. I remember she walked in the room for dinner, we looked at each other, and, as much as a gay man and a lesbian can experience love at first sight, I think that’s what happened. I just saw her and smiled. We became friends in minutes. We giggled together when you weren’t supposed to, like teenagers in church. She was smart, hilarious, weird, and very beautiful. She also had incredible style. I think when I met her she was actually wearing a vintage petticoat blouse like Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie (and we all know that late-’70s translations of the “Pioneer Look” is the apex of American fashion).
I knew Pat, Caroline’s partner, from way back. I had always liked her. We did yoga together way back in the mid-’90s Ray of Light days of the modern yoga movement. Fortunately, we both came out the other side free of nose piercings, Caucasian dreadlocks, and Om tattoos on our lower backs (and we all know that Western translations of yoga style are the nadir of American fashion). Pat has that mellow, understated cool factor that only some lesbians possess.
I adore women, but more specifically, I think lesbians are sublime. My friend Jackie calls me a “lesbro,” which is kind of the gay-male equivalent of a faghag. I love potluck dinners, for example. My senior dissertation in college was “Language and Lesbianism: Sapphic Coding in Virginia Woolf’s Novels.” I was crazy about Brandi Carlile until she broke up with her butch police-woman girlfriend and started dating that chick who looks too shiny and depilated/Los Angeles. I even worked at a lesbian bar in Provincetown for a summer (the most popular drink was the “Redheaded Slut”). I may be a lesbian trapped in a gay-male body. But I’m so lesbian, I think it’s offensive for me to say that.
But the fact that Caroline and Pat are sapphic is only one wonderful aspect about them. They are both genuine, kind, lovely people. I knew these ladies would make fantastic parents. That wasn’t the problem. It was me. It had never entered my mind that I would be a father, or have any kind of progeny, for that matter. I thought I was lacking certain requirements it takes to have children — little things like a stable relationship, a stable career, and a stable living situation. Plus, of course, I was lacking that other crucial thing: money.
Both my brothers have kids. Two nephews and a niece, in all. I love seeing them and being the weird uncle who introduces them to obscure things like Louise Nevelson or The Human Centipede. And of course I have my Angelina fantasies about having tons of money, taking in a bunch of children from all over the world who need homes, and living in a giant rain-forest commune with my husband, Djimon Hounsou. But that is not going to happen anytime soon.
Walking home that night, listening to my overemotional lesbian-infused folk-rock playlist, I passed the cleaned-up façades of renovated brownstones. It seems that every building had been turned into single-family homes except my building. I crossed Third Avenue. Ten years ago, I saw actual streetwalkers here, and I was mugged for my iPod (somewhere in the city there is a young man saying, “Yo. This Fiona Apple shit is dope”). But no one wants to mug me for my junky iPod anymore.
I’ve lived in New York City for 23 years, and for the last ten of them, I have lived by myself in a ramshackle apartment with broken windows, holes in the floors, and water stains streaking down the walls that have dried into rusty stripes. It’s the only reason I am in the city. My landlord makes me pay cash every month, I don’t have a lease, and my rent is also priced in the 1998 realm.
Actually, my entire life has not changed since 1998. Meanwhile, it seems that all my friends have moved into new phases in their lives. Many have become fiscally secure and settled into monogamous relationships with their fun, precocious children (“Petra just drew a portrait of God as a black woman!” “Jasper intuitively understands fractal geometry!”). Others have reached career goals and have property in some new upstate town I had never heard of before (“We just bought a barn in Chuckleville!” “Here’s our new A-frame in Kerclackutty!”).
Even those who don’t have children or homes changed their destiny. They switched jobs and moved to Portland and now show up on Facebook surrounded by golden sunlight and sustainable radishes. Others worked their way up mastheads at magazines and became executive editors and now show up on Instagram in a selfie with Julianne Moore and a centerpiece behind them made out of sustainable radishes. One friend started a hip tea-towel line that grew into a million-dollar housewares empire. One started writing for this show called Mad Men that would “probably go nowhere.” One became a MacArthur Genius. One got divorced. One turned into a rock star. Others got sober, cancer, a new gender.
But I was my same self: single, barely getting by as a freelance writer, defaulted on my student loans, waiting for something to happen, for something to work out, for something to drop into my lap like a husband or book deal or just a writing job that paid more than $300, four months from now.
I was still a gay comedian/poet/performer/writer (I know. Could any word combination make less money? Even the career “trans actress” is more lucrative now). I had invested everything in my creative life and my destiny was tethered to it. I would die alone in some remote location (which, depending on how things worked out, would be a shack in the woods, me surviving on berries and rotted leaves, half insane, or, in a coastal Italian villa, tanned into a leather handbag, drinking sherry, obese and half insane).
While I was busy trying to express myself, I forgot to do crucial things for adulthood like set up a 401(k), find a partner, and become friends with Judd Apatow. I was a barnacled, bobbling buoy, anchored to one spot, in a churning ocean full of golden yachts.
Tonight I would go home and stare at my computer and type out something that I hoped, eventually, would make it into a story or a comedy sketch or a play or a monologue. But that would be hard because I was also a freelance writer, and that night I would need to drum up some pitches for magazines or websites that paid less and less for the same amount of work. And that would be hard because I would also go home and log onto Facebook and spend minutes reading everyone else’s posts about how happy and accomplished they were (“Look at my beautiful body, baby, boyfriend, and literary award!”). And that would be hard because I would also, eventually, log onto one of the 15 gay dating or hookup sites I belong to and converse with several different guys, flirting and sexting and maybe even meeting someone and trying to affirm something that I could never seem to grasp for longer than a night. I would do all of this, my thoughts and ambitions and emotions and desires spread as thin as oil on a baking sheet, and then I would slurk into sleep, wake up, and start all over again.
And now I was asked to donate sperm. To create a person. To be — whether I called myself this or not — a father. But I didn’t want a family. At least that’s what I had told myself. That would stop my so-called creative life.
But wait. Wasn’t I working so hard to have something, someone, I could hold onto and care for? What was this all for? Did I want a family? What do you want, Mike? Do you know what you want?
I was in Brooklyn, at 3 a.m., and I was unhappy. But I didn’t know I was unhappy because you rarely can diagnose yourself as unhappy when you are unhappy.
Now, here, four years later, writing this, it’s difficult for me to express how unhappy I was because I am afraid I will slip it on again, that unhappiness, like an old sweater hanging on the back of my chair. But somehow, as despondent and scrambled as I was, I ended up donating.
It was not easy. It was very complicated, and it affected me more than I expected it to affect me.
Jerking off in a cup for ten months: a spiritual path. Who knew.
Excerpted from Spermhood, by Mike Albo. Click here to purchase. ©Copyright Mike Albo 2015. Published by Amazon Kindle Singles.