It was a cold February night in suburban New Jersey when two men and their female friend gathered for an artificial insemination at Marsh Hanson and Jay Wilson's 1870s carriage house, which is decorated in what Hanson calls "Pottery Barn gay." Their friend Piper had arrived that day from Massachusetts with her three daughters in tow. "They're all gorgeous," Hanson says, "which was important to Jay and me. We're vain."
Hanson, 38, works in IT for a Manhattan law firm. He put some of his sperm in a syringe and gave it to Piper. The following night, Wilson, 37, a record-label executive, repeated the procedure. Afterward they all drove back to Piper's house in Massachusetts, where the two men alternated the process for another three nights. Hanson and Wilson, who were joined in a civil union in October 2007, know another couple who mixed sperm when making their babies. Those men created a genetic cocktail and waited to see which man won the lottery. But Wilson and Hanson decided to take turns. The big moment came each night at around eleven o'clock.
"We'd hand her the syringe," Hanson recalls. "Then we'd all go to sleep. It wasn't a social event and it wasn't hippie-dippy, with candles and fertility dances. We were kind of straightforward about it."
While Hanson and Wilson's embryo was being created, similar scenes were unfolding around the country. The stereotypical image of the American gay man—single, fabulous, social, and up for endless anonymous sex—is giving way to a new norm, one that has couples and even unattached gay men settling down to raise children. Statistics are hard to come by, but academics, doctors, lawyers, and gay advocacy groups say that there appears to be a boom in homosexual men having babies. And as with many trends, the increase in gay fathers has afforded its own terminology: the gayby boom.
"More and more gay men seem to be having babies," says Charlotte J. Patterson, a University of Virginia psychologist who studies gay families.
"It's definitely happening," says Dan Savage, who writes the syndicated newspaper column "Savage Love" and is himself a gay father (he has a son). "Most of the people I know have adopted, but more and more gay men are opting for surrogacy because it gives you more control, and there are gay men who want that genetic relationship with their children."
Hanson and Wilson decided on surrogacy after being inspired by another gay couple. "Their surrogate is pregnant with their third child," Hanson says, "and their surrogate is friends with our surrogate." These days in vitro fertilization (IVF) (which involves implanting a lab-fertilized egg in a womb) is particularly popular, and increasingly effective. Joe Taravella, 39, and his partner, Brent, 40, who recently took his last name, used IVF to have their daughter two years ago and then tried it again and had fraternal twins (a boy and a girl) last May. Other couples turn to makeshift approaches like the one Hanson and Wilson used. But all these reproductive methods have some things in common: They're faster than adoption, do't involve persuading social workers that you are fit to be a parent, and allow you to pass your genes along to your children. Agencies and law offices that match potential parents with egg donors and surrogate mothers say they're flooded with gay-male candidates. John Weltman, the founder of Circle Surrogacy in Boston, says he had few gay hopefuls when he opened his doors 12 years ago. Today around 90 percent of his clients are gay.
Evidence of the gayby boom is everywhere. It isn't just the strollers in gay neighborhoods. Some Halloween parties at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community centers now brim with gay dads showing off their immaculately costumed progeny. And participants in New York City's Gay Pride Parade have turned down the volume of the music in order to be more accommodating to kids.
"They're even talking about having a family week on Fire Island this summer," says Ron Poole-Dayan, a marketing consultant who runs a biological-parent support group in Manhattan and has 7-year-old twins with his partner, Gregory Poole-Dayan. "So that tells you something."
Ten years ago, if you were a gay couple who wanted a baby through in vitro fertilization you were likely to go to Southern California, which embraced IVF early on and has many specialist agencies. Today these clinics are pretty much all over the country.
And it's not just gay couples who are investigating IVF. Many homosexual men have decided to go it alone, which provides at least one tangible bonus: While single parenthood can be a turnoff on the heterosexual dating scene, being a single gay dad is—there's really no other word for it—hot.
"In the gay community, having a child as a single man is a sign of assertiveness," Ron Poole-Dayan says. "It's also appealing to know this is a gay man who isn't afraid of commitment." Poole-Dayan says he's seen six out of the seven single gay dads he knows pair off after the births of their children.
That's what happened to B.J. Holt, 40, a general manager for Broadway stage productions. "I worried about being a single father," Holt says. "But sure enough, as soon as I started the process with a surrogate mother, I met my future partner." Today Holt and his partner, who asked that his name be withheld, are raising Christina, who is 7 months old.
Darek DeFreece, 36, an investment-banking attorney who lives in the Bay Area, was aware of the possible consequences of being a single father. "I worried about the workload, about having enough time to give to my family and my personal life," he says. But those concerns seemed relatively trivial when he looked at the long term. "It was especially important for me to have children as a single man. I looked at myself in the future, and being a single, older man without kids didn't seem like a desirable place to be." (DeFreece no longer has to worry about being on his own—he and his partner have 9-month-old twins, Jake and Riley Catherine.)
The difference in experience between older gay men and the new breed has caused something of a generation gap: Men in their twenties and thirties have come of age with the expectation that they can find partners and raise families if they choose to, whereas older men have had to adjust their thinking to the possibility.
Tom Piskula is 48. He remembers believing as a young man that if he acknowledged he was a homosexual he would have to accept that he was giving up the right to have children. "It was either be gay or have kids," says Piskula, who now shares a home in New Jersey with Jeffrey Lu, 36, and their 20-month-old girls, Ivory and Iris, who were born using Lu's sperm and a surrogate mother. You can trace the roots of the gay baby boom back to the mid-nineties, when a number of cultural forces came together. The gay-rights struggle had given gay men greater freedom and acceptance, and the aids epidemic had made monogamy more appealing. This translated into the same-sex-marriage movement, which led to the growing prevalence of domestic partnerships, civil unions, and gay marriage.
The next logical step was fatherhood. Or maybe it was the other way around. "The legal changes helped people feel comfortable about changing their behavior," says the Yale law professor William N. Eskridge Jr., the author of Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003. "Those behavioral changes have helped change the law."
Not that any of this means it's become easy for gay men to form families. Many states allow some kind of legalized relationship for gays, but only one, Massachusetts, has gay marriage on the books. And there are legal barriers in many states that prevent two unmarried people from adopting the same child. Then there is the time, energy, and sheer cost.
Marsh Hanson and Jay Wilson were lucky to find their surrogate friend and to be able to inseminate her privately in their home. "Part of the issue for us was financial," Hanson says. "It was the cheapest way to do this." They are in the minority. Most gay men opt for an IVF procedure using an egg from a donor placed in the body of a different woman, who carries the embryo to term. This is called gestational surrogacy and is favored because in some states it gives the carrier no legal rights to the child she gives birth to.
Melissa Brisman, a New Jersey lawyer who specializes in reproductive law, says it can cost between 60,000 and 150,000 to create a baby through IVF. The parents pay the gestational carrier's medical bills. The fee paid to the carrier is often around 20,000; for carrying twins it can be 3,000 to 5,000 higher. The egg donor typically gets around 8,000 (although it can be less).
It's been a few months since Hanson and Wilson handed the syringe to their surrogate, and sure enough, Piper is pregnant, although no one knows the sex of the baby or whose sperm did the trick. "At the end of the day we'll be happy whoever the dad is," Hanson says. "But both of us are secretly wanting to have hit the ball out of the park."