This week, NBC aired a new network show called “The New Normal.” This show, which received solid reviews in its first week, is about two successful gay men, Bryan and David, who seemingly have it all – except for a child. Enter Goldie, a single mom and waitress from the Midwest, who ultimately becomes the couple’s surrogate – and a future two-dad family is born.
At one time, not very long ago, the only television show featuring a gay character was “Ellen.” Now, if you type “lists of television shows with LGBT characters,” you come to a page filled with these specifiers (I included the hyperlinks in case you want to check out these lists):
- List of animated television programs with LGBT characters
- List of comedy and variety television programs with LGBT cast members
- List of dramatic television series with LGBT characters
- List of made-for-television films with LGBT characters
- List of news and information television programs featuring LGBT subjects
- List of reality television programs with LGBT cast members
- List of situation comedies with LGBT characters
- List of soap operas with LGBT characters
Obviously, we’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we?
Let’s go back to “The New Normal.” In some ways, this is the perfect title. Believe me, I know first-hand that once you have a baby, you are forced to adjust to a “new normal” – and, ironically, your life will NEVER be normal again. But “The New Normal” also reflects a major cultural shift. National polling data, including Gallup Poll data as well as statistics from the General Social Survey, reveals that, since the 1970s, attitudes towards homosexuality have grown increasingly more favorable over time.And for the first time in history, polls show that the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Gay couples, in the minds of many, have become “the new normal.”
But what, exactly, do we mean by “normal”? Do Bryan and David reflect the typical same-sex couple? To answer this question, I scoured the research literature to see if I could find a study that focuses on gay male couples who have used a surrogate to become fathers – and I found one study. That 2010 study, titled “Gay men who become fathers via surrogacy: The transition to parenthood” and led by Kim Bergman, provides a demographic profile of gay men who choose the option of surrogacy to father children. Moreover, the study explores the changes in the lives of these men as a result of parenthood – changes in work, finances, relationship dynamics, self-esteem, and self-care, among others.
Let’s start with demographics:
- Eighty percent of the 40 participants were White – three were Asian (specific cultures weren’t noted), three were Latino (again, no specifics were provided), and two were Middle Eastern. None were African American, Native American, or mixed-race.
- The average annual household income was $270,000. That’s the AVERAGE. The lowest income in the sample was $100,000. The highest was $1,200,000 – far more than what most people make in a year.
Does this sound “normal” – or “average” – to you?
Let’s continue by talking about the changes that these fathers experienced:
As a result of becoming parents, 65% reported experiencing occupational changes;
70% had changed their work life in terms of travel, hours, and career path;
53% had sacrifices, losses, and missed opportunities in work life.
Moreover, more than half of the participants experienced changes in their financial situation since they became parents. Since having children, the annual household income of these fathers decreased, on average, by $75,000 (these decreases ranged from $20,000 to $200,000). These changes were primarily due to an increase in expenses, a partner quitting his job to become a full-time father, or a partner earning less because of cutting down work hours.
For most of us, losing out on $200,000 per year – or even $20,000 per year – just isn’t an option. It isn’t considered to be disposable income in most households – that $20,000 might be what pays the mortgage and keeps the lights on. But what I think is also important to note is that the income reported by these fathers in the demographic portion of this study is their post-child income. Even after having children, these men continue to live an upper-middle-class to upper-class lifestyle.
This makes sense, if you think about it, considering that men who choose surrogacy are a very unique population. According to The Surrogacy Source, an agency based in Irvine, California, using a surrogate will cost couples a minimum of $60,000. Only those who are very well-off are going to even consider surrogacy as an option in the first place.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The myth of gay affluence,” which describes the other side of the coin (so to speak) regarding the economics of being LGBTQ. Of course, there are people like Bryan and David, urban professional couples who earn a lot of money. But there are also many within our ranks who live in abject poverty – and who aren’t represented anywhere in the media. There are no Bryan and Davids on TV who receive free or low-cost health care at their county clinic, or who pay for groceries using food stamps. For that matter, we don’t really see Bryan and Davids who worry about losing their home or their job. We don’t get a true depiction of the economic diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Television is a powerful medium. It’s a form of entertainment and escape. But it also transmits values, and provides us with a gold standard to which we can compare ourselves. If we’re comparing ourselves to “The New Normal,” which is in fact anything but normal, then how can we feel normal ourselves?