Author Q & A: Joshua Gamson

We asked our Facebook fans to present questions we could ask Joshua Gamson, author of Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship. Here are his wonderful responses.


1. Since you write about your daughters have you decided at what age you will allow them to read your book?

We’ve talked about that some, since our older daughter (currently 10) wanted to read it right away. The content is adult enough that I think we’ll probably hold off until the kids are teenagers, and even then I suspect I’ll want to read it along with them, so we can discuss and answer any questions along that might come up along the way. That said, they know many of the basic facts of their own creation stories, and other details we will fill in for them in age-appropriate ways when they ask.


2. In Modern Families you describe different ways that families procreate (adoption, IVF, surrogacy, etc.). Do you find a lot of judgment in this world (for instance, between the groups or even domestic vs. international adoption)?

I have not observed a whole lot of judgment within the assisted reproduction scene. It sometimes takes a while for straight couples pursuing fertility assistance, and staff of fertility institutes and the like, to make sense of non-heterosexual people in their midst—the latter are confronting the logistical task of coordinating the various bodies but not the disappointment and sometimes even desperation that many straight people face when they are having trouble conceiving, and those are very different experiences. We’re all on the same roller coaster of trying to conceive a child, though, and that’s a big thing to have in common.

This is not to say that these alternative family-making worlds are devoid of judgments and social ranking. For instance, as I write about in the book, there’s a lot of class-inflected judgment of both egg donors and gestational surrogates by many agencies and also some intended parents: donors with higher education and certain physical characteristics more valued than others, and gestational surrogates stereotyped, as one fertility doctor put it to journalist Liza Mundy, as “not typical donor caliber as far as looks, physical features, or education.”

There’s another not uncommon tension within the adoption world, which I touch upon in another chapter, between people using or advocating open adoption (more common now in domestic adoption) of those using closed adoption (still common in international adoption); that can also involve judgment of others. Still, in the adoption world it appears much more common to find people supporting one another than criticizing each other’s family-making process. Most of the critical judgment, I think, comes from outside of these scenes rather than within them.


3. What do you see as the next frontier in reproductive technology?

The technological side isn’t really my field of expertise (though you can peruse research and news at places like the American Society for Reproductive Medicine), but it seems likely that the next big step is in uterus transplants. If this becomes technologically possible (the first live birth after uterus transplantation was in Sweden in 2014, and doctors are working on that in the U.S. now), that would mean that a woman without a functioning uterus might be able to carry and give birth to a baby. This also means that it is not entirely impossible to imagine that a male-bodied person could become pregnant—still very remote, and medically very complex and elaborate, involving pelvic reconstruction and the creation of a vagina, but at least imaginable. And for transgender women, born with male anatomy and seeking to change that to match their female gender identity, pregnancy would become at least theoretically possible. (Male pregnancy already sometimes happens, when transgender men become pregnant after transitioning to male from the female gender assigned to them at birth.) It sounds very sci-fi, but then so did “test tube babies,” gestational surrogacy, and embryo freezing when they first became technologically possible—and the same sorts of big ethical questions that emerged with each earlier advance in reproductive technology will have to be confronted with new ones.