One Big Happy, the sitcom Ellen DeGeneres is producing from creator Liz Feldman, debuted last night. With it, we add one more to the number of pregnant lesbians on our television screens. According to the trailers, the show features a lesbian having a baby with her best friend only to have him get married and ruin their co-parenting dynamic. It would be generous to say that television has had mixed results when it comes to writing pregnant lesbians. I say generous because mostly the mix is one quarter just plain awful and three quarters, dear god if I have to watch this I need to be drunk.
We’ve watched lesbians who seemed to want to be pregnant as some sort of payback for their wives/girlfriends (I’m looking at you, Mel and Lindsay on Queer as Folk), who provided a cautionary tale as to the ways in which our legal system screws over same-sex couples (Sandy Lopez and Kerry Weaver on ER), and lesbians who think the best option for sperm is always the guy down the hall (Lena Adams Foster, this one’s for you. Leslie Shay, you dodged this particular bullet before they killed you off of Chicago Fire).
Too many of these stories tend to hinge on the maleness of it all. Injecting (literally) a man into a situation where one is usually unwelcome. Most of those couples use a known donor in order to become pregnant. That’s television gold, isn’t it? If you’re writing a comedy there are all kinds of hijinks that ensue from having buddies trade DNA, sign legal paperwork, and maybe even sort out how to parent en masse. If you’re looking for drama why wouldn’t you have a lesbian ask her best bro to give her a little of sperm? There will be conflicting feelings, maybe a some jealousy, maybe some anger, resentment, or even a custody battle. What more could you want for ratings when everyone craves big drama and nuance gives us hives?
Stories need conflict. They need angles and corners to poke and prod. You need to be able to tweak this and stretch that otherwise stories become stale, flat, and boring. When presented with a lesbian couple (or, frankly, plenty of single lesbians) television writers seem to think that adding a man to the mix makes everything more interesting. Oh, I see: The message is that women aren’t interesting enough without a man around. That’s not only offensive but also lazy.
Showrunners say things like “We wanted to explore what happens when two friends decide to have a baby together.” Well, I want you to stop exploring that tired ass plot and if you want to have a pregnant lesbian, how about taking a different tack this time?
The tropes are tired. How about instead of taking a couple like Stef and Lena and focusing on their decision to have a baby with Lena’s co-worker, let’s look at what choosing an anonymous donor does to them as a couple. Let’s stop looking outside of these couples when we can just as easily look inside them for interesting stories. What assumptions do they make about the type of donor they would like? While picking our sperm donor my wife and I grappled with feeling incredibly racist. How did we know that this white guy with light hair and blue eyes was more like us than this multi-racial guy? We couldn’t know that and it challenged us to think about what we valued and what we wanted for our children.
Even picking an anonymous sperm donor was difficult for me. I didn’t want a man in our family. I didn’t want one in my bed. I didn’t want any guys in the vicinity of my lady junk and it was a significant hurdle for me to get to the point where I was like “fine, you can put that crap in my vagina.” Let’s talk about that. How does having a baby fuck with your conception of yourself as a lesbian? Play it for laughs or write it to be heartbreaking. Or write it to be both.
In terms of a lesbian being pregnant, I’m not sure we’ve seen one on television that felt right to me. I am just one lesbian and maybe all of you reading this think you have seen yourself reflected on screen. But I have yet to see a pregnant lesbian who feels as comfortable to me as an old shirt. When I find teenage lesbians who are being stalked by a psychopathic murderer more relatable you know we have a problem.
What’s missing from most of these stories is the pregnancy itself. Shows spend so much time on picking a donor and dealing with the relationship with that guy that we hardly spend any time exploring what pregnancy means to either the pregnant lady or her partner. It’s a profound experience. It’s funny and sad and it changes you down to your cells. You are not the same person you were before you were pregnant. She is gone and you have to figure out who you are now.
When you are pregnant you spend all your time coming out because once you are showing your pregnant belly no one reads you as gay anymore. I don’t know how many times I told people that I had a wife while waddling down the sidewalks. If you want to be in the closet, go on and get pregnant, everyone will think you’re straight. It’s weird as hell and can make you feel like you’ve lost your identity and even your place in your community.
Let’s see that on television. Let’s see what it looks like, what it feels like when your sex drive skyrockets or when it disappears like a whisper on the wind. Let’s see what it’s like when who you were disappears and you wonder if she is ever coming back. Let’s see what no sleep and constant discomfort means for a couple. Let’s agree that couples are interesting and watching what they do in the face of their lives changing irrevocably is interesting, and can be damn funny. Finally, let’s agree that a lesbian needs a man like a fish needs a goddamn pogo stick.
Those are just a few ideas, showrunners. Go on, take them. Use them. Go dig up whatever empathy you have socked away and use it. Better yet, hire a woman who has been pregnant. Hire half a dozen of them. Hire a lesbian who is a parent. But do something. Because the crap you have been putting out there isn’t cutting it. And, honestly, I’m fucking sick of it.