Other issues that impact on queer women and gender diverse people presumed female at birth wishing to have children include homophobic and transphobic attitudes, health and social services that assume heterosexual, cisgender, two-parented families are the norm, legal and administrative issues surrounding recognition of ‘rainbow’ or LGBTQI+ families, and decisions about whether to use a known or clinic-recruited donor. For those in relationships where both people have a functioning uterus, ovaries, a regular menstrual cycle and no known fertility problems, there are additional decisions about whose eggs will be used, who will carry the baby, and whether to undergo partner IVF (where one partner carries the baby and the other donates the egg).
* Fertility options for trans and gender diverse people presumed female at birth depend on whether they have undergone medical treatment (hormone therapy and/or surgery) to affirm their gender. To learn more, please see Options for transgender and gender diverse people (VARTA) or Gender diversity and fertility (Your Fertility).
To learn more and for support and information, please see ‘Further Information’ at the end of this page.
Many aspects of their experiences of undergoing fertility treatment and becoming parents are covered in other films across the resource; the films below focus on experiences specifically related to being LGBTQI+. The first film includes examples of experiences of preparation and decision-making, including decisions related to parenting roles and identities, finding out information, and choosing a clinic. In the second film, there are examples of the legal issues LGBTQI+ families need to consider, and experiences of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic.
Preparation and decision-making
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Tallace describes how she and her partner navigated the decision to have children and the roles they would each play.
Tallace: So, my partner has been really fairly passive in the journey to having children, and in retrospect, I feel like it’s kind of incredible that after we’d been together for a year, she felt ready to go and put her name down as the other parent, and get on board with this pregnancy that I was planning to have. Yeah, that was a real leap of faith that she did. And it has had such a huge… You know, of course… [laughter] Having a child just changes your life so dramatically, and that just happened to her in a relatively short timeframe, and without the same kind of long journey, and yearning, and obsessive pursuit of it that I had gone through. But I think… She talks about it as kind of something that she’s so glad I forced her to do. [laughter] She just adores our son, and they have such a lovely relationship, and it’s just this great joy in our lives that we have him. So, yeah, I don’t think she has any complaints about me being a bit single-minded, pursuing the pregnancy.
Interviewer: Had she wanted children before she knew you?
Tallace: She tells me that… So, my partner is a person who sort of doesn’t feel good if someone refers to her as a woman. She’s 10 years older than me, and I think there’s a bit of a generational difference in the way that our queer communities, our peers, approach gender. So, people my age transitioned in droves… [laughter] It felt like that at times. Yeah, it was just so very many of my friends transitioned, and use male pronouns and are men. So that just wasn’t so common in my partner’s peers, I guess… So, she just sort of doesn’t want to be called “Mum”. So, I think because of that kind of gender identity that my partner has, becoming pregnant was never, ever, ever, ever, ever going to be on her radar. She finds that concept to be absolutely horrifying. Even the idea of having eggs extracted, and for me to carry them, which I raised with her, she found that horrific as well. And I think she just has a strength of character that it doesn’t matter that she’s not biologically related to our child. We gave him her surname, and their relationship is secure.
Ruby and her partner spent several years researching and deciding how they wanted to approach having a baby.
A friend of ours who had gone through IVF, when we mentioned to her we were going to have a baby at some point in the next couple of years, she said, “Whatever you do, start now. It takes a long time,” and that was really good advice. It took a number of years, not with the fertility clinic but the steps leading up to that; deciding how to actually approach somebody about being a donor and whether to go with a known or an unknown donor. Those things took quite some time.
We talked to a number of friends and people we knew that had gone through it to see what their experiences were. I think it was either SBS or ABC had a documentary about children of donated sperm. It was really interesting and it covered a lot of ethical issues and gave firsthand experience of a number of children who were able to say what it was like knowing or not knowing their donor. So that was really helpful.
But there wasn’t really much other than that that was available other than people’s anecdotal experience. although in Victoria, Rainbow Families have some good resources because they must have got some funding at some stage to put together some information. Where we live, Rainbow Families had only recently started to do things like publish material. The other day actually I saw on Facebook that they’re having a prenatal pregnancy class. So things have moved along there, but at the time that we were looking into this, there wasn’t really that much. There was an outdated website but all the contact details were old and you couldn’t really speak to anyone.
After moving to a regional area, Max and their partner found IVF clinics’ websites contained less information than those in the city. Max’s partner decided to ring different clinics individually to find one that welcomed queer families.
So originally when we started thinking about IVF we did a whole lot of research in terms of looking I guess at IVF clinic websites and doctor bios and things like that. So I remember going to an IVF – it was a Rainbow Families event that they had a few doctors come and talk about – I guess spruik their business. So there’s definitely a few things like that in the community where queer friendly, rainbow family friendly doctors will come together and talk about what they do and answer questions and things like that which is really fantastic to have those community forums.
When we were then ready to progress our own journey, we then spent some time doing some research just online and looking at websites. Definitely looked at doctor bios in terms of there was a doctor that I saw their bio was they’d been very strong advocates around single women and lesbian and queer families accessing IVF. So seeing a particular language that someone used or seeing a bio that I guess spoke to us or showed some kind of friendliness then made us more likely to access that person
Then when we moved to regional I think that we didn’t have the same sort of – the website bios et cetera of different doctors didn’t seem to exist.
So we decided to come somewhere locally and my partner actually – she was like, ‘I’m just going to actually ring doctors’ clinics and speak to the reception.’ So my partner then called a number of IVF clinics and just said, “Oh hey, just wondering firstly what kind of experience you’ve had with rainbow families, what kind of experience you’ve had with gender diverse people? Is this something that the actual clinic is well versed with?” or whatever.
So then we actually filtered it that way. So we had a number of different experiences from some practices going – kind of almost blasé of, “Yeah, we welcome everyone, whatever! It’s like no different,” which is actually – it is different. We need you to recognise that there’s particular circumstances that may be different for us as a family. To some clinics being like, “Oh, no, no.” Just totally, “We don’t know why you’re even asking this question,” and just really quite weird so we’re like, ‘Well that’s not the one we want to go to.’
Then to others that were more like, “Oh absolutely, we’ve had lots of different families and we understand that there’s lots of different experiences, there’s lots of different families, lots of different journeys. Our doctors are here to support everyone and we want to get to know you as a family and you as a journey and won’t make assumptions,” et cetera. So clearly the service that does the, ‘We want to get to know you, we don’t necessarily know everything and we understand that all experiences are different,’ is the service that we’re going to go to.
I guess the thing is, is that there’s no actual service that can go, ‘We’re 100 per cent – we understand every single person in the world,’ because there’s no school, there’s no health service, there’s no one that can actually understand everyone. But I think having that approach of, ‘We’re curious, we want to make sure that we support people. We understand that everyone’s different. We understand that we need to get to know every family and that every journey’s unique and we’ll put the time in to understand what those experiences may be,’ that’s going to be a really amazing service.
Legal considerations and experiences of discrimination
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Sue recalls how a doctor’s stereotypes about LGBTQI+ people negatively influenced her search for help for her menstrual problems.
Interviewer: Could you tell me a little bit about when you first got your period and what your menstrual cycle and issues were like I guess in your teens and early adulthood?
Sue: Okay. Yeah, it was always really dreadful and I think that was just a genetic thing. I think my mother was exactly the same. I was 10 when I got it and it was always distinctly painful with vomiting and headaches, just always was the same.
When I went for help, it was almost dismissed because there’s quite a lot of it, I suppose, and I think because it had always been like that for my mother, then it was just what you expected to be like. A lot of my friends felt that there was something wrong but you’d go to the doctor and they’d say, “No, there’s nothing wrong with you. That’s sort of fairly much a normal – for some people, it’s just normal. It’s just the way it is.”
I was like clockwork. I could almost set my alarm to when I had my period and it was almost a day a month, at least one day, you’d be out of action and it was almost a week – there was only ever one week of the month where you actually felt like a healthy human.
Interviewer: What was it in your 30s that prompted you to go and have another investigation?
Sue: I think I had intermittently, just regularly with years between, gone to the doctors and said, you know, “This is really terrible. Is there anything you can do about it?” and nine times out of 10, it was just, “That’s the way it is.” I actually went to a gynaecologist when I first came to Australia and he was much along the same lines of, “That’s just the way it is for you.” Because I was gay, he said, “Oh, you’re not going to have children so don’t worry about it.” It was like, oh no…
Interviewer: Wow. So therefore you just live with this pain?
Sue: That’s right. It was almost like you deserved it.
Interviewer: So really just through all that time, you just weren’t really treated for it, you just lived with it?
Sue: That’s right. I think the first gynaecologist I went to, I think that really put me off going back and seeing another one. It seemed pointless.
Ruby describes her and her partner’s experience of navigating fertility treatment and maternity care as a same-sex couple.
Ruby: The fertility clinic are very welcoming of same-sex couples because I think same-sex couples make up a big part of their business now. But there’s still – it’s very heteronormative. You go in and – there’s a lot of assumptions being made and explanations required to get all the different health practitioners and staff to understand what’s going on. They were very quick to realise…
I’m just trying to think, there was one example early on. So we had forms with all sorts of things on them that were irrelevant to us or, questions that they could have asked that were missed. But generally our doctor was great. It was a more personal relationship so they knew from the beginning that we were a same-sex couple. It’s when you interact with an organisation that has processes that has these assumptions built into it that you have difficulties.
Then the hospital afterwards, when we were giving birth to the baby, babies – it was actually in, there’s various different religious hospitals as well as state-run ones and it happened to be a religious hospital that we gave birth in. But there were no difficulties there. Because it’s a really large organisation, I think they’ve worked through this issue before.
Interviewer: How about once you’d had your children and you were in the postnatal world of maternal child health? That can often be quite a heteronormative space.
Ruby: Very, yeah. Actually, my partner was mistaken, even though she was clearly wearing women’s clothing and had a woman’s haircut, was mistaken by one of the people who were caring for us as my husband, despite being told, “No, this is my partner, [name]” and she was continued to be referred to as my husband through the course of the interview. It was very strange. So that certainly is odd. That has happened a few times. I think in the postnatal world, especially in mothers’ groups and the child health world, yes, there’s a lot of explanation required. But on the IVF side of things, it was easier than after having a baby.
Max and their partner used to live in the US. They share their thoughts on why they, their partner, and their children’s rights as a queer family are better protected in Australia than in the US.
We got legally married in the U.S. in 2015. But at that time, I could also lose my job being out in a school or you could lose your job for being on birth control or you could lose your job for having an abortion. So they had this rather strange kind of high court ruling that marriage could happen between anyone but state by state the laws around freedom of speech and really just freedom were so strong that it didn’t really matter anyway.
So here we didn’t have marriage equality but I could be out as a teacher and I could access de facto laws and I could be next of kin and we could be considered de facto and go through a process of bringing my partner here as a permanent resident et cetera through the de facto laws. But we didn’t have marriage equality. So we’ve gone through I guess in Australia quite incremental legal change where it was, ‘Well actually let’s get all the little bits that actually matter and impact on someone’s life around equal opportunity and anti-discrimination,’ and then marriage didn’t really matter in Australia.
I think for me as a queer person I was like, ‘Well it doesn’t actually really change anything because we’ve got all these rights,’ and for me anyway I felt like I was quite protected. But in America there was marriage equality but you weren’t protected at all as a queer person. So it was very strange going through a process of coming to Australia, deciding to have a family and thinking about the – I think the legal stuff was really important for my partner and myself having spent a lot of time in the U.S. where even as we see now the law and the police and the systems and the bureaucracies definitely are not on the side of any minority communities.
To be legally married in the U.S. and be so fearful of work and discrimination and even just freedom walking down the street and fear of assault or discrimination to then come here and not have that same kind of day-to-day fear but also not be legally married, we’re like, ‘Whatever, it doesn’t matter.’
So, yes, I think that stuff probably impacted on our decision to take a particularly safe route in terms of having a child and doing that through a system where we were both going to be on the birth certificate, we were both going to be considered parents.
OUTspoken families resource kit for rainbow families – VARTA
Making Rainbow Babies – Rainbow Families Queensland
Rainbow and same-sex families: Resources, Services and Links – Raising Children Network
Gender Diversity and Fertility – Your Fertility
Rainbow Families New South Wales
Rainbow Families Queensland
Rainbow Families Victoria