The other day CTV reported the astonishing statistic that in the whole of Canada there are just 33 sperm donors. That seems awfully low for a nation of 30 million people. Three sperm donors per province plus one per territory? Surely we can do better than that. All hands on deck!
Ah, but it’s not as simple as that. Apparently, the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act makes it illegal to pay donors for sperm. I mean, it wasn’t even the usual Canadian Wheat Board-type racket whereby you’d only be able to sell your seed to the Canadian Sperm Board at a price agreed upon by representatives of the federal-provincial Semen Commissions. Instead, they just nixed the whole deal, and, once Johnny Canuck found out he wasn’t going to be remunerated, virtually the entire supply dried up.
As a result, this once proud Dominion now has to import sperm. According to CTV, 80 per cent of Canadian women who conceive through donor sperm are getting it from the United States, mainly from men in Georgia and northern Florida. Canada’s future is now in American hands.
You know how it is: you wait ages for a good sperm story and then they all come at once. It seems there’s also a shortage of the stuff in Sweden. But, in contrast to Canada, this is caused not by government intervention in supply but by a surge in demand, from Swedish lesbian couples anxious to conceive. Inga and Britta had been trying for a child for ages but nothing seemed to work. Then it occurred to them this might be because they’re both women. So they headed off to the sperm clinic, whereupon the Sapphic demand ran into the problem of male inability to satisfy it. There appear to be higher than usual levels of non-functioning sperm.
Don’t worry, I’m not being Swedophobic in mocking the watery emissions of Nordic manhood. It’s a widespread problem: “Concern As Sperm Count Falls By A Third In UK Men” (the Daily Mail, 2004). Don’t ask me why: I’d blame Tony Blair’s cozying up to Bush were it not for “Sperm Count Drops 25 Per Cent In Younger Men” (the Independent, 1996), so maybe it was John Major pulling out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Still, even for a demographic doom-monger such as myself, you could hardly ask for a more poignant fin de civilisation image than a stampede of broody lesbians stymied only by defective semen, like some strange dystopian collaboration between Robert Heinlein and Russ Meyer set in a world divided into muff divers and duff donors.
I wouldn’t want to overly extrapolate from two minor news items, and I’d be quite happy to do cheap lesbo-seminal gags to the foot of the page, but the thought does occur that a visitor from the day before yesterday—say, the mid-20th century—would be befuddled by the problems we face in the dawn of the new millennium. The other day the Toronto Star, ever on the cutting edge in the hunt for new bigotries, turned in a fascinating report on the problems of air travel and . . . Go on, take a wild guess. Racial profiling? Ha! You piker! We’re talking about gender profiling—in the sense that most of these squaresville Homeland Security types think there are men and there are women and that’s pretty much it. As a result, many pre-operative transsexuals run into difficulties south of the border or when flying trans Atlantically, and that’s before the introduction of “Whole Body Imaging” scanners where you may show up naked on the security screen packing a few too many extras. “Travelling for transpeople is always fraught with uncertainty,” Ontario lawyer Nicole Nussbaum told the Star. “The current system doesn’t match up with transpeople’s lives.”
Of course, no “system” could. I see that what I quaintly thought of as the Toronto Gay Pride Parade was officially billed this year as a parade to celebrate “the LGBTTIQQ2S communities.”
LGBTTIQQ2S? Oh, come on. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgendered, Intersexual, Queer, Questioning and 2-Spirited. Where ya bin? 2-Spirited doesn’t mean too spirited, as in Anne of Green Gables, but is supposedly some First Nations thing. Anyway, you can see why the “current system” of airport security has a hard time keeping up. Any day now, they’ll introduce Intergendered and Transspirited, and by the time Mayor Miller has stumbled through the acronym in his official proclamation, the parade’ll be over. So, when a Bigendering person shows up at the frontier, don’t be surprised if the border guard comes over all 2-Questioning. Travel, explains the Star’s Julia Steinecke, is “complicated for those who live in the grey area between genders.”
Indeed. Flying is no place for “those who live in the grey area.” Everything’s black and white: Business or coach? Chicken or beef? “If you don’t fit into a gender box,” says “award-winning Canadian writer” Ivan E Coyote, “all of a sudden, you’re a target.” Mr./Ms. Coyote prefers to be addressed as he/she and self-identifies as a “very masculine reading estrogen-based organism.” And the hicks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection don’t have a check box for that. Mr./Ms. Coyote was recently detained at Ottawa Airport along with a friend who’d flown in from America, “a tall, feminine woman with a heavy moustache.”
Well, that’s her choice. His choice. Whatever. A few years ago, Kenneth Minogue of the London School of Economics wrote that ours is the age of “the new Epicureans” in which the “freedom to choose” trumps all. A childless couple can choose to conceive. A female couple can choose to conceive. A male couple—Barrie and Tony from Chelmsford, England—can choose to conceive and both be registered as the biological fathers of their children not so much on the technical grounds that they had “co-mingled” their sperm before shipping it out to their Fallopian time-share in California but out of a more basic sympathy that this is how Barrie and Tony “self-identify” and it would be cruel to deny them. A woman in Bend, Ore., can choose to become a man, and then a “pregnant man.” A man can choose to become a woman. A man can choose to get halfway to becoming a woman, and then decide it’s more fun to “live in the grey area.” Biologically, Barrie or Tony, but not both, is the sole father of their child; the “pregnant man” is pregnant but not a man; the he/she living in “the grey area” is in reality black or white—at least according to what we used to call “the facts of life.” But issuers of passports, drivers’ licences, even birth certificates and no doubt one day U.S. Department of Homeland Security visas now defer to the principle of “self-identification.”
In terms of sexual identity, we’re freer than almost any society in human history, at least in terms of official validation of our choice to “redefine” ourselves in defiance of biological and physiological reality. And yet, if you accept that infertile couples and gay couples should be free to “have” babies by means of technology, why should you not be free to sell them the semen that enables them to do it? If you suggest that, say, “partial-birth abortion” (which is actually partial-birth infanticide) ought to be illegal, feminists will be out in the street chanting, “Keep your laws off my body!” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” But, when the government tells you you can’t sell your own bodily fluid, which is, after all, about as basic a personal property as anything, there are no outraged progressives to chant “Keep your legislation off my ejaculation!”
At some point we will come to see that the developed world’s massive expansion of personal sexual liberty has provided a useful cover for the shrivelling of almost every other kind. Free speech, property rights, economic liberty and the right to self-defence are under continuous assault by Big Government. But who cares when Big Government lets you shag anything that moves and every city in North America hosts a grand parade to celebrate your right to do so? It’s an oddly reductive notion of individual liberty. The noisier grow the novelties of our ever more banal individualism, the more the overall societal aesthetic seems drearily homogenized—like closing time in a karaoke bar with the last sad drunks bellowing off the prompter “I did it My Way!”
And in the end even the sex doesn’t do it. In the Netherlands, the most progressive nation in Europe, the land where whatever’s your bag is cool, where naked women beckon from storefront windows, a certain ennui is palpable. Last week, the ANP news agency released a poll showing that the Dutch now derive more pleasure from going to the bathroom than from sex. It wasn’t a close-run thing: eighty per cent identified a trip to the toilet as the activity “they enjoy the most”—or, as the South African newspaper the Witness put it, “The Bog’s Better Than Bonking.” To modify Eliot, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a flush.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.