- Mediated Kinship: Gender, Race and Sexuality in Donor Families by Rikke Andreassen
Since 2007, it has been possible for lesbians and single women to access free fertility treatments in Denmark, an opportunity previously only available to women in heterosexual relations. With this important change, a baby boom for both groups took shape. Free access to medically assisted reproduction (MAR) and the new formations of family and kinship constitute the starting point for Rikke Andreassen's book Mediated Kinship: Gender, Race and Sexuality in Donor Families. In her analysis of the phenomenon of women reproducing without men, Andreassen uses media sites, interviews with Danish mothers, and British representations of Danish sperm.
Danish fertility treatment has become an international phenomenon: the Danish sperm bank, Cryos International, is the world's largest sperm bank, and so-called "Viking" genes are spread globally through a well-developed online catalogue of donor sperm. In this context, Andreassen asks: "What happens when lesbian mothers and heterosexual solo mothers meet on the Internet? How do they negotiate family, sexuality and gender? Do they dismantle traditional family norms or cultivate fantasies of forming nuclear families? And what are the effects on biology and racial formation when donor sperm is acquired commercially?" (p. 3).
Methodologically, Andreassen uses different empirical material: an (anonymized) Facebook Donor Group, in-depth interviews with eleven active individuals in the group, and British media coverage, including documentaries and articles written on the subject. The book is presented in four main empirical chapters—"Creating Family," "The Missing Father," "Race and Reproduction," and "Community and New Scripts of Family"—which can be read independently. Andreassen describes the analyses of chapters 2, 3, and 4 as "paranoid" readings, consisting of rather critical and pessimistic views, with chapter 5 offering a "repairing" reading of the material (p. 135). I will come back to this issue.
Questions of reproduction and reproductive techniques are of particular importance in the Scandinavian countries. For half a century, the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, in that order) have been leading actors within international adoption, which now—for a variety of reasons—is being replaced by surrogacy and different fertility treatments. Highlighting reproductive issues in relation to gender, race, sexuality, and nation is therefore a much-needed and timely task.
In chapter 2, "Creating Family," Andreassen examines how individuals connect with each other and create new forms of extended families through donor siblings. By means of the donor numbers, it is possible for parents to find and contact other families who used the same donor. [End Page 131] The chapter discusses how formation of family in the context of MAR includes possibilities to create a larger family with donor siblings, as well as the complexities of biology, intimacy, and technology that surround these relations. On the one hand, donor siblings may create families considered by the mothers to be happier and closer to the heteronormative ideal, which features more than one child. On the other hand, donor siblings may be perceived as a threat to intimacy within the family.
Drawing on research on international adoption, where race and biology are often made irrelevant and intimacy constitutes the most important vector, Andreassen discusses how biology, in MAR families, instead may be inscribed as the most important feature of family relationships. The interviewees explain that donor siblings are easy to like "from the very beginning" since they "look so much like mine" (p. 58). In this reasoning, likeness leads to proximity, Andreassen argues.
"The Missing Father" is the topic of the third chapter. Here, the role of the donor is discussed. Donors may be anonymous or open (although information about race, hair, and eye color is always known). How do families relate to the donors in the present and the future? What is the best interest of the children? In the online discussions, Andreassen notices a difficulty among both lesbian and solo mothers to break free from the nuclear family model of mother-father-children. In her analysis of their "ambivalent gender trouble," she argues that "the Scandinavian welfare model, with its ideology of...