Narrating connections and boundaries : constructing relatedness in lesbian known donor familial configurations.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In a time of unprecedented possibilities for intimate life, lesbian known donor reproduction is an emerging form of kinship practice. While experienced as unique to the biographies of particular lesbian couples, known donors and their partners, practices of relatedness occur against the background of neoliberal discourses, processes of normalisation and legislative frameworks that are increasingly responsive to the rights claims of lesbian parents. This thesis investigates this phenomenon in contemporary New Zealand. Examining the meanings attached to cultural constructs such as ‘kinship’, ‘family’, ‘parenthood’, ‘motherhood’ and ‘fatherhood’, the thesis illustrates how familial boundaries and sets of relations are narratively constructed.
The research draws on interviews with 60 women and men across 21 lesbian known donor familial configurations at different stages of forming family through known donor insemination, focusing in depth on nine core family narratives. Participants included lesbian parents and parents to be, gay and heterosexual known donors, and partners of donors. The thesis argues that participants are innovative in conformity and through constraint. Although the participants live amid the same dominant heteronormative public narratives, they are differently normative. They pursue different familial scenarios, which creates different possibilities for lesbian couple and parenting selves and identities relative to donors and their partners. The picture emerging suggests donors and partners remain supplementary to lesbian couples. How their status is expressed is a central theme of the thesis that demonstrates the power of neoliberal agendas of personal responsibility, freedom, agency and choice. Tensions between a sense of empowerment and constraint in family-building activities are closely linked to these agendas. Contributing to debates about the operation of homonormativity in a neoliberal context, this thesis explores the discursive power of heteronormative family models and the implications of this for innovation in the intimate lives of same-sex and heterosexual subjects.