Free From Desire: Asexual in the City of Love

Behold, Unto Us a Child Is Born

Episode Summary

Aline must get creative and find the right doctor since getting a sperm donation in France as a single parent is illegal.

Episode Notes

Free From Desire is a finalist for a Signal Award. If you liked our podcast please vote HERE.

Aline always knew they wanted a child. As a teenager, they imagined adopting, having a child with friends, and being a single parent — as if their subconscious already knew that married life was not for them. But, getting a sperm donation in France as a single parent was illegal at the time. Aline had to get “creative” and find the right doctor. While pregnant, they contemplate the idea of raising a kid in a hyper-sexualized and hyper-gendered world.

Episode Transcription

Aline: Starting a family as a single parent could be relatively easy. There are many medical techniques to create life. So after my co-parenting project failed, I decided to focus on another option–sperm donation. 

I had options when it came to finding a sperm donor, but all of them were somewhat illegal.


Aline: One of the options I liked was asking a friend. This way I’ll know the donor, and my kid could have a relationship with him. 

I asked Teddy–my American friend-with-benefits situation from Amsterdam–and he said yes. We both could see him as a godfather figure. A cool adult the kid could see once a year or maybe more. 

We agreed that if we did it, we’d do it through artificial insemination. I didn’t want sex to be involved in the baby making process. I wanted things to be clear–he’s not my lover, he’s my donor.

That would put me in the same situation as when I was trying to have a baby with Léandre. Illegally manipulating genetic material.

It wasn’t the only legal issue. In France, Teddy would be considered a biological parent, meaning he could claim parenting rights at any time. What if he suddenly decided to claim custody of my kid and turned our lives upside down? Getting sperm from an anonymous donor was both easier and impossible.

In France, in the spring of 2020, single people, lesbian couples, and trans people were barred from assisted reproductive technology, ART. Meaning, I couldn’t get sperm in my own country. 

There were options though. I could go to a fertility clinic abroad–for example in Spain, Belgium, or England–or have semen delivered to me by a Danish sperm bank. But they only ship to health professionals, so I’d have to find a doctor in France who would agree to help me in this illegal endeavor. 

The pandemic happened and made the decision-making process easier. Teddy was in the Caribbean, which is a tad far from France. We had no idea when he’d be back and I didn’t want to wait. Let the search for an anonymous donor begin. 

I didn’t want to have to take a 6 a.m. train to Belgium every time I was ovulating, spending the day in a foreign clinic, in a foreign country. And why should I? Why couldn’t I receive a sperm donation in my home town like straight couples do? 

Luckily, I found a doctor willing to disobey the law and help me.

[A telephone is picked up and a male voice starts speaking in French]

He chose a medical protocol and started to monitor my ovulation. When the time came, I ordered the semen from the sperm bank and had it delivered to his office. In reality, neither of us were risking much thanks to doctor-patient confidentiality. Who would know? And even then, who would rat us out? 

I still remember each insemination–I had three. How I was listening to Harry Styles’s “Fine Line” before and after, to make sure my body was relaxed and welcoming. How I was smiling underneath my mask when the doctor opened up the tank and got the sperm out of the smoking liquid nitrogen. 

While the doctor was getting ready to inseminate me, I was thinking–how crazy is it that this tiny liquid may give life, and that this moment right now may be the start of our life together?

Not long after, I spent New Year's eve at my neighbor’s. The whole evening, I was bothered by the smell of a candle. That’s how I knew. On January 2nd, as soon as the labs reopened, I went in for a test. It came back positive.

Here I was: a pregnant person, just like any other. Tired, nauseous, and excited.

Less than three months later, the doctor asked if I wanted to know the sex. I said no. I’ve known for years that I didn’t want to know the sex. I didn’t see what difference it would make since I was going to love and raise my kid all the same. Or at least that’s what I was hoping. 

I was afraid that knowing its sex would actually change something in how I’d picture my unborn baby and our life together. It may sound weird, but I wished for a way to not know the baby’s sex even after it was born.

I’ve had the feeling that ignoring a kid’s sex would be a great way to protect them from sexism, gender binary limitations, and compulsory heterosexuality.

One of the things I dreaded the most is people making jokes about my kid being in love with a kid of the opposite sex. I’ve seen that so many times–a boy and a girl, sometimes not even old enough to talk, enjoy each other's company, and people push them to imagine their impending nuptials. These matchmaking situations are also in books and cartoons and it can push kids to the conclusion that a girl and a boy cannot be friends, that if they like each other, it must be romantic love. 

When I look back at my life, I realize how many friendships I’ve missed because of that. I think about Edouard, that guy from the snowboard camp I wanted to get closer to, the only crush I’ve ever had.

After learning more about aromanticism, I realized I never had romantic feelings for him. I think Edouard was just the first person I met that I could relate to. We had the same interests, same background, same taste and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I wanted him to see me, accept me, and invite me into his life. I confused this longing for a friendship with romantic desire. And when he made it clear he didn’t have a crush on me, our relationship died. What would have happened if we both knew we could be friends? Not “just friends” as people say, but friend friends.

I imagine Edouard was raised to see himself as a seducer of girls, not as a friend. He had probably heard that he’d have girls pining over him. Just like girls heard that they’ll find the perfect guy.

American sociologist Kyl Myers decided to conceal her kid’s genitalia from others, and to let her child define their gender later on. She wrote a book about her experience, Raising Them.

Kyl’s child, Zoomer, is now six and identifies as a boy, but he doesn’t care much about the boy/girl binary.

Kyl believes being raised in a gender-open manner allowed Zoomer to see anyone as a potential friend, regardless of their gender.

Kyl Myers: Because we didn't assign a gender to him, people couldn't really assign a sexuality to him. And so he just didn't grow up in matchmaking situations. You know, that happens for so many young children, just like if they're having a friendship with a child of a different gender, then it must be romantic.

Aline: Kyl is convinced that growing up without that pressure in his early years, and with a lot of different models in his life, will make it easier for Zoomer to understand and love his sexual and romantic attractions in the future.

Kyl Myers: I think that just presenting kids with all of these options actually helps them,  understand, right, that they, they have these options and they're not forced into these stereotypes and these tropes about sexuality. 

When you don't expect that your child is cisgender, when you don't expect that your child is straight, right, you're just leaving this like blank canvas for them to, like, paint their own identity on and it totally leaves room and a like affirming space for them to be ace, to be aro, to be agender. 

Aline: The closer I got to the due date, the more I talked about gender-open parenting with my friends and family. Almost everyone loved the principle. But was it feasible in France?

French is a very gendered language. We’ve only recently created a gender-neutral pronoun - “iel”. And it’s barely used because it’s so hard to use.

I spend a lot of time wondering what tools I want to give to my kid. I want my kid to listen to their body, to be able to say what they want and don’t want, from a kiss on the cheek to sex.

[We hear Aline preparing her bag]

One night in September, my water broke. I called my mom, packed my bag, and we went to the maternity ward. 

[We hear a car door slam, then the sound of driving. The car door opens, and frantic conversation in French is heard, followed by the sound of a baby crying.]

36 hrs later, Jo had arrived. 8.7 pounds of cuteness.

For a while I couldn’t speak, I was literally speechless. I spent that first night with Jo alone. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. This was our first night together. The beginning of our life together. 

The following month, I was rarely alone. My sister spent the first night with us when we got to my place, and many after that. My friends looked after Jo while I took naps or went to the movies. My mom organized a trip to the sea so that I could relax and sleep. I invited people into our lives, and they came rushing in. 

After a few days with Jo, it became clear that I was going to assign them a gender in French. It was just easier. But I asked everybody to pay attention to the way they talked about them. I asked them to use the word “baby” or “kid” rather than “girl” or “boy”, and to avoid words that are too gendered. I hoped this will remind them to be mindful of the way they interact with Jo. And hopefully with other kids.

At the time of this recording, Jo is ten months old. They smile a lot, love playing with their musical books, and are unusually good at drinking their milk bottle by themselves.

People on the street often ask if it’s a boy or a girl, I say it doesn’t matter. My friends and family have gotten used to not using the words “boy” or “girl” to refer to Jo. Some friends even use the pronoun “iel.” I’m grateful.

Have I fixed the patriarchy? Of course not. I know I will have to be on the lookout to protect Jo from sexist stereotypes and compulsory sexuality. I also know I will have to accept defeat sometimes, like when I decided to use a gendered pronoun in French for simplicity. I know I won’t always be there to protect them. And that sometimes, despite all my best efforts, I will be the one to accidentally convey stereotypes.

When I started this project, I thought I knew a lot of things on asexuality, aromanticism and sexual norms. I was wrong. In fact, I have more questions now than at the beginning of this project. But they’re good questions. Questions that open doors. I’m not lost, angry, or disappointed anymore. I’m optimistic.

Society has finally started talking about consent, asexuality, and even compulsory heterosexuality. In France, single women can finally have access to assisted reproductive technology. I do dream of a world where kids won’t feel lonely or broken because of their sexual and romantic orientations. Where no one will have to force themselves to do anything, where they’ll be able to accept and love themselves easily, and where they’ll be free to build the lives they need, want, and deserve.

And I’m starting to see that shift. Some of my friends have recently come out as asexual. Angela Chen believes that people and their sexuality can change.

Angela Chen: I think we should allow people to change if they do and if it feels right to them without expecting that someone will change out of asexuality or out of homosexuality or heterosexuality or so on. And if you identify as ace now, you don't have to identify as ace forever. You know, no one is locked in, as I say. 

Aline: when I look to the future, I hope that others can move beyond these rigid boundaries of their own sexuality. I like what asexuality brings me. I like how it pushes me to question our society, and allows me to explore my sexuality freely. 

Nowadays, I identify as asexual because it works for me. I don’t wonder anymore if I was born ace or if I became ace. What would it change?


Producer: Free From Desire is an original podcast by Paradiso Media. Written and narrated by Aline Laurent Mayard. Produced by Suzanne Colin and by me, Yael Even Or with additional production support from Morgan Jaffe and Molly O’Keefe.

Executive producers are Emi Norris, Lorenzo Benedetti, Louis Daboussy, Benoit Dunaigre. Sound design, editing, and mix by Théo Albaric. Additional editing by Yael Even Or and Morgan Jaffe.

Studio recordings by Marin Grizeaud and Théo Albaric. Production assistants are Lucine Dorso, Brendan Galbreath, and Sofia Martins. Editing Intern is Bryson Brooks.

Original music by D.L.I.D. Our Theme song is Freed from Desire by GALA. Cover Art by Super Feat.