I’m not much of an Elton John fan…

…so when I read this article in The Guardian on 30 December I didn’t pay it all that much attention except to think how cool it is to live in a world where gender and sexual orientation are receding as barriers to having a child. Obviously, having shedloads of cash shrinks the barriers further, and the situation for Elton John and David Furnish is rather different than for most people, but I was still encouraged.

Then I read this letter in the following day’s letters section. Rather a different take on the situation, I’m sure you’ll agree. So much so, that I actually wrote a response. Here’s the email I sent:

Congratulations go to Catherine Pepinster (Elton’s Baby, Letters 31/12/2010) for her last minute entry (which I think rates very highly) into the “Meanest-Spirited Letter of the Year” competition. As I read it, I was increasingly jarred by the alien mindset behind its bitter and twisted interpretation of John’s and Furnish’s motives for having their child. Of course, then I read “Editor, The Tablet” at the bottom of the letter, and all became clear.

She labels what they have done as “prostitution”, but I am not sure what part of the situation makes it such – is it paying for surrogacy? If so, that applies to an increasing number of people: straight, gay, women and men, and generally goes unremarked. Or does it become prostitution only when a man pays? It is also, apparently, “exploitation”, but again, what particularly makes this exploitative? It can’t just be the payment, or I’m exploited every time I’m paid for my work. She claims “there is something disturbing about it”, but then catalogues only a litany of wholly selfish motives for having children which she ascribes to the couple. She may or may not be right about any of those motives, but she clearly does not know, she only thinks.

She claims to be concerned for “baby Zachary”, but if I were him and had the choice, I’d pick John and Furnish over Pepinster as parent any day of the week.

The Guardian did in fact publish it, but I’ve reproduced it below so you can see the edited version they published at the same time as the original:

Congratulations to Catherine Pepinster for her last-minute entry into the “Meanest-Spirited Letter of the Year” competition. As I read it, I was increasingly jarred by the alien mindset behind its interpretation of John’s and Furnish’s motives for having their child. Then I read “Editor, The Tablet” at the bottom of the letter, and all became clear.

She labels what they have done as “prostitution”, but I am not sure what part of the situation makes it such – is it paying for surrogacy? If so, that applies to an increasing number of people: straight, gay, women and men, and generally goes unremarked. It is also, apparently, “exploitation”, but again, what particularly makes this exploitative? She claims “there is something disturbing about it”, but then catalogues only a litany of wholly selfish motives for having children which she ascribes to the couple. She may or may not be right about any of those motives, but she clearly does not know.

So, two questions:

  1. What do you think of the situation? Are you more in agreement with Ms Pepinster or with me?
  2. What do you think of the editing job done on my letter? I think I mostly agree with what they did with it. They removed some of the less streamlined bits, which is fair enough, but I think it lost some of its original character.
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2 Responses to I’m not much of an Elton John fan…

  1. Jimbo says:

    I saw this at the time Eric on your facebook page. I thought I’d stew on it for a while. I see your letter was a clear and honest statement of the facts as you see them and a more balanced and reasoned statement than the letter that you responded to. I think in general I agree with your view. Sexuality or gender should have little or no baring on the quality of the parenting and it is a better world that acknowledges this. However, I’m not sure that we should put children in this situation by design. Without falling into stereo types I do think there are aspects to parenting that each gender contributes and the other struggles. I fully appreciate that these may be cultural or learned behaviours rather than innate traits. So, for example, I remember discussing a related subject with a cub scout leader. She and her fellow female volunteers said they found it difficult to bring the troop of unruly urchins to order, occasionally their single male volunteer, a younger and slightly effete man, called the boys to order and they jumped to attention like a platoon of seasoned warriors. Ok, so an anecdote doesn’t prove the point, nor would I want to “prove it”, as I do believe that our culture reinforces this view and perhaps the children had already learned to respond like this. I do however have a nagging suspicion that the ideal parenting situation would be a male father and a female mother as the “nature intended” crew rave about. Having said this of course there are numerous situations where this ideal is shattered, divorce, death, parent coming out of the closet etc and the children have to make do with “less than the ideal”. My unresolved question then is, should we allow children no chance of having the ideal where society can have an influence? Are we allowing the children of these – “not ideal parenting situations”, to have a worse start than their alternative? So the premise of course is that the “ideal” situation is indeed the gold standard and this is where my thinking hits a wall of cultural prejudice that I try to see though and look at the facts. I know sexuality has no bearing on parenting, there are laws that deal with that, what I have a concern about is that a child raised by homosexual parents is denied one perspective. Even in writing this I see the flaw in my logic, of course good parents would ensure that their child was given every opportunity to learn from any source. There will be good parents and bad or even dreadful parents of every persuasion, who are we as a society to deny any one group on the basis that they *may* be bad parents. I shan’t delete my journey of discovery as I believe it might be thought provoking for others to read.

    On your thoughts around the edit. To me it didn’t add or detract too much from the power of what you said, I’m not sure why they chose to make the changes that they did make – but hey your a published journo now!

  2. It is a knotty one, isn’t it, James? I think it probably is true that having a parent of each gender gives a child a chance to see the interaction of both genders from the start and that this constitutes an advantage, but as you point out, there are many other advantages and disadvantages that can apply, many of which I would guess far outweigh that of parental gender. My guess is that parental love trumps almost everything else.

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