Somewhere, somehow—as the entire planet lay in a coronavirus-induced quarantine—Anderson Cooper welcomed a baby son, Wyatt Morgan, into the world. Born via surrogate, the boy’s first name honors Cooper’s beloved father, Wyatt, while “Morgan” salutes a branch of the fabled family of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.
Making his public debut via Instagram (how else?), Wyatt joins a growing brood of children born through surrogacy to prominent gay men across the globe—from Ricky Martin and Ryan Murphy to Elton John, Tom Ford, and Cooper’s bubbly B.F.F., Andy Cohen. Conceived at the intersection of hope, love, money, and technology, these kids represent, perhaps, the ultimate symbol of L.G.B.T.Q. equality: parenthood for men who—despite their wealth and privilege—never imagined they would become fathers.
While fans may rejoice on behalf of these high-profile fathers, more mortal gay men are not necessarily benefiting from the same-sex surrogacy boom. Indeed, at a time when social media and hook-up apps have set almost supernatural standards of gay-male desirability, becoming a father now presents yet another “accomplishment” some gay men feel they must achieve. No longer is it enough to simply be successful in your career and also be in possession of a six-pack. Gay men aspiring for Cooper levels of cool now need a newborn to compete for likes.
No one is suggesting that well-known gay men are reproducing just to boost their follower counts. Rather, the optics and messaging around their growing families can create pressure for less resource-rich gay men who might hope to follow suit. And gay men are already under a lot of pressure, according to a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—mostly from each other.
Led by John Pachankis, an associate professor of public health at Yale, the five-year study upended conventional thinking that homophobia and anti-gay stigma are the sole causes of the depression, drug use, and unsafe sexual practices often plaguing L.G.B.T.Q.’s. Yes, discrimination from heterosexuals can deplete self-worth. But equally pernicious is the testosterone-laced hyper-competitiveness gay men experience within their own communities. A “sexual arms race” is how The Guardian described this phenomenon in February; Pachankis more academically terms it “gay community stress theory.”
No longer is it enough to simply be successful in your career and also be in possession of a six-pack. Gay men aspiring for Cooper levels of cool now need a newborn to compete for likes.
Whatever the nomenclature, celebrity surrogacy—and its deceptive air of effortlessness—is beginning to emerge as yet another gay stressor. “A generation ago, gay men ‘got a pass’ when it came to having kids, but this is no longer the case, thanks to gay dads like Anderson Cooper,” says Ron Poole-Dayan, executive director of Men Having Babies, a New York–based nonprofit that helps gay men become fathers through surrogacy.
“Children have in a way become a status symbol among many gay men,” adds Yuval Hadadi, a filmmaker whose new feature, 15 Years, explores the breakdown of an affluent gay couple’s relationship when one partner decides he wants to become a father. “They signify a certain level of time, money, and ambition.”
While the money part may be easy for folks like Cooper and Cohen, surrogacy’s six-figure price tag can make it out of reach for even the moderately affluent. Equally stressful is the emotional toll and uncertainty of reproductive technologies. Unlimited resources may allow for the highest-quality raw materials—Ivy-educated egg donors, optimized sperm samples, hormone-nurtured wombs. But Mother Nature ultimately decides on the outcome—and she cannot be bought at any price.
For years we’ve watched over-40 female actors “suddenly” appear pregnant in selfies—glowingly #humbled and #blessed as they clutch their growing bumps. Less visible, however, are the heartbreak and failures that can precede these precious moments, not to mention the substantial economic outlay along the way. Such images suggest to other women that late-in-life children are the result of sheer desire and determination rather than good fortune and massive doses of science. Wyatt Morgan Cooper’s instant mid-quarantine debut sets up a similar dynamic for gay men.
A study last year by the Family Equality Council—a nonprofit that supports L.G.B.T.Q. families—indicated that more than three-quarters of L.G.B.T.Q. millennials “are either already parents or are considering having children,” nearly 50 percent more than Xers and boomers. Whether this development unites the L.G.B.T.Q. community or further divides it along economic and family-status lines remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that the trickle-down effect of Cooper and Cohen is already happening.
“There’s no question the pressure and expectation for gay men to have children is definitely here,” says filmmaker Hadadi. “The real question is whether gay men who don’t want to have kids will one day be seen as less worthy by the community—will one day be forced into a new kind of closet.”
David Kaufman is a writer living in New York City