My Weird and Wonderful Family, Channel 4
My Child's Big Fat Birthday Party, BBC1
This glimpse at the home life of the Drewitt-Barlows said more about individual weirdness than gay parenting
Sunday 25 July 2010
Where next for the shock doc?
Though the title promised freak-show voyeurism, the only shock in My Weird and Wonderful Family – a portrait of gay couple Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow bringing up their brood of artificially conceived kids and orchestrating the in-vitro conception of two more – was that, on the whole, it looked pretty normal.
Ten years ago, when the Drewitt-Barlows made history by fathering twins (with help from an egg donor and surrogate in California, and a cool quarter of a million quid), our social landscape was very different. An archive clip showed the pair being grilled on GMTV by Eamonn Holmes in full conduit-of-the-outraged-masses mode, railing about gay men wanting kids as "accessories" and "going against nature". Since then, we've seen civil partnerships, a gay X-Factor winner and countless prime-time gay storylines. Certainly, if you were going to take the Drewitt-Barlows as a model, those arguments around gay parenting might seem a lot less controversial these days.
The Drewitt-Barlow kids – daughter Saffron and boys Aspen and Orlando – seem well-adjusted and sweet-natured, and their interaction with their fathers ("Dad" and "Daddy") is loving but relaxed. Nor do they want for anything on a material level – no guarantee of happiness, but handy in matters such as shopping around for a supportive school. It helped too that the Drewitt-Barlows seemed to own half their village, their fiefdom extending to the pub and the hair salon.
Although charming subjects, I wasn't sure about the wisdom, or indeed ethics, of quizzing the children themselves. The question of whether a child brought up by gay parents is more likely to be gay (perhaps I am being obtuse but why does this obsess people so?) was touched on when they asked the boys whether they'd be gay or straight when they grew up. "Gay!" declared little Orlando exuberantly. But since he had, moments before, concluded that if he hadn't been born, he "would have been a crocodile", it struck me as pretty useless evidence.
Perhaps inevitably, the programme's main flaw was that it offered few wider conclusions. The Drewitt-Barlows were at pains to stress that there's no such thing as a representative family, thus their success can only be considered a self-contained story, a one-off.
What really unsettled, however, were the non-gay issues that were briefly touched on. Barrie displayed little grasp of the ethics of paying a woman for her eggs, arguing that it was legal in California, and equating probity and legality with a rather faulty logic, given that they went to the United States because paying for eggs is illegal in Britain.
And there was something, if not wrong, then shiver-inducingly sci-fi about the fact that the twins, Aspen and Orlando, had been implanted in surrogate mothers at different times, resulting in identical twins with a four-year age difference.
Assisted reproduction popped up again in My Child's Big Fat Birthday Party – one of those slightly trashy documentaries that follow the BBC News at 10pm as if someone has confused the schedule with BBC3.
Of course, all the adults here were behaving absurdly, spending thousands on their kids' single-figure birthdays. Suzanne, a Cardiff mum straight out of Gavin & Stacey ("Aw babe, you look lush, you look mega lush!") had been brought up a Jehovah's Witness and was making up for all the missed celebrations by throwing a Wild West party complete with bucking bronco for her bemused young son.
But there was something particularly unhealthy about one mum, who'd had her son through IVF and was now bringing him up alone. "He's the child who shouldn't have been," she said, before going on to describe her son in terms that would make Freud do cartwheels. Before the party (an extravaganza for 12 at a venue with capacity for 200), she dithered over wearing a feather-trimmed corset top that he'd picked out for her, as if he were some tyrannical husband.
All children bear the weight of their parents' love to some degree, but it was hard not to think that to be the fruit of the modern fertility struggle might place an intolerable pressure on a child.
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