26 July 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 568
'Cutting Edge goes behind the headlines to intimately portray how gay millionaires Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow's determination to have more children has affected them and their kids' said the teaser on the Channel 4 website.
If I hadn't known this programme involved surrogacy, I would have dismissed it as yet another reality show about out-of-control children. The programme followed Tony and Barrie (dad and daddy) and their three children - twins Orlando, Saffron and Aspen - as they sought to extend their family further.
Three twins? This is where it gets complicated. Saffron and Aspen share the same egg donor, but one egg was fertilised by Barrie and the other by Tony. Aspen and Saffron were 'made from the same egg, but the egg split and Orlando went into the freezer for three years', explained Aspen. Aspen and Orlando are identical twins born four years apart. Aspen jokes his brother was just let out of the freezer a bit later. He is puzzled about why Orlando doesn't like BBQ sauce, his own particular favourite.
The first thing I questioned about this programme was the use of the word 'weird' in the title. Looking up weird in the Collins online dictionary, it means strange, bizarre, or supernatural. So in what way were this family any more 'strange', 'bizarre' or 'supernatural' than any other?
Some may say the children are spoilt rotten and they have been given names, which aren't to their taste - but how many of you have thought that about people you know? Others may say the relationships between the children are confusing - but no more so perhaps than the many families encompassing half- and step-siblings.
In many ways, the family appeared completely normal (whatever normal is). The three children were portrayed as, in turn, interested and disinterested in the arrival of their new siblings. The daughter Saffron wanted sisters and reportedly cried when she learned the babies are twin boys. Six-year-old Orlando says, if he hadn't been born, he would be a crocodile. Meanwhile, the dads worry one of the unborn twins may have Down Syndrome. All the children miss their daddy when he is in America waiting for the babies to be born. He, in turn, worries they are surviving on pizza and chips in his absence.
Tony and Barrie use an egg donor and a surrogate in the US to extend their family. They chose the new egg donor on her looks. Isn't that what happens in most heterosexual relationships when we are selecting a partner?
Having the children explain how embryos are put in the uterus at the beginning of the programme shows perhaps an unusual level of candour. But Barrie and Tony's openness about how they created their family is to be applauded - to their kids, this is all normal. So I don't think this family was weird, but they certainly seemed wonderful - the programme maker got it half right.
The documentary ventured too far into the voyeurism that has audiences tuning in to Super Nanny or Wife Swap. This meant serious issues were overlooked, such as what prejudice Barrie and Tony they had encountered and did it bother them or the children. This was only touched upon in passing in relation to school.
'A boy in year six said 'you're gay'', said Aspen, and I said 'does it matter?' His daddy in a separate clip discusses what he would think if his children were gay and says wistfully he just wants them to be happy. He adds life's so much easier for a straight boy.
Gay men having a family seems to be flavour of the month in several American shows - Glee, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers and Sisters. Barrie and Tony are dads, and gay. So what? The 'so what' is they weren't able to create their family in the UK.