BioNews readers may have been more likely than most to stumble across a recent news article where a lesbian couple is taking legal action after being forced to pay for donor insemination in order to qualify for IVF (see BioNews 1121). Furthermore, headlines written across the media claimed that they are victims of 'gay fertility tax'. Maybe it was because associating 'tax' with 'victims' seemed initially odd, or because the couple in question, Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, are Instagram influencers who have achieved further celebrity by appearing on the show 'Say Yes To The Dress', but these headlines did, admittedly, warrant an initial scoff from me. However, it took about ten seconds of reading to realise that not only was the couple justified in their complaint, but there probably isn't a better description of their situation than a 'gay fertility tax'.
The couple, known online as Wegan, are campaigning to enable equal access to NHS fertility treatments for LGBTQ+ families. Currently, whilst heterosexual couples may 'prove' infertility with two years of trying to conceive in order to qualify for these treatments, lesbian couples must do so by undergoing twelve artificial insemination treatments at a private clinic, reportedly costing up to £30,000. What their story demonstrates, and what is highlighted in the film 'Two', which premiered here at the 2021 UK Jewish Film Festival, is that if a lesbian couple would like to start a family, then extensive bureaucracy and significant medical expenses are necessary requirements.
'Two', the debut film by Israeli filmmaker Astar Elkayam, follows Omer and Bar, a lesbian couple who decide to try for a child. The topic of fertility has already become a staple of Israeli cinema (see BioNews 1073 and 1074), which is unsurprising given both their progressive fertility treatment policies (see BioNews 1102) and child-centric social outlook. 'Two' touches on similar bases to many of these films – relationship strains, traumatic medical interventions, family dynamics – while also aiming to demonstrate the specific experience of lesbians. Indeed, Elkayam, as she revealed in the following Q&A session, directed the movie whilst undergoing IVF herself, and edited it whilst pregnant.
Like many of these films, 'Two' struggles with balancing many profound, important questions about human nature and relationships, while also maintaining a certain informative aspect – as Elkayam considered, 'too bad there wasn't [a film] like this before I started this process'. I did appreciate how Elkayam aimed to approach these issues from a novel artistic angle, such as through the dance rehearsals of Omer, who is the one trying to conceive. Whilst dance is an art form that, unfortunately, I've never been quite able to get my head around, you could see how her dance sequences mirrored the tenuous dynamics of her relationship with Bar, while also reflecting the control of her body that she feels is being lost due to her struggles to conceive.
The central issue to me about 'Two', however, is that Omer and Bar never appeared to have any semblance of a healthy, functional marriage. Their relationship seemed almost entirely physical, and outside of this, there was very little indication of love or respect between them. This leads to a final fifteen minutes which seems to throw away all evidence of reason. This is a shame because their infuriating relationship and nonsensical ending were the lasting impressions left on me by the film, as opposed to the important messages at its centre.
What I am curious about, though, is whether my own detractions of 'Two' would be maintained if the couple were heterosexual. One side effect of a 'gay fertility tax' is that a decision for LGBTQ+ couples to start a family can never be rash or unintended – there will never be a queer remake of 'Knocked Up'. However, while film and TV surrounding straight relationships arising from unintentional pregnancies, such as 'Knocked Up' or 'Catastrophe', may reflect the immaturity and callowness of the main characters, they are primarily played for comedic effect. I'm unsure if these factors elicited the irate frustration in me that was caused by the irresponsibility demonstrated by Omer and Bar, which feels mightily unfair.
The main hope that I have from 'Two' is that the film's ridiculous ending will not end up being a distraction from its key messages. I am wondering if Elkayam was intending to subvert the archetypal fertility-film ending, featuring a couple rediscovering their love for each other, insecurities and tension spontaneously washed away by their new miracle baby. Regardless, the film must receive credit for drawing attention to the experiences of lesbian couples whose right to starting a family has become dependent on something as irrelevant as their ability to afford private treatment. Hopefully next time the headlines won't appear so perplexing.