Although so much has already been said about Nadya Suleman in the popular press (and I’m sure there is no shortage of academics busy drafting even more thoughtful stuff), I thought I’d raise the so-called “Octo-mom” here because I have found her situation and the reaction to her very troubling. To be clear, I’m not troubled by her “irresponsible” decision to implant 6 embryos at a time when she was single, in graduate school, living with her mother, and taking care of the 6 children she already had. (I’m not saying that that wasn’t irresponsible, just that I’m not all that troubled by it.) I suppose I am a little concerned about the consequences for the children (though my built-up immunity to “think-about-the-children” pleas dulls my concern on that front…you can only cry wolf so many times). No, what’s bothering me are the implications of her queer story for my convenient notion of queer citizenship (who do I/“we” think count as a queer citizen?) and the inevitably messy nature of queer politics (what are the ways in which my value systems are aligned with heternormativity after all? just where do I draw the line between queerness that is “acceptable” and not?)
On the one hand, I read Nadya Suleman and the anger her undisciplined breeding has unleashed with a good deal of queer pleasure. Can we call her a drag mom? Her situation functions as a gross parody of the excessive over-valuation of motherhood and reproduction. And the anger over the assumed burden she and her family will place on the social safety net can be used to expose heteronormativity’s ideological blindspot to the ways all reproduction is a social burden and all families are dependent on the support of the wider village. And as someone whose biological clock has never ticked, I queerly enjoy extending the pathologizing discourse used to explain/contain her decisions to parenthood in general. On the other hand, I find less queer pleasure in her pro-life, religiously inspired defense (“the sanctity of life made me do it”). And at a time when the environmental consequences of our growing human population threatens the lives of billions, I can only revel in my intellectual queer reading so long before I think her decisions were just “wrong” and ask my self “Can I bring myself to argue for her inalienable right to reproduce as part of some queer political agenda”? That the answer was “no” points out the contingency of politics and the unsettling place that forces us to live in. After all, what is the unreasonable line I think she has crossed and why do I draw that line there (rather than, as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh likely would, at a place that would indict lesbian couples or teenagers on welfare). We all have our blindspots, double standards, and strategic ambiguities.
Although I could have posted almost any clip from the recent media obsession, I chose this moment from Oprah, which cites the Dateline interview, because its pathologization of her desires and my agreement with it makes me very unsettled as a gay man in a culture where same-sex sexual desires had once been treated similarly.