Affective De-Commodifying, Economic De-Kinning: Surrogates' and Gay Fathers' Narratives in US Surrogacy

17 Aug 2017

In this paper I discuss affective and economic exchanges in commercial surrogacy in the US. I draw on a qualitative study I carried out in the US between 2014 and 2016, consisting of interviews and participant observation with 37 gay fathers in 20 families, 20 surrogates and 15 professionals. My findings suggest that emotions and affects, present in the dominant narrative of gift-giving and relatedness between surrogates and gay fathers, facilitate commodification. At the same time, I argue that emotions and affects render the effects of commodification more bearable for surrogates and intended parents, as they diminish their mutual estrangement and the surrogates’ alienation from the product of their labour. On the other hand, I show how the affective processes work simultaneously with economic dimensions of making kinship. The negotiation of kinship is facilitated by economics, as compensation that surrogates receive contributes to de-kinning their parenting status and cementing the intended fathers’ rights. According to my data, the exchange between surrogates and intended fathers in the US is founded on the women's lower socio-economic status. This stratified exchange, however, occurs mainly within the middle class between relatively economically empowered individuals, which is underpinned by a normative expectation of surrogates’ agency and self-determination. Throughout this paper I aim to show that affective and economic exchanges I observed in US surrogacy mutually reinforce each other.