When my friends Tori and Kelly first asked me to serve as their sperm donor two years ago, I took nearly four months before agreeing. That may seem like a long while to keep my friends hanging, but I needed that time to carefully talk my decision over with family, friends, my landlord, the barista at my local coffee shop, and pretty much any other poor soul who made the mistake of casually asking me how “things” were going during that four-month stretch.
I’m lucky to have so many people in my life who were willing to put up with me while I debated the issue to death. But truthfully, all I really wanted was to speak with someone who had been through it all before; someone who had already stared down the barrel of that turkey baster and lived to tell the tale.
But alas, I didn’t know a soul who had successfully entered into a known-donor arrangement. It was an uncertain path forward, a path I knew few gay men had dared travel before me. But if it would help my friends fulfill their dream of starting their family, I decided I was up to the task. And so I took a deep breath and ventured, alone, into this strange new world of menstrual cycles, pee sticks, and fertility clinics. “David is so brave,” I imagined my friends and family saying to one another as they decided where to erect the statue in my honor. “So selfless to help his friends, with nary a role model in sight.”
As it turns out, I simply hadn’t been looking hard enough. These days, it seems I can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who knows someone in a known donor arrangement.
“Oh yeah, my masseur got some lesbians pregnant, too,” an acquaintance practically yawned at me at a dinner party recently.
“So did my friend Raymond!” another guest chimed in. “Like ten years ago,” she then added.
Okay, so maybe I’m not such a trailblazer. Maybe the statue is premature. Apparently, the masseurs and Raymonds of the world colonized the wild hinterlands of known sperm donation long before I came along. They probably even have an Ikea there by now.
But really, I couldn’t be more thankful that I’m not such a pioneer after all. While it would have been useful to have spoken to these men before making such a life changing decision, it’s nonetheless incredibly beneficial to speak with these other known donors when given the opportunity. There simply aren’t a lot of people on the planet who have had to wrestle with some of the peculiar questions that come along with being a known donor: How involved should you be? What legal steps should you take to protect yourselves? Is your status as a known donor first-date material, or is it best to save that surprise until after the honeymoon?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and speaking with dozens of different known donors from many different parts of the country. It has been a huge help to be able to speak with these donors as I’ve begun navigating my known donor arrangement with Tori and Kelly. Of all the donors I’ve spoken with, however, no one stands out more in my mind than Hal Offen who, unlike me, truly did blaze some trails of sorts in the world of known sperm donation.
Hal and His “Wives”
None of the known donors I’ve spoken with have taken the decision to enter into a known donor arrangement lightly. There are a complex set of questions that accompany such a life changing decision: Will the women who are asking you to donate make good parents? How will it affect your relationship with them? How active of a role will you play in your offspring’s life? What part should your family play?
Hal Offen first weighed these questions in 1974; he then did so again in 1982; and then again in 1984. Each time with different women.
“I call them my wives,” Hal told me with a laugh, when we spoke by phone recently. (This joke resonated with me, born and raised in Utah, more than Hal realized. But I digress…)
Before I’d even managed to ask my first question, Hal began to tell me about how it all began with wife number one:
“I was 24 at the time of the first insemination,” Hal told me, who is now 65 and works as a researcher at the University of California, documenting bad behavior in the tobacco industry. “I had met a lesbian couple through a mutual friend, and liked them a lot. They asked one day if I’d help, and I said yes. And then Huckleberry was born. She’s 39 now, turning 40 in January. She’s married and lives in Wisconsin and has two boys, who are 9 and 6. Sorry, I guess I should let you guide the questions. Where would you like to start?”
For a moment, I was speechless. How had he managed to pack so much information into so few sentences? I had no idea where to start. Maybe with what it was like becoming a known donor at such a young age? And in the context of the 1970s? Or what it’s like being not only a bio-dad but a bio-granddad?
I settled here instead: “Sorry, did you say your daughter’s name was Huckleberry?”
“Well, we were all hippie types,” he offered, laughing. “In fact, we just did all the inseminations and the births at home, no doctor, no lawyers, nothing written. We had a verbal agreement, of course. They weren’t looking for a co-parent or financial responsibility or decision-making authority over the child. And I agreed to all that, verbally, and promised not to violate it.”
I had millions of questions already, but first, I wanted to get the details of the other two donor arrangements on the table. So how’d it happen with wife number two?
Hal’s second known donor arrangement didn’t come to pass until a decade later, in 1982, when a friend of his from The Lost Tribe, a lesbian-gay-bisexual political Jewish group, approached him in synagogue one day. “She said, ‘I want to get pregnant. Do you know any nice Jewish boys you could send my way?’” Hal said he thought for a second. “Then I said, well, I’d be willing!”
Again, I was speechless. Not only did Hal decide to enter into the complications of a second donor arrangement, but he did so proactively? I had assumed there must have been some dramatic backstory to explain why he’d ever consider taking on that role for a second time. Clearly, he had been tricked into donating somehow by some devious lesbians, I thought, or maybe he’d been held up at gun point for a vial of his sperm.
“Well she was surprised, too, because I’d already done it once,” Hal laughed, when I expressed my surprise. “But I told her how it had worked out so beautifully the first time around. And she and I were part of this burgeoning queer, Jewish, lefty community in the heyday of San Francisco. I trusted her. It was all very exciting.”
Though Hal seemed to enter into his second donor arrangement just as casually as the first, things were a bit more formal with his second “wife,” who was a practicing lawyer at the time. She drew up a written agreement that said she would have all the rights and responsibilities over the child, but that Hal was welcome to be a part of the child’s life. Soon after, she gave birth to a daughter, Yeshi, who is now 30 and lives in the Bay Area, where she teaches history.
Okay. Wife number three?
“She and I were best friends. She suggested we actually raise the baby together because we were so close. But I said, 'You know, I’d be happy to help you conceive but I don’t want to commit to raising a child. I just really liked what was going on with the other two kids.' She was fine with that.”
Hal’s third “wife” was living in Washington, D.C. at the time and gave birth to the youngest of Hal’s children, Sam. “We have a wonderful photo of him in a hollowed-out watermelon,” Hal said. “That was the photo we used for the birth announcement. Did I mention we were all hippies?" Sam, now 29, lives in New York and is an actor. Like Hal, Sam is gay. “As my oldest, Huckle, is fond of saying, ‘All of Hal’s children take after him. They like men!’”
And that is how Hal became the three-peat known sperm donor.
To read "Hippie Hal: The Three-Peat Known Sperm Donor, Part II," click here.