Choosing Children: The Back Story
The Choosing Children DVD is packaged with a 20 minute bonus featuring directors Debra Chasnoff and Kim Klausner sharing what they went through in the early 1980s to make this now historic documentary.
Here is a little bit of the story from Debra’s point of view.
The Back Story – How Choosing Children Got Made
In the early 1980s, I lived in Somerville, Massachusetts. My partner at the time, Kim Klausner, was involved with a local film group called Angry Arts. Once a month, this collective would show a political film, usually a documentary, on a 16mm projector in the basement of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Harvard Square, Cambridge, which was about a mile from our apartment.
I loved what Angry Arts did, bringing people together to watch a film, discuss it, and hopefully inspire the audience to get politically involved with the issues the films explored. During that same period, two important documentaries were produced, both from the Bay Area. Word is Out and In the Best Interests of the Children. They were both revelations to me—the first time I had ever seen openly gay men and lesbians on celluloid telling the truth about our lives. I wondered if Kim and I could try our hand and make a film of our own. And if so, what would it be about?
At that time, in our social circle, a frequent topic of conversation was wondering if it would ever be possible for us to have children as open lesbians. We all knew women who had had children while they were involved with men, but none of us knew anyone who had had a child in the context of an out gay relationship.
It seemed really scary and daunting. It was just a given that part of what one gave up when you came out was the possibility of having children, of raising a family. It went with the territory of being out and proud. We all went to political meetings, not to PTA meetings.
For starters, how would we get pregnant? You couldn’t just go into a sperm bank and say, “Hi, I’m a lesbian, give me some semen.” And if we found a man who would donate, what would his relationship with the child threaten our own? How could we ever adopt? What would it be like to deliberately raise a child without a father? How would we explain this to our relatives? What would happen when the kids got to school? Would they be teased and ostracized? What would it be like to be a non-biological parent? What would the child call each of the parents? Would it work to have a child with a gay man? Would our families have any legal protection at all?
One day Kim and I turned to each other and realized that exploring the answers to these questions might actually make an interesting documentary film. And so we set off to find lesbians in the country who had had children after they came out. And they were few and far between!
We placed ads in gay and feminist newspapers (this was all way before the internet) and soon our mailbox had letters and photos of lesbian-headed families in different cities. We set off on a journey to meet as many as we could, and from those visits, selected the six families that are in Choosing Children.
We knew we wanted all kinds of diversity—obviously a wide racial range, but also in terms of the way the women created their families. So we wound up with women who got pregnant “the old-fashioned way,” women who used donor insemination with known and unknown donors, and women who adopted through the social service system as ‘single” women. And they also were living in different kinds of family structures: as couples, co-parenting with gay men, as single women, and as part of a group collective.
Kim and I didn’t know how to make a film, and were extremely lucky find Margaret Lazarus, who with her partner, Renner Wunderlich, ran a small documentary production and distribution organization, Cambridge Documentary Films. Margaret mentored us—showing us how to select a production crew and work with them, teaching us how to edit, and guiding us through the post-production process. She also gave us free editing space!
When the film was finished, we contacted all the fledging lesbian mother organizations that had helped us find the families, and took Choosing Children on the road. The screenings we produced with those groups were pivotal in opening up the national conversation in the lesbian community about the possibility of having children. You could see little light bulbs go off over women’s heads in the audience. In Ithaca, Austin, Seattle, Boston, and Minneapolis, women turned to their partners after the film and said, “Honey, what do you think? Could we do it?”
Kim and I also did a lot of mainstream media interviews. We were on talk radio and the Sunday magazines of many newspapers. This publicity wound up exposing huge numbers of people to the idea that lesbians could have children, and played a significant role in helping to change cultural assumptions about LGBT people and kids. The film also was screened for many people in the judicial and social service systems, helping to educate professionals in those fields about why the right to second-parent adoptions is so crucial.
Most importantly, making Choosing Children changed my life dramatically. In addition to showing me the power of making and distributing film as tool for social change, it led to me having children of my own! Kim and I went on to have two sons together, Noah and Oscar. Kim and I separated in 1997, but we have co-parented these two wonderful young men together and feel so lucky to have been able to choose children.