Friday, May 10, 2013

One door closes, another opens

Just came across a great story from that wonderful city I went to on my very first adventure with bright lights and the big city – Munich, Germany.  It was in 1960 when I first discovered that “Millionendorf” (village of a million people) with its thirty-seven museums and its forty kinds of beer.  It was a treasure store of grand boulevards and rococo churches and its beautiful English Garden.  Still is.  It was my opening to the world after growing up in rural New England.  I’ve written about how rural New England is no longer a place I want to run from.  But it’s also true, once I had a taste of city life, which Munich gave me, I never looked back, and I’ve never been sorry.

With my North German background, there was a bit of distancing from Catholic Bavaria.  Not real prejudice, actually, but sort of a sense that “they’re not us.”  Not much different from what New Englanders feel about people from the Carolinas.  Or used to.  So much has changed since I was a kid.

It was in Munich that I left behind first organized religion and, soon after, religion altogether.  I had joined the Lutheran Church while I was in college, and since I had grown up associating the German Lutheran Church my family attended with Germany, I expected to find a home.  I deliberately sought out a Lutheran dormitory to live in.   Instead of the beer-drinking, singing, dancing, fun-loving Germans I grew up with I found a rather cold, rigid and somber folk.  Not bad people.  Just not a whole lot of fun.

For years I accepted the explanation that it was because Munich was so very Catholic that the Lutherans who lived there had become defensive about their faith, and that led to a kind of killer earnestness.  I doubt now that I had my finger on the pulse of religious differences, but I do remember how very strongly religious identity figured in my life in those days.  And how very conscious I was that I was living in an intensely Roman Catholic environment.

Then the years went by and I remember reading somewhere that by 2010 non-Catholics had come to outnumber Catholics in Munich.   Things change in fifty years.

All this by way of a very long introduction to another, totally unrelated story of a boy and his Catholic Church I read in a Munich paper just now.  It’s the tale of a guy named Markus who wanted to be a priest.

“No way,” said the church.  “You’re gay.”

Fine, he says.  I’ll just go and make babies, then.

Which he did.    Twenty-two so far, and counting.

Markus became a sperm donor.  Found him a bunch of lesbians who wanted to make babies with him, and together they followed the biblical instruction to be fruitful and multiply.

All this might not have happened if the state (don’t know whether it was Bavaria or the Federal Republic) had not determined that lesbians would not be eligible to apply for sperm donations.  Fine, says Markus.  If the state won't let you pay for sperm,  I’ll give you my stuff in a cup for nothing.  Come on over, bring your partner, we’ll do the thing, you stand on your head for a while and we’ll see what happens.  Turns out young Markus has some powerful stuff.  It almost always takes the first time.

What you see here is old-world Catholic Bavaria, like most Catholic regions, once a conservative and patriarchal place, giving way to a new Bavaria, more secular, more accepting, more "catholic" in the sense of all-embracing.   As the church's influence wanes (attendance dropped from 22% in 1990 to 13% in 2009), so do some of its tired ways.

There is irony all over this story.  The church, with all its talk of "family values," has become a dried-up increasingly irrelevant institution.   Religion, more often than not, is little more than a kind of "decayed spirituality" and the Roman Catholic Church illustrates that definition to a tee.   For years, gays and lesbians knocked at the church door appealing to be allowed in.  Increasingly they're learning the world can actually be a better place if they stop knocking.   No longer satisfied to be the spinster auntie or nice uncle Freddie who never found the right girl, they are making their own families now.  Oh, and Mr. Bishop person?  You can't fire me; I quit.

What you have here is one instance of women who are building families together.  Under the old rules, women had to marry men if they wanted children.  Under the new rules they can marry each other and illustrate the old feminist maxim that women need men the way a fish needs a bicycle. 

That’s way overstated, of course, because it does not, and never will, tell the story of most women  for whom the heterosexual model works just fine, thank you.  But here in the land of the three Ks, where Kinder (children) once went only with K├╝che (the kitchen) and Kirche (church), some women have found them a nice man named Markus to make babies with, and from all appearances things are working out just fine.

I say from all appearances because I know this guy Markus only from the newspaper story.  I don't know the real guy.  Unless I hear otherwise, though, I’m going to assume his motives are what he says they are.  He charges no money for his sperm.  He identifies himself to the children born with his genes, so if they have questions about where they came from, they will get answers.  He may one day come to think this was not the best way to go.  He’s already, apparently, having trouble finding a partner, because he is committed to the women he has worked with and the children he has spawned.  After all, would you get involved with a man who has twenty-two children to buy birthday presents for, twenty-two birthday cakes with candles to blow out?  And counting?  Then there's his mother.  "Stop, my darling child.  For the love of God, that's enough!"

The important part of this story, though, it seems to me, is that Markus and these lesbian mothers are bringing children into the world who are wanted and will be cared for.  They are being born into families who, from all appearances, will raise them in loving homes.  The parents, biological and chosen, are taking responsibility for their actions.  There are no accidental pregnancies here, and none of these children will ever doubt that their real parents (the women who raise them) wanted them and that their biological father was the very antithesis of a deadbeat dad.  A man who once wanted to be a priest, yet.

And – I don’t know about you – but I think it would be cool to know you have 21 half brothers and sisters and to be able to name them all.  Without being born in a harem or to polygamist Mormon fundamentalists, I mean.

The only part of the story that I think people might want to take issue with is Markus’ snide remark that he enjoys getting back at the church that rejected him.  Sounds a tad petty, I'll admit, but I think the church has that one coming.  And it doesn’t change the fact that he’s going about this with a high sense of responsibility, or so it seems to me.

Brave new world, this is.  New families.  New rules.  Lots of new things.

As for that old line the homophobes drag out every time there is a debate over same-sex marriage – God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to get married because they can’t reproduce.

Well, by showing Markus the would-be priest the door, the Catholic Church in Munich
just fixed that, now didn’t they.

baby picture credit:  (Note:  The baby in this picture is not related to any of the babies in the story, as far as I know.  It's just a terribly cute baby named Otto, and I hope his parents, whose blog I found this picture on, won't mind if I use him to represent happy babies everywhere.)

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