May 31, 2005

Queer Eye for the Pregnant Guy


Is this shot from last Friday’s NYT cover just a little too gay?

Between the print and on-line version of the Times, I must have looked at this image at least three times before I realized it wasn’t a scene from a stage play.  Instead, it shows Anthony Ramos, a gay prospective father, laying next to Dawn Buras, a woman who has been hired by Ramos and his partner to bear the couple a child.

In studying the picture, I can’t help wondering if it is exploitive of gays, overindulgent of the surrogate, and pushing the line when it comes to the staging of news photos.  Of course, you also can’t look at this image right now without considering it in light of the supercharged political atmosphere surrounding “moral values,” gay marriage, and even “the culture of life.”

One of the points in the article is that couples (gay or straight) that hire a surrogate often become close to that person during the pregnancy (and, in some cases, remain so).  Nonetheless, as a photo on the front page of a national newspaper, the unusual intimacy makes me wonder if the paper felt more liberty because the subject involves gays.  Should we assume it is more acceptable to show a man in his bed with his jungle print pillows, posed in a completely vulnerable and seemingly unaware position, using dramatic lighting to dramatize the scene because these are elements consistent with gay stereotypes?

Also, if a point of this article is to profile the equality of gay surrogacy, what is the impact of Mr. Ramos in such a sublimated and possibly fetal position?  Or, the fact Ms. Buras looks more established at home than Mr. Ramos?  What does this say about the maturity of the gay father if the surrogate comes off looking more his mommy?

And then, what politics and sensibilities are involved in showing the surrogate and the one parent in bed together?  In part, is it supposed to soften the edge of a controversial story by making it seem like these two are a straight couple?  By showing just one of the gay men with the surrogate, does it attempt to “force fit” gay parents into a more traditional model, as if one was “more father” and the other “more mother?”  Finally, how much would this image stand if it depicted a straight couple?  As the article relates, there is never sexual relations between a couple member and the surrogate.  Could you imagine the sense of contradiction, though, if Mr. Ramos was lying here representing a straight couple?

Still, of all the problems I have with this image, I can’t get over how staged it is.  Even buying into the heavy handed lengths to which this image was scripted, I still have one question:  Instead of having Mr. Ramos gazing at the magazine, why wouldn’t they have had him staring at the pregnant belly?

(image: Ginia Bellafante for The New York Times.  May 27, 2004 in The New York Times. p.A1)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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