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The View From Here

by David Levinson
February 13, 2006
The View From Here
Some time ago, Ruth, a friend of John's, asked him to donate his sperm so that she could get pregnant. One of his oldest and best friends, he met Ruth and her partner, Gloria, one January day for dinner and told them he'd be happy to do it; he didn't want to be a father, he simply wanted to help them out. It seemed the right thing to do. Ruth was thrilled and they set up a date for the following week, when John would sign a contract giving up all rights to the child. This didn't bother him, but it seemed to bother a lot of other people, especially after he wrote about his experience in Newsweek. From that article alone, which ended up infuriating Ruth, John received dozens of calls from talk shows around the country, including "The View."

He agreed to go on the show for two reasons: because he wanted to meet Barbara Walters and because he wanted to be on TV. His friends tried to talk him out of it, saying, "You have nothing to sell! No product to push. Don't do it." But being cavalier and impulsive, John phoned the producer and accepted. This was mid May. He was to appear on the show two weeks later.

In the meantime, he did what any normal American gay man did who was about to go on national television: he went a little nutty. He spent hours in the gym, trying to lose an extra five pounds and used his future notoriety to land dates, working "The View" into conversation.

He'd never seen the show and took great pride in that. Some of his friends raved about Meredith Viera, Lisa Ling, Joy Behar and Starr Jones, names he'd heard in passing. The producer had told him he had nothing to worry about.

"You'll have it easy," she said. "A seven-minute interview with Starr Jones, then you're done."

He could have one friend along and he chose Cathy, mainly because she was the only one of my friends who didn't work during the day. She him me at the studio as she was supposed to do and took her reserved, audience seat while John was escorted into the cold conference room to wait for the producer. When he appeared - he, not she - John was confused.

"Change of plans," he said. "Now you're a 'Hot Topic.'"

In a panic, he found Valerie and told her, right there in the studio, that he was leaving, that they'd pulled a bait and switch. She fiddled in her purse and pulled out a tiny Ziploc bag, handing him a Valium.

Half an hour later, feeling woozy and misdirected, John sat under the stage lights, as the four co-hosts launched their hostile questions: How many sexual partners had he had? How could he deny his parents the right to their grandchild? What if, after seeing the child, he changed my mind? What kind of cold, irresponsible person was he?

"A dead-beat Dad, that's who," Viera said at one point, turning to the audience.

When he tried to defend myself, Jones pushed her hand into his face, cutting him off. He thought he'd be given the chance to tell the world why he was doing what he was doing. Instead, he was booed and hissed at.

John went home to the ringing phone, to calls from consoling and angry friends and family. He wondered when Ruth would call to upbraid him as she had when she'd first read the Newsweek essay. It's not that he begrudged the forty-two-year-old her desire for a baby, but they were creating a new life and, in all fairness, he'd begun doubting himself.

Going on "The View" had been disastrous, but it had led John out of a strange place, where he felt responsible to father Ruth's child because he loved her though without really knowing how any of it would play out. He thought he was being heroic, that appearing on TV would galvanize his own feelings. If a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy, didn't he have a right to do the opposite? The sperm was his, after all.

Yet, cast as a Dead-Beat Dad, John wondered if he weren't making a huge mistake in signing away his rights to Ruth's - to their - child. Having made it perfectly clear to the world, they weren't all right with his choices to give Ruth a child, the women of "The View" went on to accuse him of "dumping and running" - though he was gay and there wasn't any intercourse, consensual or otherwise. What the co-hosts failed to realize (and wouldn't let him get out) was that in the current political climate, it had become even harder for same-sex couples to adopt a child and that the community as a whole was being forced to look at other alternatives - like the kind of silent partnership John and Ruth were making. Why should she be denied what the rest of the planet took for granted? Still, John wished he could've been more articulate on TV, like he is in real life. If he had to do all over again, he might not have taken the Valium so willingly, but then again, he might not have agreed to go on the show at all.

Over those next few weeks, as the horror of Viera, Ling, Behar and Jones dissolved into other, more pressing concerns, John met up with Ruth and delivered his sperm, just as they'd planned. He was sticking by his decision. Six years later, he still does.

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"David Levinson is a young writer who has mastered all the elements that make up a classically structured short story: drama, suspense, humor, empathy. There are no fancy pyrotechnics or meta-fictional devices here. He's a neo-traditionalist so the stories are direct, emotional and compulsively readable, plus there's enough mystery and action in them to propel at least a dozen novels."<br>Bret Easton Ellis