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Read an extract from The Unfamiliar by Kirsty Logan

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The Unfamiliar Extract Header

‘Wonderful… Luminous writing captures the uncertainty, the fear, the sheer physicality of love’ MARIANNE LEVY


The Unfamiliar is an unconventional, unexpectedly funny, brutally honest memoir about infertility, pregnancy and queer motherhood by beloved author, Kirsty Logan. 

The Planning



You and your partner want a baby. But your two bodies can’t make a baby together. So you need some sperm.


You have some friends who would make good donors. One says no because he might want his own kids some day. One says yes, then later no because you won’t be raising the baby in his religion. One says no because he might be moving abroad soon. You don’t mind them saying no; better that than saying yes and backing out later, or worse – saying yes, a baby coming, and then regretting it.


But still. Every time you hear no, it’s harder to respond with, Totally fine! Thanks for even considering it! We’ ll ask

another of the rapidly dwindling pool of people we know who have sperm and might give us some! 🙂 xx


If you had sperm and you weren’t using it, would you give it to someone? You’re not sure. You have lots of things you’re not using that you don’t want to give away. Some of these things in your body, some in your home, and some not tangible things at all, like your time or your attention. You have them and other people need them. But still. They’re yours, aren’t they? You don’t owe them to anyone. You can keep them all to yourself if you want.


And if you’re honest, you do. You luxuriate, like a dragon on its hoard, on the shining piles of your time and your attention, knowing that there are people out there who could use them. People who have babies but do not have sufficient time or attention. Couldn’t you share yours with them?


But they already have a baby.


But you’re not entitled to a baby. You’re not entitled to anyone’s sperm.


You and your partner go out for dinner. You order a soft-shell crab burger, thinking it will be a patty, minced, in breadcrumbs. It’s an entire deep-fried crab in a bun, which looks exactly like a spider. Its legs stick out of the side. You don’t dare open the bun because you’re afraid to see if it has eyes. You try to eat it fast but only manage half. You have stomach ache for hours, so bad that you force yourself not to cry out. You don’t admit that you didn’t like your dinner or that you’re in pain. That night you dream you give birth to a hundred tiny crabs, scuttling out of your body and across the crumpled sheets.


You and your partner quickly exhaust your potential sperm donor list. It wasn’t that long; you don’t know that many people with sperm, mostly the boyfriends or husbands of your female friends. And they mostly want the sperm for themselves.


You don’t even like sperm. Or rather semen. You always hated it. Even in the years that you were still fucking men, the semen was your least favourite part. The bleachy smell of it. The tapioca texture. The way it dried on your skin, making it sticky and grubby-feeling. You got it out of you, off of you, as quickly as you could. You liked fucking men, but the sperm you could have done without. You remember reading a character in a novel who had no testicles, only a penis, and thinking: Oh, perfect.


And now look at you. Politely asking your every acquaintance for some sperm, pretty please.


After the last no, the one from the friend who wanted the baby raised in his religion, which isn’t even your religion, which is none, or your partner’s religion, which is lapsed, you despair. You despair dramatically, cinematically, flop- ping on the couch and weeping into the cushions. It’s not fair, you wail to your partner, like a toddler. It’s not fair.


Even as you write this you think: Why are you mocking yourself? Because you remember crying on that couch. You remember the ache, the disappointment, the devastation you felt at being told, once again, that you weren’t going to have a baby. Weren’t even going to get the chance to try. Other people can have babies. They can have babies when they don’t even mean to. But not you.


Because it wasn’t just sperm, was it? You’re using the word sperm over and over and it’s kind of funny, it’s a funny word, it makes people titter and blush. But every no isn’t the loss of some sperm. It’s the loss of a child you hoped you could have with your partner. It’s the loss of a life you are desperately trying to build together.


You and your partner mourn the loss of every one of those babies you’d hoped for. With each person you asked, you couldn’t help studying their faces. The texture of their hair. The angle of their jaw. The subtle catch of their tongue on their bottom teeth. Mixing these features with the more familiar ones you see every day, thinking: Is this what our child will look like? Is this our future?


You want to keep wailing and weeping on the couch, but your partner immediately goes online and finds a website. The website is like internet dating, but for sperm. People who have sperm and are willing to give it away put up profiles with their location, life situation and photo. People who need sperm put up similar profiles. Let’s just look, she says.


You met your partner online. Later you both admitted that you didn’t like one another’s photos – she didn’t like the fake-fur coat you were wearing, thinking it meant you were high-maintenance and princessy; you didn’t like the beanie hat she was wearing, thinking it meant she was young and immature and probably still skateboarded. But you gave one another a chance and went for a drink anyway. It turned out she was actually four years older than you and had never skateboarded in her life. You, however, can’t deny being high-maintenance.


She says she knew you were the one as soon as you walked into the bar. For you it took a little longer; after drinks you went to dinner, and when she ordered ox cheek she paused, grinned, and pinched her own cheek. That’s when you knew.


You stayed in that restaurant, like the old cliché, until the staff were sweeping up around your feet. Your partner, tipsy and giddy, already in love, already knowing she was sitting across from her future, tipped so much that the waiter returned the notes, thinking it was a mistake. At the taxi rank she asked to kiss you, and you said yes, and she slipped her hands inside that fake-fur coat that you didn’t know she didn’t like, and you whispered into her mouth: Can I come home with you? And she replied: No, next time. I want it to last.


You browse the sperm donor website together. It lists three different methods for donation: IVF, home insemination using cups and syringes, or ‘natural conception’, which is a euphemism for penetrative sex, and which you will only refer to in inverted commas because it seems to you deeply unnatural to fuck someone you don’t want to fuck purely to get sperm. You avoid every profile that lists ‘natural conception’ as the only option, which it turns out is a depressingly high number.


You see a queer person you vaguely know, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who you’ve spoken to at literary events. They seemed fine, if a little socially awkward. But you’re shocked to see that they’ve listed ‘natural conception’ as their only option. You think it would be nice to have a fellow queer person as your donor. But not that one.

You and your partner make a profile on the sperm donor website with several photos of you together, smiling, looking wholesome. You hope you don’t seem princessy or skateboardy, or if you do, the potential donors don’t mind. You include a photo of you both with your dog, a lurcher you adopted together several years ago, and who has taught you many things that you hope will be useful for parenthood, like patience and loving discipline and night-waking and observing the health and wellbeing of a creature that can’t tell you if something hurts and cleaning up shit and pee and puke and generally keeping alive something other than yourself.

You also include a photo from your wedding, an event you planned because you loved each other and wanted to show your commitment and quite fancied a big party with your family and friends. But, honestly, it was mostly so that you’d both be legal parents to the baby you’d already agreed you both wanted, something you discussed on the third date, which seems funny to you now, a queer cliché, a red flag even, but at the time seemed perfectly logical; you already knew you were going to be together so it made sense to get the details sorted. If you weren’t married at the time of conception, then the non-birth parent wouldn’t automatically be the baby’s other parent, and would have to wait and adopt the baby after the birth. It would also mean you’d have to write the sperm donor’s name on the birth certificate, as it’s illegal not to name the ‘father’ if you know who it is. Neither of you wanted that. So you’re married, and you’ll both automatically be the parents of the baby you conceive together. You don’t want to be heterosexual, and never have. You don’t think you should have had to get married just to be equal parents. But you did it. To get what straight people have, sometimes you have to play by the rules they made.


You find a donor. He says he’s studying to be a physiotherapist, he’s from the Highlands, he spends a lot of time with his nephews. He also says he’s healthy and has had a full STD check. You have no proof of this, but have to trust him. He’s already fathered six other children for six different women; though he doesn’t call this fathering, he calls it helping, as in, I’ve helped six women. You don’t know if you’ve ever been more grateful for someone’s help in your life.


Things you and your partner ask the donor:


  • Any family health problems?


  • Do these fertile dates work with your schedule?


  • Can we cover your travel costs?


Things you want to ask the donor:


  • Does it make you feel manly to father lots of children?


  • Do you find it sexy when women are pregnant by you?


  • Do you bring specific porn for when you masturbate in strangers’ bathrooms? What is it?


He comes to your flat and he’s young, shy. Your partner has popped to the shop to get some biscuits, so you invite the donor in and offer him tea, coffee, juice, water. He doesn’t want anything. He sits in the furthest-away chair, tucked in the corner. You chat awkwardly for a while. You don’t know what’s the appropriate length of time to chat to him. The thing is that he’s not your friend. You’ve never met him before and to be honest you’re not particularly interested in him as a person. But you don’t want him to know that. You don’t want him to feel used, like you’re only interested in him for his sperm, even though you are quite literally only interested in his sperm.


Your partner returns with the entire biscuit section of the supermarket. The donor says he doesn’t want a biscuit, thank you. You’re relieved that she’s back; you know she’s more likeable than you, funnier and more casual; you know you come across as stuck-up and distant when you’re nervous. More than anything, you want the donor to like you. You want him to feel you’re worthy of what he’s giving you.


Eventually there’s an extended pause and he says, Should we . . . ? And so you do. Your donor goes into your bathroom to masturbate. Your partner goes into the bedroom to masturbate. You stay on the couch, not masturbating. You put the TV on. The flat is small and quiet, and you don’t want them to feel like you can hear their intimate sounds. You don’t want them to be able to hear each other. Or would that help him? Does he find the whole thing strangely arousing, or is it a mere physical chore, like cutting his toenails?


Your partner wants to orgasm both before and after the semen goes in. She’s read that the rhythmic pulses of an orgasm will pull the semen up into the womb and help with conception. This seems frankly ludicrous to you, but then again this whole thing feels ludicrous.


You fidget on the couch. How long is it supposed to take? You turn the TV volume down. You don’t want to distract either of them with inappropriate and unsexy sounds. The choice is Countdown or Judge Judy (but who could orgasm to the ticking clock or the bang of the gavel?).


Sexy TV would be even worse. This isn’t sexy. This isn’t sex. But both of them need to orgasm, separately, in separate rooms, without thinking about what each other is doing. And you need to sit here and pretend you’re watching TV and not waiting for two orgasms.


You hear the bathroom lock click. You feel it would cheapen the whole thing to offer him money, but you want to offer him something. You can’t think what, so you just thank him when he leaves the little tub of semen on your toilet tank, hoping he can see from your shining, wide-open eyes how genuine you are.


You carry the semen through to the bedroom tucked in your bra to keep it at body temperature. Your partner is on the bed, naked from the waist down, lower body propped on pillows. She’s masturbating, eyes closed, focused. You lurk by the door. You can smell her cunt. It’s arousing.


I could help, you’d said to your partner the night before. You’d imagined candles, music, kissing; a coming together. You’d imagined a sex act, the way most babies are conceived. Well, not exactly the same way. You know how to make her come; you’ve done it a lot. You’ve done it seven times in one session. That was in the early days of your relationship, but even several years in you’re a reliable provider of between one and three orgasms a time. We could do it together, you say. No, your partner replies, then softens. It’s not about you. I don’t find it sexy to have a random man’s bodily fluids in me. We just have to get it done.


You’d imagined fucking like you usually fuck. But this isn’t fucking. This is a physical chore, like cutting your toenails.


Except when your partner cuts her toenails, she doesn’t have her legs spread, and her cunt wet, and her labia swollen and pink, and she’s not making the orgasm sounds you know so well.


You stand by the door, a tub of stranger’s semen in your bra, a throbbing between your legs. Your body is confused. Your partner orgasms, you put the semen in the syringe, you squirt it into her cunt, she orgasms again, she rests her legs straight up the wall, you go and make cups of tea, and while the kettle boils you think: maybe that was it, maybe she’s pregnant, maybe that will be the story that you laughingly, wonderingly tell people about how you made a baby together. The kettle clicks off. The flat smells of sex.


Your donor comes every month. But every month, so does your partner’s period.


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