By Neal Broverman
Originally published on Advocate.com February 15 2012 5:00 AM ET
Trent Arsenault is the father of 14 children, give or take. The San Francisco Bay area tech worker moonlights as a sperm donor for those who need help with conception, including many lesbian couples. What's novel about Arsenault — and what may also get him into serious trouble with the federal government — is that he cuts out the middleman, loudly and proudly offering his services for free and without a sperm bank as an intermediary.
Arsenault is well known among lesbians in the Bay Area hoping to start a family. While a sperm bank can charge hundreds for one milliliter of anonymously donated semen and thousands for a specimen from a known donor, Arsenault gives away his sperm out of the goodness of his own heart, he says.
"I grew up in a conservative evangelical church," Arsenault says. "They taught compassion, but at the same time this church's leadership was bullying gay people. I decided I was going to show compassion not just to Christians but to all types of people."
Arsenault began donating in 2006, reaching clients through his website (TrentDonor.org), which includes his stats (36, blond, 6 foot 1, 150 pounds, interests in hiking and bird-watching), family background, medical history, stories from other recipients, and his donor agreement, which includes a provision allowing prospective parents to choose whether they want him involved in their children's lives (he's met four of his kids). Once a potential parent contacts him, they correspond for a period, and then the recipient simply texts Arsenault when the hopeful mother is ovulating.
The Food and Drug Administration is uneasy with the setup — possibly because Arsenault has put a few of his "donation sessions" on XTube — so much so that the agency issued a cease and desist order after making several visits to Arsenault's Fremont, Calif., home. The order focuses on the risk of communicable disease and the lack of formal testing of specimens.
Arsenault claims to be routinely screened for STDs, even though he's largely celibate. Describing himself as "donorsexual," Arsenault says much of his energy, sexual and otherwise, goes into making the dreams of childless people come true. His donor work is taking up even more of his time now that he's challenging the cease order — Arsenault filed a brief objecting to the order but is still donating while he waits to hear from the FDA — and fielding dozens of new requests now that his story has gone international. But because Arsenault works only with Bay Area recipients, he has turned down potential recipients from Japan, Italy, Ireland, and Malaysia.
While Arsenault may be the most visible and possibly the most prolific donor, he's not alone: He's registered with Free-Sperm-Donations.com, a group that connects thousands of free donors with hopeful moms-to-be. The FDA may be making an example of him, Arsenault concedes, but he‚'s not backing down.
"With the economy, a lot of people who want to start families don't have the money it can require," he says. "It limits a certain category from having children. That's why I'm not caving in to the FDA."