Glass was discovered 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia – but it was not until 600 years later that it was used in earnest in manufactured and crafted goods. Glass is created when tiny particles of salts and sands are subjected to extreme heats, which transmogrifies the individual grains of glass into a smooth material – not quite a solid – that enables light to penetrate through it. As human technology developed, the capability of removing impurities from glass constituents resulted in a clearer, more transparent product; or how we picture glass in our imagination now.

If you were poetically minded, you can draw millions of metaphors from this, but I will pick out one. Early glass would have been dark reds, greens, or browns and, as humanities’ technological processes improved, glass became increasingly transparent. Whilst our ancestors let in the light of day through glass, it was nevertheless dim and dulled by impurities that rendered the finished product torn between transparent and opaque. Modern glass, on the other hand, enables a person to look through a windowpane with complete clarity at what lies behind it. As the scientific method has developed and become the central kernel of human development, it has given clarity where before there was dull movement behind red, green, and brown panes.

But there is a more material way of making the same point. Glass is one of the facilitators of biological and chemical research. A scientist cannot look at cells and chemicals without the glass slides they are mounted onto – they cannot even look down a microscope without the refraction of light and magnifying qualities glass provides. Biology and Chemistry’s fuel is, in many ways, glass. Applying this to the realm of In-Vitro Fertilisation and Fertility, life has in the last 40 years begun to grow in glass. The material makes sense to use in the fertility setting, because it is inert and unharmful to human cells, whilst also enabling people who tend to embryo’s, sperm, and eggs, to easily observe and monitor this new life.

Because glass sits between a solid and a liquid, it is not just the vessel that carries life, but the breath that creates it. Its ambiguous status means it can be manipulated to manufacture the tools that instigate life in a laboratory. Holding Pipettes and ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) Needles are all fashioned from millions of capillary tubes every year. These glass tools are part of a complex array of processes and items that replace the need for a human’s sexual organs.

So, as our society has become more fluid, where hard-fought political victories have given people the right and ability to express sexual identities in previously unallowed ways, or novel ways, there is an apt parallel that glass – a solid material with fluid characteristics – in the form of petri dishes, holding pipettes, and ICSI pipettes, becomes the constant for enabling non-heterosexual couples to achieve pregnancies and create new life. Where historically people might have to choose between having children or having relationships that weren’t heterosexual, it allows people to have the lifestyles they want (for example, lesbian couples can have their own child through IUI or IVF). The replacement of sexual organs for lab glassware allows couples to work outside of a biological binary of male/female that previously was not possible. It is a technology that enables the celebration of difference.

Perhaps the argument can be reversed to; as glass has been part of the bedrock of a fertility industry which enabled LGBTQ+ partners to achieve pregnancies, it has been a window itself. There is an equality in the open-endedness of fertility treatments – anybody can have them in a myriad of ways. Because these treatments have allowed for LGBTQ+ couples to lead family lives and be more visible in our society, there has been a public exposure to non-traditional ways of living. In a sense like glass, the fertility industry has been a windowpane to allow us to see the commonality between humans. Despite differences of gender, differences of sexuality, and differences in lifestyle, IVF highlights that beneath the surface humans are similar in so many ways. The long to care (for a child, for a patient, or for a partner) is universal and the technology of fertility labs has enabled our societies to see that behind these treatments are individuals and couples looking to love and care for a child of their own.

Glass is transparency in material form. In the world of fertility treatments, it reveals humans to be humans, and gives equality to sexuality.

March 06, 2024 — Harvey Barrett
Tags: ivf lgbtq

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