If you’re anything like me, the denouement of your two-step nightly routine may consist of a 30 to 45-minute scroll through TikTok. Maybe you scroll too far into one of alt TikTok’s beautifully niche abscesses, and your session culminates in wanting to un-see some moldy bread fever dream. Or perhaps, you make a shocking discovery under the popular #imjustsaying that leaves your mental gears furiously whirring, realigns your world perspective, and further justifies the collective distaste for the toxic male ego? For me, this discovery came in the form of same-sex reproduction TikToks claiming that two women may produce biological children together via bone marrow. And because the process would only produce daughters, we could create a new, man-free utopia (think Wonder Woman).

Surprised or enlightened? Perhaps you’ve seen this one and consequently adopted the empowering mantra “remember the bone marrow”:

@madiweiss27 i’m not even kidding everytime my boyfriend even breathes wrong my best friend will text him something like “remember the bone marrow” ##fyp ##bestie♬ How Bad Can I Be? – Ed Helms

Or maybe you’ve seen this video, which has around 30 thousand likes, and you’ve read through the comments of men who feel threatened by this scientific discovery:

@tayrbear she hates my gay rants ##imjustsaying ##SpaDeOlay ##tiktokprom ##lesbian ##bonemarrow ##pregnantlesbian ##gayaf ##dontneedmen ##foryoupage♬ How Bad Can I Be? – Ed Helms

One of the higher grossing TikToks on this topic, which reached at least 90,000 likes, has since been removed. But before then, several male users who felt threatened by the possibility of their sperm losing reproductive value dueted the video on a mission to debunk bone marrow babies. After reading through the defensive comments and enduring as much TikTok mansplaining as I could, I embarked on a factual mission. 

The information in the original videos was grounded in Iranian scientist Karim Nayernia’s stem cell research, articulated in a 2007 Discover Magazine piece. By suspending bone marrow-derived stem cells in a testes-simulating medium, researchers were able to grow the stem cells into male germ cells—or immature sperm with the potential to fertilize an egg.

Like the 2020 TikTok revival of Nayernia’s discovery, the article suggests that the experiment’s success (ethics aside) could allow two women to independently procreate with no male input.

The article’s last lines express that, after approval from his ethics board, Nayernia would continue his research by attempting to transplant the cells into human testes. It’s now been 13 years with no updates related to this specific methodology besides its brief Tik Tok resurgence. But why?

Realizing that the Tik Toks’ claims were indeed utopian and too-good-to-be-true was more disappointing than watching this TikTok user pretend to gulp down a spoonful of furry, almond milk yogurt. Especially considering how current reproductive methods do not allow same-sex couples to raise children who are genetically related to both parents. Adoption, surrogacy, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) constitute the options available for same-sex couples, and only partial genetic relatedness is possible.

Furthermore, stem cell research and same-sex reproduction are often met with pushback over safety concerns and ethical controversy. Even Nayernia’s experiments, which amassed great media coverage as the first successful attempt to turn stem cells into spermatogonia, were met with similar doubt

Though full genetic relatedness is not backed as necessary for parenthood, a series of 2017 studies surveying infertile different-sex couples found that 97% of men and women favored genetic parenthood, it seems unfair to dismiss such assisted reproduction techniques as ‘unnatural’ or same-sex reproduction ‘biologically impossible’. In recent years, several experiments with same-sex mouse parents in 2018 and in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) have shown promising results. It would be shortsighted to ignore the ethical and safety challenges that these reproductive technologies would beget, yet even more myopic to deny its progress and significance for same-sex couples. 

As we’ve seen in the past years, social media has a fascinating ability to resurface old believes and even discoveries. TikTok is another platform bringing back these ideas to light. And I for one, would like to see these actually moving forward.

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  • Shannon Zheng

    Shannon Zheng is a multidisciplinary artist and designer studying Art & Design and Philosophy at the University of Michigan. She is interested in channeling art as a form of intervention, whether it be through constructing visual narratives to promote social change or designing confrontationally through an activist lens.