Writing at Salon, Thomas Rogers looks at whether the publicity surrounding Thomas Beatie, aka “the pregnant man,” who has willingly appeared on “Oprah” and in many other media outlets, has ultimately helped or hurt the public perception about transgendered men and women.
Beatie, 34, was scheduled to give birth today via caesarean section. He first told his story in The Advocate back in March, when he explained:
I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy. Unlike those in same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, Nancy and I are afforded the more than 1,100 federal rights of marriage. Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire.
Rogers looks at the media’s handling of Beattie — “Many journalists don’t seem to know how to talk about him, and some, like Diane Sawyer, have had trouble keeping their pronouns straight” — and talks with academics such as Paisley Currah, a transgendered associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College and author of the upcoming “The United States of Gender,” about why the public is so captivated by Beattie’s pregnancy.
Referring to a column by Jeff Jacoby that appeared in the International Herald Tribune under the title, “Pregnant, yes — but not a man,” Rogers writes:
Part of what seems to have unsettled Jacoby, in particular, is the way that advances in technology have made physical gender far more malleable than ever before. People can use surgery to remove — or add — breasts, and use hormones to change their voice and facial hair, while leaving other parts of their body intact. In Beatie’s case, Currah says, “gender ideology is colliding with the materiality of bodies.” Or, in slightly less abstruse terms, Beatie reminds us that sometimes our bodies and our gender don’t necessarily align in black-and-white terms — an unsettling feeling that some men encounter when they gain weight and grow breasts, or when women discover unsightly facial hair — and the pregnant man is such an extreme case that it’s almost impossible to look away.
According to Judith Halberstam, a gender theorist at the University of Southern California and the author of “Female Masculinity,” Beatie’s pregnancy also feeds into a more fundamental discomfort with the ways that medical technology has changed pregnancy. “It seems like the real reason it appeals to people is because the pregnant body is so sacred,” she says, “and the pregnant woman still represents something to people about nature.” Beatie’s protruding stomach, when combined with his male body, destroys the fantasy that pregnancy is a purely natural process. “His pregnant body is evidence that pregnancy has become another site of human engineering.”
While Beattie’s willingness to discuss his pregnancy also signals a growing comfortability with living outside of either gender, Rogers notes that “For the vast majority of transgendered people, however, who are content to live their life ‘passing’ in their new gender, there are far more pressing issues than a pregnant man — like keeping their jobs.”
Last year, a heated debate about the inclusion of “gender identity” in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (a bill prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation) created widespread rancor between some transgender and gay and lesbian activists. The bill eventually passed the house without a gender identity clause, but the transgender rights movement has had other successes in past years, often in smaller jurisdictions. In New York, for example, it’s now legal for a transgendered person to change the gender on his or her birth certificate.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, resents the way that the Thomas Beatie flap has overshadowed more important developments. “The media hasn’t gotten a message yet that they ought to get a life,” she snaps. Last week, Congress held its first-ever hearing on discrimination against transgender employees, and on June 17, the American Medical Association passed a resolution stating that it “supports public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender identity disorder,” but these items have received nowhere near Beatie’s media attention.
Plus: Earlier this year, Annalee Newitz wrote about what makes Beatie more “relatable” than other men who have become pregnant and questions whether medical technology is catching up with cultural shifts or if it’s the other way around.