On Mar 26 The Advocate published an article entitled “Labor of Love” by Thomas Beatie, a female-to-male (FTM) trans-sexual living in the US. In it Beatie details his experience of being pregnant while legally male.
Well-meaning friends and colleagues assume I identify with — and am concerned about the transphobic reactions to — Beatie’s story. In truth I cringe and wish desperately that Beatie would go quickly and quietly away. The more discussion I hear about pregnant men, the more mortified and angry I become. It is a puzzling response considering that I am otherwise so committed to the rights of those who bend the borders of sex and desire. So what is it about Beatie and his desire to bear a child that bothers me? What should the transsexual body look like and who gets to decide?
Although this is a story about Beatie’s own sex and body it shines an uncomfortable spotlight on things of which I would prefer not to be reminded. Worse, it invites those who know my history to inquire about my reproductive status and whether I plan to become a pregnant man. It is difficult to articulate how defeating this question is for me, and more difficult to decide upon an appropriate answer. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible not to blame Beatie for inviting this unwanted discussion into my life.
Sensational media representations influence how nontrans people in our lives view us and interpret our experiences. It is demoralizing to have to combat even more confusion about who and what we are when so much misunderstanding already exists.
The story has generated the usual trinity of responses from most nontrans folk of shock, sympathy and outrage. There is, however, an enormous backlash against Beatie among trans men, particularly in the US. Many are rushing to change their legal documents to reflect their post-transition sex. They are concerned that the notion of a pregnant man sensationalized in the mass media will lead US lawmakers to require trans men to undergo the surgical removal of their female reproductive organs before they can become legally male.
Enforced sterilization is one of the most oppressive examples of state control. Add to it how little choice many trans people already have over their physical selves and such policy changes would be devastating.
Many would be unable to finance the surgery because of the class disparity ingrained in the US healthcare system. Trans men would be forced to choose to either undergo risky and invasive surgery, or to carry identification that endangers their safety by outing them to anyone who sees it.
Additionally, with so very few representations of trans people in the media, many FTMs are frustrated that Beatie’s story is getting such intense attention. What does a story like this say about us as transsexuals? Does it imply that we are, after all, still of our original biological sex? Does it suggest, perhaps most dangerously, that we might change our minds at any time?
So, many trans men are struggling to weigh the best interests of the whole community against Beatie’s personal choices. This debate is not new to the queer world. In the early ’90s for example many gays and lesbians wanted to promote wider acceptance and tolerance in the mainstream by using the Toronto Pride parade as a sort of public relations tool. Nudity, outlandish queens, leathermen and others were scorned in favour of more “normal” queers that were less likely to offend the sensibilities of heterosexist orthodoxy.
Fear was rampant that an uncensored look at authentic queer lives might cause increased violence or affect the pursuit of legal rights and freedoms for the community as a whole.
As a result a schism developed between good gays, who were considered socially presentable, and bad gays, who lived in the corners of our culture that straights would likely never understand or accept.
I’m ashamed that my reaction has positioned me as the good tranny to Beatie’s bad tranny. I can’t explain my response but I can certainly do my bestto address it, both within myself and through my discussions with other trans people. I can remind myself that Beatie did not create the oppression of transsexual and genderqueer people that exists in abundance. By being visible and living honestly he has only exposed how deeply entrenched that oppression is in our society. Hiding from public view those who challenge sex and gender to the extremes will never dilute transphobia, it will only deepen it.
Beyond being a transsexual, I first and foremost consider myself to be a queer and a feminist ally. For me the chief tenant of both movements is the sanctity of the right to choose what you do with with your own body; be it who you fuck, which sex you live as, your choice to terminate a pregnancy or in this case Beatie’s right to carry one to term and give birth.
The freedoms we enjoy as a community are meaningless if they come at the cost of the individual’s right to choose what is best for him and his body. We are not meant to be mirrors of one another.
Thomas Beatie — a man I have never met, living in a different country, making different choices than I would make — did not conceive his choices to be a reflection of me or who I am. I’m sure I wasn’t on his mind at all when he decided to become a father.
At the end of the day that’s exactly how it should be.