Until trans man Thomas Beattie announced his pregnancy on Oprah, the idea of a man carrying a child usually conjured images of a mid-’90s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. But for Johanna Nutter, men having babies was nothing new. Her brother (filmmaker James Diamond) gave birth two years before Beattie’s story went viral, a process she documents unflinchingly in her solo show My Pregnant Brother.
“I always try to make it clear I’m not trying to tell his story,” the Montreal-based artist says. “It’s my experience as his sister as he goes through this process and the things I learned. More than anything else, it’s a story about family and the bonds that keep you together.”
As the elder of two siblings born to a single mom, Nutter was often left caring for her brother, a dynamic that continues into adulthood. After transitioning and a few failed relationships, her brother found himself unexpectedly knocked up after a brief affair with a squeegee kid and a bottle of Fin du Monde and turned to Nutter for help.
Though she knew the narrative would make a compelling play, it took more than three years to start work on the script. She’d applied to the Montreal Fringe Festival (where the show had its premiere) multiple times before finally getting a slot.
“I had so many moments where I felt it was a sign not to go forward,” she says. “Part of me was scared to air my family’s laundry in public. But this play was a bit like a mosquito, refusing to leave me alone.”
Her persistence paid off; the show has since toured across Canada, with stops in the US, the UK and Europe. Aware of the questions its content raises, Nutter often holds post-performance talkbacks for audiences. “I’m not a spokesperson for the trans community,” she says. “I just happen to be the sister of someone who’s part of that community. People are often curious about the nuts-and-bolts aspects of being trans, but the most common thing that comes up after the show is a genuine concern for how he’s doing.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that it’s so incredibly hard to fall in love,” she adds. “If someone manages that, it should be celebrated. Hopefully, we get to the point where it doesn’t matter if that person is a man or a woman.”