How the press reported on a pregnant man

// 28 March 2008

Thomas Beatie’s story has captured the collective imagination of the internet: and no wonder. “How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am,” he said in a really very moving account in The Advocate. Beatie, who is a trans man, explained how his wife was unable to get pregnant because of medical problems. He stepped in.

He is not the first trans man to get pregnant or give birth. Here’s a 2005 documentary following the story of 19 such men. Really, the story here is/should be the discrimination Beatie reports. For example, Thomas describes doctors refusing treatment, refusing to use male pronouns, asking him to shave.

Today the Guardian ran a feature, which has its flaws but does at least consider the reasons behind the reaction the story has created in some quarters:

The fact that even other transsexuals react with hostility reveals the levels of unease and prejudice a pregnant man can face. A common reaction is to wonder how someone can identify themselves as male and yet embrace pregnancy. “That’s like saying you can’t be a woman and have a career,” says Christine Burns, a trans woman and equality and diversity specialist. “The irony is we’ve had a debate in feminism about the idea that if men were able to have children we would be in a very different position and yet when it happens there is enormous fear.”

Lewis Turner, vice president of trans campaigning group Press for Change, says that having a male gender identity does not prevent you wanting to bear children. “As a trans man myself I wouldn’t ever dream of getting pregnant. But I think Thomas Beatie identifies himself as male as much as I do and he just wants to reproduce.”

Much concern has focused on the fate of the girl Beatie is said to be bearing. Doctors have expressed concern at the possible effect of testosterone on the unborn child. Beatie claims he halted his bi-weekly testosterone, did not take any extra oestrogen, progesterone or fertility drugs to aid his pregnancy and after four months his menstrual cycle began again. “It’s really important that he doesn’t take any testosterone early on in the pregnancy and later on,” Lisa Masterson, a Los Angeles obstetrician, told ABC TV. “That can cause male-type characteristics in the female baby.”

Elsewhere, there is professional concern about the confusion the child may later experience. “There is going to be an extra degree of complication or confusion about ‘where am I from?’” says Robert Withers, a psychoanalyst who has treated transgender patients.

Kerrick Lucker, a gay activist at the University of California, Berkeley, has met two children with trans man birth mothers. “In my experience, they were extremely well-parented and well-adjusted. The only unusual challenges these kids face come from members of the public who see gender ambiguity as a great wrong,” he says.

But a dishonourable mention has to go to the fucked up way that the Sun and the Daily Mail have decided to cover the story, here, here and here.

Both newspapers report that there is some doubt over whether Beatie is really pregnant. By which they seem to mean that they or another media outlet has tracked down some random neighbour who said he doesn’t look pregnant. Call me old fashioned, but that doesn’t sound like good reporting to me – it sounds more like repeating silly speculation from someone who happens to live nearby, in order to drum up a more sensationalist story.

Then there are the inaccuracies. The Daily Mail reporter clearly doesn’t know how to use Google:

While there are not believed to be any previous recorded cases of such a pregnancy, experts said it was perfectly possible.

The Sun even makes the stupid claim that Thomas “had a sex change because Hawaiian law barred same-sex marriages”.

And both newspapers added another level of unwarrented sensationalism by including photos of Arnold Schwarzanegger from the movie Junior, in which he played a fertility doctor – a cissexual man – who got himself pregnant.

I’m not even going to get into the comments left on these stories and allowed through moderation.

The point, though, is that both newspapers lept on the opportunity to do some really pretty irresponsible exploitation journalism: they also reported Beatie’s previous name, photos of him before transitioning, etc. Watch this if you need some clues about why that’s not cool.

Of course, the reason that the story has gotten so much attention is because Beatie doubly upsets the expectations of a society that is still quite rigid about gender conformity. If transitioning from male to female, or female to male, is still hard for some to accept, then folks who fall somewhere in between, or, as seems to be the case here, are not threatened by forays across the gender divide, totally confound. The concept that Beatie doesn’t feel like being pregnant threatens his identity as a man seems to be difficult to understand for those who are still not entirely comfortable even with those who break down gender roles, such as a female boss, a stay at home dad, etc, let alone challenge the concept of gender as a simple binary divided by an impenetrable wall.

Comments From You

Sarah // Posted 28 March 2008 at 6:30 pm

This story was really interesting to me, and at first I found it hard to get my head around – not, I hasten to add, because I object to the idea on principle. My girlfriend is to some extent transgendered, but not male identified to the extent that surgery is currently an option. Every month, zie is reminded in a very physical manner that zie is biologically female, and apart from the physcial discomfort associated with menstruating, there is a very real sense that hir body is in some way betraying hir by doing this. We have discussed children, and whilst zie is really keen on the idea of having a child that is genetically hirs, zie cannot quite get hir head around the idea of actually carrying the child (although nine months without periods does seem like a great idea).

I supposed I am mostly impressed at the security this man shows in his gender identity – not every man could cope with having his masculinity called into question in this way. Good on him!

However, I’m not terribly impressed with Christine Burns’ analogy – are women really *biologically incapable* of holding down a career (with, of course, the rare, alternatively gendered, exceptions)? An equality specialist should really be more careful about their choice of words.

Alex Corwin // Posted 28 March 2008 at 8:52 pm

I happened to see itv lunch news reporting on this the other day (On Wednesday or Thursday I think) in a very anger inducing way. The main premise of their report seemed to be “Is he faking it?” including interviewing some neighbours so said things like “Well I saw him the other week and he didn’t look pregnant”.

They did get a doctor on to explain (in very simple terms) how it was possible for him to be pregnant, but frankly the how thing stank of transphobia and mocking.

Lady S // Posted 28 March 2008 at 9:08 pm

I think that one of the fascinating threads is the reaction to the concept of pregnant man and how people wish for it to ‘go away’ as it messes with gender binaries.

Glad to see it identified as fear.

Li // Posted 28 March 2008 at 9:54 pm

I am utterly disgusted by the way these newspapers have reported this.

Chloe // Posted 30 March 2008 at 2:21 am

The comments on those articles really demonstrate the stupidity of The Sun and The Daily Mail’s readers. Even some of the “supportive” comments were patronising and ignorant, recycling false information used in the articles.

Not to mention the horrendously bad reporting mentioned above (comparisons to the movie ‘Junior’, posting Beatie’s former name and an image of him before his transition, and failing to recognize previous trans pregnancies, for starters). I can’t believe they’re allowed to get away with such abysmal reporting, but that’s tabloid journalism for you.

Betsy // Posted 30 March 2008 at 12:29 pm

The BBC news also tracked down a (the same?) neighbour who claimed it was a fake, then based their report on the premise that it was a ‘beer baby’. Length of report? about 2 minutes. Then 10 on Leona Lewis breaking America.

Laura // Posted 5 April 2008 at 8:55 am

Besides the rampant prejudice and ignorance you’ve commented on, this is another example (one of many) of the way in which the patriarchy is damaging to men by forcing them to conform to a particular stereotype. There is an undercurrent here saying that men can’t want children as much as women, that they can’t want to be pregnant, that by desiring this, Thomas Beatie is somehow “regressing” or denying his true nature as a man. Bloody depressing, really, and crazy too – my best (male) friend has frequently admitted he would get pregnant if he could, and gets more broody than my friends who are “biological breeders”. We should all be encouraging any man (born that way or otherwise) who feel able to admit a desire for children, let alone those who have the incredible determination and bravery to follow a path such as this.

chuk1 // Posted 5 April 2008 at 4:00 pm

i dont see what the problem is at the end of the day she is a woman who is having a baby

Christine Burns // Posted 14 April 2008 at 9:44 am

I appreciate that I’m maybe a bit late to spot this Blog and contribute towards it but I do hope some readers may be interested in the Podcast that I wrote and produced about the issues many of you have identified (and more). The permalink for this is:

You’ll see that this has attracted some of the kind of hostile comments referred to by other contributors.

Kindest regards

Christine Burns

Porter Smith // Posted 11 June 2008 at 2:43 am

For a closet Gay/lesbian/trans and feminine activist like my self this is a rather intriguing story to stumble upon purely by accident, while searching for my nasty little indiscretion Pornography. I, my self am a great example of what kind of person, being a special education student my whole academic life, and having to wake up every day and have the iron clad resolve and will to turn on my peers at a moments notice. This is what earned me an almost indefinite spot on the honor roll of Park Ridge High School in Park Park Ridge, NJ.

In closing, I think that one of the main reasons society looks down upon, chastises and stigmatizes Minority populations such as the gay/lesbian, Trans gender, special education and technologically inclined (geek) populations is due IMHO in huge part to a pre-programed notion that members of these societies are made up of rejects, outcasts and all other forms of biologically, mentally, physically and sexually challenged members of society. As a whole this is in large part due to a lack of founding for proper education about these alternative lifestyles. If you can understand my thought processes coming from my experiences, both good and bad, as a different learner on the receiving end of the almost constant bullying and (at younger ages somewhat abusive( by my mother)) punishments that I received as a troublemaking prepubescent and teenager.

Katie // Posted 19 June 2008 at 5:56 am

Thank you for this post. I read the Daily Mail article (which takes about 3 seconds to call him a freak) and was concerned my organs would rupture in anger.

Having found this has settled me a bit though, so thank you.

I hold out the hope that I’ll live to see these bigotries viewed for what they are

Helen G // Posted 19 June 2008 at 10:32 am

Katie: One of the Sunday tabloids ran an update feature on Thomas Beatie a week or so ago.

And – shock horror! – they actually got his gender correct. Okay, so the feature’s still in a tabloid stylee, and there’s still the obligatory ‘when he used to be a woman’ othering, but it would be unrealistic to expect anything else from a tabloid. But the general tone seems actually to be quite accepting and broadly non-judgemental.

Nice photos, too…

Link here:

chem_fem // Posted 19 June 2008 at 2:54 pm

Are those photos from NOTW?

They are beautiful!!

Aimee // Posted 19 June 2008 at 8:07 pm

I think I missed those pictures initially. They’re just awesome! It’s such a strange thing to see, but it’s really … almost a metaphor for the tangibility of breaking down the gender divide. I really hoped this would make people reconsider their narrow definitions of ‘male’ and ‘female’ but unfortunatly most people can’t see what’s beyond their own stupid prejudices.

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