How the press reported on a pregnant man
Jess McCabe // 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.
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.