According to Wikipedia, the most accurate source of information in the entire universe, there is a very short list of animals on this planet that have the remarkable capability for “male pregnancy”: seahorses, pipefish, sea dragons (in the family Syngnathidea) and trans men (with specific mention of Thomas Beatie).
Apparently, syngnathid females lay the eggs which the males fertilize and then carry during development, either in a brood pouch on their chest or simply attached to their tails.
I will assume that the reader knows how trans men procreate.
I only mention this little tidbit because I find it amusing — I doubt Thomas Beatie ever dreamed when he went on Oprah in 2008 that someone would lump him in with seahorses and pipefish in a Wikipedia entry.
Or should I refer to him as, “Thomas Beatie the Pregnant Man”? He’s not really just “Thomas Beatie” any more. As opposed to Oprah, Roseanne and Cher, who all lost parts of their name when they became famous, Thomas actually gained a longer name when he became famous. Or should I say when he became “infamous”?
Someone mentioned Chaz Bono to me the other day (a famous trans man who happens to not be pregnant) and I got to thinking about Thomas and wondered what he’s been up to, so I did a search on his name. Guess what! The pregnant man is pregnant again! This is pregnancy number three for Thomas, a fact that many of you probably knew already, but I had kind of lost track of Thomas.
Losing track of Thomas wasn’t so easy back in April of 2008 when he hit the media scene with his first-person commentary and photo in The Advocate. His actions spurred quite a brouhaha in the FTM community.
Some guys questioned Beatie’s maleness – they couldn’t understand how someone identifying as FTM could go off testosterone, let their female reproductive organs ramp up again and then actually USE them to become pregnant – whereas others contended that none of this made him any less of a man. Some thought he was presenting the wrong picture of FTMs to the public, one that would have us viewed negatively, whereas others thought that by putting himself out there as a parent, he would garner support for trans people as being like other people who wanted to have kids.
Some considered him to be a media hound, trying to score monetarily with his story and his book, whereas others thought he was trying to bring into the public light the discrimination that some health care professionals perpetrate against trans people.
Many feared the possible legal backlash, afraid that surgeons’ letters of sex reassignment from top surgery would be more closely scrutinized or outright rejected by clerks handling changes of gender markers on driver’s licenses or social security cards.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. I had only been in the trans community for two months when Beatie’s story came out and I was just a baby transsexual as far as experience and knowledge went, a newbie FTM still learning the ropes. Well, I guess I’m still learning the ropes, but at the time, I knew very little about the FTM community.
However, what I did know was that the drive to have children can be very strong, and more specifically, the drive to have one’s own biological children. It’s human nature, right?
My point is, I didn’t see how using his reproductive organs made Beatie any less of a man than did simply having them at all. I would have bet good money (and still would) that there are plenty of gay couples out in the world who would give anything if just one of them could carry their biological child. Would that make them anything other than men? Well, it sure as hell wouldn’t make them women. It would make them pregnant men, just like Thomas Beatie.
In fact, I would wager that some heterosexual men would be willing to become pregnant and carry a child. I don’t know whether many would admit that openly, but one non-trans straight man I used to know admitted as much when he was complaining that women “control both sex and having children.” He was a tad frustrated at the time for a number of reasons, but that’s a whole different story for some other blog. (Or not.)
But going back to Thomas, when he and his wife appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, the brouhaha in the community continued, or maybe even intensified. Although Oprah treated Thomas well while he was on her show, her interview with him seemed to be all about hype, shock and awe, and she let the audience and viewers believe that Thomas was the first pregnant trans man. Hell, if you go to her web site and search for “Thomas Beatie,” the interview comes up fourth on the list, but if you search for “pregnant man,” the interview with Thomas pops up as numero uno.
Well sure, the first time they’d ever heard of a pregnant trans man, but certainly not the first time there had ever been a pregnant trans man, and I’ll bet her producers found that out when they did their homework. They likely came across an article about Matt Rice written by his FTM partner, Patrick Califia that appeared in The Village Voice in 2000, which may have been the first time an FTM who’d given birth was in the media- someone please correct me if I’m wrong about that. No matter who it was, I would guess that trans men have been having children since… well, since there have been trans men. But Oprah certainly had brought the subject to the attention of a whole lotta people.
And then People magazine brought it to the attention of even more people when a feature article about Beatie and his wife appeared in the April 14, 2008 issue.
Being a newbie trans person at the time and only out to a very small group of close friends, Thomas Beatie hitting the press had me worried. I didn’t see a problem with Thomas getting pregnant per se, and I wasn’t even convinced that Thomas’ exposure in the media was necessarily a bad thing overall for the community, but I was concerned on a personal level about the possible negative (or worse) comments I would hear about Thomas made by my family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Being a newbie, I was very sensitive to that sort of thing because, the way I saw it at the time, any rancor directed at Thomas would be a preview of what would be in store for me if I were to come out.
The good news was that I wasn’t exposed to any kind of significant reaction by the “public,” meaning people in my family, people in my circle of friends, people at work. Thankfully, Thomas Beatie the Pregnant Man wasn’t a big topic of conversation in the coffee shops or around the water coolers or in my conversations with family. In fact, he wasn’t even a little topic. In my tiny corner of the world, it was as though Thomas Beatie didn’t even exist. When I queried my sister one day about Beatie, just to see how she would react, she had no idea who I was talking about. Oprah she’d heard of, but not Thomas Beatie the Pregnant Man. Then again, she didn’t have a television and she worked during the day when Oprah’s show was on, so perhaps she wasn’t the best person to ask, but still, I was not confronted with discussions about Beatie while being a closeted, newbie trans person.
Until, that is, I went to see my massage therapist. I’d been going to her on and off for several years, whenever something flared up. In this case, it was runner’s knee, which was really odd because I wasn’t running. Anyway, when I entered through the front door for my appointment she was sitting at her desk, reading, with a very intense, concerned look on her face. She looked up, asked, “Have you seen this?” and held up the recent issue of People magazine, open to a photo of pregnant Thomas Beatie and his wife. I muttered in Seinfeld-esque fashion, “Beatie!” under my breath.
“Here we go,” I thought.
“Yes, I’ve seen it,” I said and sat down across from her.
“How is this possible? I haven’t read the article, so tell me how this could happen.”
“He’s a transsexual man,” I said, “He was born female and he transitioned to male, but now he is pregnant.”
She said, slowly, “Okay,” and nodded her head. I thought she understood, but then she said,
“But how is this possible? You’re a scientist. Tell me how this happened. Did they transplant a uterus into him?”
That’s when I realized that I had to give her a lesson in “FTM 101.”
I told her that Thomas was born a female baby and grew up to be an adult female but that he had gender dysphoria. I said, “You know, a man trapped in a female body,” and she said, “Okay.” I figured that if she was familiar with trans people at all, it would probably be with MTFs, so I geared my explanation from there.
I explained that female-to-male transgender people have a different set of surgeries than male-to-females, such as double mastectomy, plus separate genital surgery that many do not choose to have because the results are unsatisfactory to them, plus a hysterectomy. She said that she understood so far. Then I told her that these surgeries are expensive and she said, “And probably not covered by insurance,” and I said usually not.
I said that there are some FTMs who do not have the hysterectomy, like this man, Thomas Beatie. I added that his wife was not able to have children because she’d had a hysterectomy 20 years prior due to severe endometriosis, so when they decided to have a child, Thomas went off of testosterone, began cycling again, was inseminated and became pregnant.
Then I waited for her reaction. I tensed up, anticipating the nasty remarks that I was sure were going to come. She sat quietly for a few moments, digesting what I had just told her. Then, she stood up, flipped the magazine closed, tossed it onto the coffee table and said,
“Good for them.”
I’m sure my eyebrows went up in surprise. I said, “Really?” and she said, “If a couple wants to have children, then I’m all for it.” I was sort of stunned at her acceptance and wondered how this had just happened. I remembered that she and her husband have two children, a daughter and a son who, at the time, would have been five and three years old. She had always talked about her kids – it was obvious that they mean the world to her – but she also had a passion about children in general.
I thought that the subject of Thomas Beatie was behind us, but a little while into the therapy, she brought him up again. “Okay, not to dwell on this subject,” she said, “but is this the first time this has happened?” I replied, “No, there have been other trans men who have been pregnant and had children, but they didn’t publicize it like this man has. Now there is fear in the transsexual community that this story will have a negative backlash.” She said, “My point of view is that if two people want to bring a child into the world and they are loving and caring parents, then that’s all that matters. There are too many unwanted children in the world to worry about something like this.”
I was so taken with her acceptance that I almost came out to her right then and there, and that would have been remarkable because I was afraid of what people would say or do to me if they found out that *gasp* I was trans. That conversation with that woman, witnessing her acceptance of trans man Thomas Beatie and his pregnancy, gave me some courage to go forward with my own process and some hope that I would also be accepted by … well, anybody. Maybe even everybody. I mean, why not? If this middle class mother-of-two could accept Thomas Beatie, then why couldn’t people accept me? My fears and expectations of doom and gloom had been flipped 180 degrees and suddenly, it was a whole new world.
And I would have never had that without Thomas Beatie putting his ol’ pregnant self out there for the world to see.
I think that the haters are always going to hate and the people who reject us are going to continue to do so whether Thomas Beatie is around or not, but the people who are uneducated about us, who are never exposed to us, who would support us if only they knew what we are about, or the ones who are on the fence about us because they don’t know enough about us, they’re the ones that come around to accepting us if trans people like Thomas Beatie pop up right in front of them and say, “Hey, I am here and I’m a good person and I’m not that different from you and I only want the same things that you want.”
So Thomas, wherever you are, thank you man. And best wishes on the birth of your third child.
Note after posting: Because I do not know whether Matt Rice and Patrick Califia are or were ever legally married, I have changed the reference to Patrick Califia in the post from Matt Rice’s “husband” to “partner.”