Thomas Beatie caused a minor sensation several weeks ago when he came out as a pregnant transgender man. I offered my own opinion about him, which boils down to “a loving family is all that matters.”
Annalee Newitz at AlterNet, however, reminded us that Beatie is not the first man to get pregnant. She knows of at least two others in the U.S., one of whom had a child almost ten years ago. Now, the U.K.’s Daily Express reports that a transgender man in Germany had a child over a decade ago. (Thanks, PageOneQ.) I’d venture a guess that we’ll hear of more in short order.
Newitz asked why Beatie is getting so much attention if he was not in fact the first pregnant man. He is “the first pregnant man most people will ever meet,” she answers. “He’s a nice, small-town Oregon boy, married for five years to a nice, small-town lady, and his full beard and muscles make it quite obvious that he’s a dude. In other words: he’s not a freak from a freaky city like San Francisco. He is, as they say in the mainstream media, relatable.”
Not only that, but gender roles in our society are shifting, blurring the definitions of what it means to be a “real man” or a “real woman.” Newitz postulates “So maybe medical technology is just now catching up with cultural shifts, or maybe cultural shifts are pushing us to use technologies we’ve had for a while in new gender-blurring ways.”
That may be so, but the defamatory comments against Beatie (well chronicled by Alex Blaze at Bilerico) indicate that we as a society still have a long way to go before our culture shifts to one of acceptance.
LGBT PR professional Simon Aronoff, in a feature for the Advocate, asks whether the backlash against Beatie is bad PR for the LGBT community. I find it appalling that, as he notes, “reporters and producers are looking for ‘our side of the story,’ and they’re having a tough time finding pro-LGBT spokespeople to speak on the record in support of the Beatie’s family.” Aronoff asserts, however, that this reticence is to our detriment:
Not solidly and publicly backing this couple’s family as a movement threatens to undermine all of our rights to family formation (if we should chose to exercise them).
Let’s not remain quiet during an opportunity to educate national audiences on queer families, the realities of transmen’s bodies, the ability of an individual to identify as male and to give birth, the inhumane obstacles to basic health/prenatal care that Thomas has faced, and the need for a safe school environment when the little Beatie goes to kindergarten. There is a media vacuum waiting to be filled, and if pro-LGBT voices don’t step up to fill it, we will be left with Letterman’s “androgynous freak show” comments and the Globe’s comparisons to incest and forced polygamy with nothing to balance the story. And that will hurt us all long after this labor of love is welcomed into the world.
Aronoff observes that Beatie is doing what PR experts recommend we do in order to further society’s acceptance of LGBT individuals: telling his personal story. “The only way that ‘mainstream’ America is going to come to terms with our existence is to read it in People magazine, watch it on Oprah, and recognize a bit of common humanity between us.”
Reading about or LGBT people or watching them on TV is part of the solution, to be sure. In terms of reaching the masses, nothing beats mass media. The blogosphere, too, is becoming an increasingly important conduit for sharing that “common humanity.” I’d add, though, that personal connections need to reinforce the media blast. The struggle for acceptance will be won in supermarkets and soccer fields as much as on TV and in magazines.
Aronoff’s article is worth a read, though, for he articulates better than anyone else I’ve read why Thomas Beatie matters to all of us, even if he isn’t, as we now know, the first pregnant man.
(Image: Wikipedia Commons)