Thursday, May 14, 2009

Whoa, Baby

The appearance of Thomas Beatie on the cover of the Philadelphia Weekly's "Queer Issue" a couple weeks ago sparked a whole new wave of feelings, many of which I've been struggling for the past couple weeks to explain. As far as pregnant trans men go, I don't feel so black and white about it as many people I know do. In general I say do what you want to do. Live and let Live. Unfortunately it's so much more complicated than that.

I would personally love to have a baby, but there are concerns beyond just simply wanting to have a child. For one thing, I'm concerned about what the effects of incubating a baby in eggs that have been pickling in testosterone would be. Medical issues aside, however, I don't think that wanting to have a child is an intrinsically female thing. I think more men would choose to have babies if it were genetically possible. In many cases it has been women that have had the strongest reaction to the Pregnant Man story. For some it is a mental misunderstanding of the difference between Gender Identity and Sex making some wonder why he would transition if he wanted to have a baby. I can explain this away with some clarity, but I can't explain away the feelings and resentments that seem to linger.

I do have major issues that go much deeper and are much more complicated than simple medical concerns. Thomas Beatie was all over the news. GLBT groups, many at a loss for how to respond, issued statements criticising the sensationalization in the media, but it can't be ignored that Beatie was the one that put his story out there. Although seemingly mild mannered and "shy," this level of attention can be very addictive. He doesn't seem to have considered the needs of the greater community nor is he conscious of the effect his actions have with regards to social and legal matters. I struggle because I don't want to say that if you don't fit the mainstream queer you should shut up. The mainstream becomes a bigger and bigger stream everyday and a stream I didn't fit in not too long ago.

However, I think it is every queer persons responsibility to manage their visibility responsibly and be conscious of the greater community. I personally got really nervous when he showed up on the cover of the Philly Weekly as I'm waiting for my court date for my legal name and gender change. The Advocate--the first to break the Beatie story--also offered an article on it's potential aftermath for trans advocates. Here's an excerpt, but check out the rest of the article here.

"Some trans activists also note that this story has a high “ick” factor for the general population. The first reactions [author Jamison] Green read online were discouraging. “They wrote ‘disgusting’ or asked, ‘How can someone do that to themselves and think he is a man?’ and worse,” he recalls. “I worry that for the uneducated and less accepting, this brings back the whole ‘freak’ label to transgender people.” When she saw the teaser for the Oprah show, alarm bells went off for Cathy Renna, managing partner of Renna Communications, a New York City–based firm that develops communications strategies for LGBT organizations. “My sense is that this story has all the hallmarks of one that could be easily sensationalized—one that could easily set back some of the improvements that have been made by transgender people,” she says. “Beatie’s article opened the Pandora’s box.”

Think about what happened in 2003 after the Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled that the state had to allow marriage as an option for gay couples. Other state governments panicked. Twenty-three states amended their constitutions to limit marriage to one man and one woman, joining three that had done so earlier. Some states, such as Michigan, even went further—using their amendment to justify denying health benefits to the gay partners of state employees.

“Generally, with the public and mainstream media we’re still doing Trans 101,” says Renna. “I worry this kind of story will create a whole new level of regulation. Anti-trans groups will use this as ammunition to influence politics to make laws that won’t let trans people make decisions about their own body. I so hope I’m wrong.”

That’s not just negative thinking. In Japan it’s illegal to transition if you’ve already given birth or fathered a child. So far no such law exists in this country, although three states—Idaho, Ohio, and Tennessee—will not allow their transgender citizens to legally change their gender on birth certificates."

It was his appearance on Oprah that partially got me jammed up in Michigan with the Department of Vital Records pointing to his story as a reason I could not change my birth certificate. Still, my court date is probably a couple months away and if Oprah couldn't keep him in the spotlight I doubt PW will. The story already seems to have waned.

But even in its waning, the existence of more and more pregnant men can't be ignored and I know it's an issue many transmen struggle with. I asked one friend about his issues. "I don't know. I guess because it's sooo not something I would want to do and I consider being pregnant very female, in fact. [Also,}] I guess because I've struggled so long to be "accepted" as a "real live boy" that [FTM's getting pregnant] just make it harder for me with the rest of society because automatically people then assume I'm the same as so and so....I don't know. It's not a feeling/thought process I'm particularly proud of but...there it is."
I think most everyone considers being pregnant to be a very female thing, but would we if it didn't have to be that way? I don't know?

I understand why he feels that way and I don't think it's something he needs to be ashamed of. Beatie and others are making it difficult for other trans guys if not simply giving us one more thing in an already long list of things that we, as FTMs, need to explain. For a while I was bombarded with questions about Beatie simply because I am FTM. In many ways, these pregnant men are putting the quotation marks back around the "man" in transman.

However, I can't help but recall butch dykes not being asked to participate in early gay rights marches because they would make the "just like you" approach that lady-like lesbians were going for less effective. It's true that butches upset the mainstream appeal of white collar gays, but the "just like you" approach also doesn't really work in the long run.

I also think there's a definite pendulum swing to transitioning. It's necessary to overswing to really masculine and then you kind of swing back a bit. I don't know if i would have felt differently about Beatie's story in year one of my transition than I do now. I know I am different. I'm a different kind of guy. Lately I have been thinking a lot about reconciling all that makes me a man with everything that makes me different. Trying to be OK with that difference is really hard. It's hard not being in the same queer community, it's hard feeling different, and sometimes jealous, than other guys, it's hard figuring out how to have sex with my parts and not loose that masculinity. I feel like I'm in a back swing right now and it's really disorienting.

Ultimately, masculine is different for everyone--trans and biological guys alike. It doesn't have to be macho. A masculine swing could be whatever your version of masculinity is. If being a man for you always meant not having to wear a shirt in the summer than maybe you never wear your shirt in the summer. Then you eventually realize that all guys have to wear a shirt sometimes in the summer. Topless on the subway is not very classy as I was totally disappointed to learn.

I'm sure the Beatie stuff will all shake out in the wash and ultimately be good for the movement. I'm also sure that some people will be hurt in the process. I'm more interested in the internal dialogue that this could spark for the trans community. When so much of transitioning is about feeling "normal" for the first time in our lives, any threat to that can be really unsettling. Still, it's the freaks and outsiders that have changed the world. Personally I really wish Thomas Beatie would just shut up and go away, but publicly I'll defend his right to exist no matter how much I cringe while doing so.