A Pregnant Man

thomas_beatie.jpg The story of a man (an FTM trans man) having a baby has got a lot of press.  Rachel McKinney was right, though to write and urge us to get feminist philosophers talking about it, as it really is great food for thought– and for messing with all those traditional sex and gender binaries. McKinney writes at her blog

I like the situation discussed in the Advocate article because it can be interpreted as evidence that reproductive capacity as a sufficient condition for sex distinction is not uncontroversially true.

And it can also serve to make one really wonder whether it’s a sex distinction or a gender distinction at issue.  Or how each of these should be drawn.  (Think of definitions of ‘woman’ as a gender term that include as sufficient the experience of being pregnant; but also of those that focus on self-identification; or those that invoke how one is perceived by others.  Think of definitions of ‘female’ as a sex term that focus on reproductive organs; now think of those that include secondary sexual characteristics like facial hair.)  And, as I realised when I went to click on categories, about the categories of maternity and paternity. (This father will in all likehood give birth in a maternity ward.) This is one of those cases one can keep going back and forth with, realising the inadequacies of our current categories. Its also a really lovely tale of a couple managing to have their much-wanted child despite both infertility problems and the additional problems of truly vile discrimination that they encountered. Though the latter is pretty depressing to read about.

6 thoughts on “A Pregnant Man

  1. I’ve actually been worrying a lot lately about the (largely insensitive) press that this has been receiving and the potential for backlash here.

    Stories about Beatie have been accompanied by everything from photos and personal information about him prior to transition to stills of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the film Junior. There’s a lot of concern within the FtM community about the potential for increased violence against transmen as a result of the increased visibility of the identity that accompanies a story like this, as well as the potential for institutional repercussions such as the requirement that FtMs receive “bottom” surgery in order to qualify for legal changes in sex-status.

    There’s this tendency, I think, for philosophers to read people in interesting real-life situations as if they were characters in a thought experiment. This danger is particularly vivid for cases involving transgender individuals. I worry that my initial response to this case was quite problematic in these respects.

  2. RM, your concerns should really raise worries in a lot of us. I agree that we can easily discuss real people as though they are mere thought experiments. One of the things I’ve liked about so much of Oliver Sack’s work is that he does not do this. Or at least not much.

    But now I am wondering what to do. It does seem important to be able to look at how our concepts of sex and gender are challenged by such a case as Beatie’s. The importance of that is not, as seems sometimes said, to normalize the rest of us, but rather, I think, to do something much more like abnormalizing the rest of us. He helps us by showing us that seems like a cement foundation is in fact more a matter of shifting sand.

    Similarly, I think, the fascination a number of people have (myself included) with psychologically disturbed people is based on the desire to discern the patterns that most of us manage to keep hidden enough to create a sense that there’s some clear divide between normal and non-normal.

    So I don’t want to lose the discourse. Do you think your concerns are particularly about cases where people can end up victims of violence and/or discrimination? But then isn’t that almost anyone who receives attention for seeming too different?

    I hope this makes sense.

  3. Surely there have been others in this situation. This is a person who is chromosomally and anatomically (mostly) female whose gender is that of a man. In other words, a person whose sex is female who lives as a man.

    I think it is very misleading to say in a general way that this is the first pregnant man, or something along those lines.

    Until a person who does not possess female equipment is pregnant and gives birth, we should be more careful with our language, and not unqualifiedly state that this is the first pregnant man, or some such.

    For those who did not closely read the article yet, this case is about a person who was originally female, who had chest surgery, but retained female genitalia. The self described female-to-male-transgendered person did home insemination in order to become pregnant, and is currently 5 months along.

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