The Return of the Pregnant Man

Part 1 of a three-part series: What We Really Need Now is “No”

Just when I had almost purged the memory from my mind, the “pregnant man” re-emerged in the pop culture zeitgeist, and reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that the world is on the brink of losing whatever shred of rational bearings it still has left.

The pregnant man. Oh, the pregnant man. “He” (aka Thomas Beatie, formerly Tracy Beatie) first made waves last spring when (s)he appeared on Oprah, with a beard and a pregnant belly. (S)he gave birth to a baby girl last summer, which (s)he plans to raise with his/her wife/lesbian, Nancy. To read about the sordid biological minutia of all this, just google “Thomas Beatie Pregnant Man.”

On Oprah, Beatie said that whether you are a man or a woman, you have the right to get pregnant and have a baby.

“I feel it’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human need. I’m a person and I have the right to have a biological child.”

Really? I mean … Really?? Even though it is physically impossible for a male to biologically get pregnant and have a baby, it is somehow still their right to do so?

Is it a right because you say it is a right? Does it follow that whatever one sincerely feels or desires deeply—whether to get pregnant as a man, or perhaps to marry a horse—that it is a “right”? Since when are rights derived from the fickle and variant desires of the individual? Personally, I sincerely, passionately desire that I be able to fly… but even if it became scientifically plausible, I would not ever consider it to be the right or natural thing to do. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. Clearly, humans were not created to fly. Clearly, men were not created to give birth to babies.

It’s a very western, capitalistic notion, I think: this idea that it is our human right and prerogative to do and be whatever we want. To some extent, it is healthy to champion this “sky is the limit” mentality. But there have to be limits: clear, moral limits that necessarily rely on some sense of transcendent truth. Unbridled capitalism (I think we’d all agree) means trouble, just as a “buy and become whatever you desire” consumer mindset frequently winds up being damaging.

And the same goes for identity. Young generations in the industrialized west have grown up hearing from everyone that they can be whoever they want to be, that their identity is completely within their grasp and is definable by them and them alone. “You are special,” was the message we got from Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, teachers, parents, and presidents. “You can be whoever you want to be. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.”

And of course, when that is what a civilization preaches, it is only a matter of time (and science) before we get things like “the pregnant man.”

How far will we go in this “anything goes” free-for-all before we collectively recognize that there must be limits? We’ve set a moral course and precedent that relies on dangerous precepts—that something is permissible if 1) it is sincerely or passionately felt to be one’s “right,” 2) it doesn’t directly hurt anyone else, and 3) it is scientifically possible.

My sense is that younger generations will be the first to rebel against this “all is permissible” mindset. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are going to be (I think) the last generations to actively push this “you can and should do whatever you think is right” fallacy. In my experience, kids these days are fatigued by hearing “yes you can!” from every direction. They recognize the lack of authenticity and sustainability inherent in this overpopulated forest of yeses. They are desperately longing for limits, for someone—anyone—to tell them “No!” We’ve gone up the postmodern mountain and over the hump, and now (I think) we are cautiously coming down on the other side.

21 responses to “The Return of the Pregnant Man

  1. Interesting discussion on the idea of rights here.

  2. Sorry, Brett, but this is a boring reaction, that displays zero understanding of the transgender experience and a remarkable lack of empathy. Pretty disappointing.

  3. Yesterday in Dr. Film’s class we had a fashion designer and a model come in from your church and discuss “the world of fashion” with us. It’s pretty interesting to hear seminary-trained people talk about a theology of fashion for the first time…basically what I got out of our discussion was that we’re desperate to outwardly project an inwardly sensed beauty or desire for beauty…I wonder how much the decision to have a baby can be an extension of this.
    If the central meaningful act in our culture is to buy beautifying change…perhaps buying a partial sex change is just the next logical step in the sequence that starts with purchasing hairspray-if you think spikey hair and your inwardly felt gender are closer to the most beautiful “ideal/real you” than flat hair and your biological sex.
    I think Kevin’s comment proves your point. As a society, we have come to the point of rights being a matter of sincerity, non-malfeasance, and scientific possibility…for some this is very freeing, but I wonder if some of us aren’t short-changing ourselves by skipping the process of suffering through the potentially life-long identity formation struggles we have been given. Peace of mind and fulfillment are commodities which can be had, but notions of the value of “the search” seem to have been lost.

  4. Gosh, Will. Putting transgender issues in the same superficial category as buying hairspray? Gosh. I am almost too flabbergasted to be offended. To “profound lack of understanding of gender identity issues” and “lack of empathy” we can now add “pathological uncuriosity” and “bizarrely presumptuous sanctimony.” Regrettably, this typifies the conservative christian response to transgendered people across the board.

    That need not be the case. But I wish that people, before offering their punditry on these issues would ask themselves: how many transgendered people do I actually know? How many have I had deep conversations with? Have I made a serious effort to listen to their stories and perspectives and life experiences with compassion and patience? Is my understanding of this situation more than superficial? Or do I need to spend more time educating myself before I attempt to formulate an argument?

  5. Maybe (probably) I’m stupid, but I don’t really see what the problem is with Thomas Beatie, and I don’t see the need for ‘scare quotes’ around any and all pronouns referring to him (nor the condescending usage of ‘him/her’ & ‘(s)he’ tomfoolery).

  6. Kevin, thank you for your challenge to engage people bearing a transgender label as individuals. You may be right to view my questions as indicative of a radical perspective. It’s my hope that we conduct our interpersonal engagements in such a way that we are focused on acknowledgment of shared human similarities rather than assumed differences. Stated more plainly, my suggestion was that we all struggle with notions of identity and appropriate expressions of these identities. Most of us are also very eager to find the quickest and least painful resolutions to these struggles. Afterwards, we sometimes recognize that we achieved more meaningful growth and identity development through the struggles themselves than we did through their resolutions. Yet, it’s rare that we have the eyes to see this value in the midst of our strife as we experience it.

  7. Will, I don’t regard your perspective as radical but as banal and insular. A cursory look at almost any personal narrative written by a transgendered individual would reveal that these folks don’t arrive at that self-identification because it’s quick and easy, or a path of least resistance. It’s a long and difficult process of coming to terms with oneself, one that involves a lot of searching and struggling. To suggest otherwise is, frankly, ignorant and patronizing. Sorry to be so blunt, but you’re making some pretty sweeping claims about a group that includes some close friends, and I would be a coward and a crappy friend if I let those claims go unchallenged.

    Tim: OTM re: pronouns.

  8. I feel deeply sorry for the pain and confusion of people who believe themselves to have been born as what they feel is the wrong gender. The fact that their search may take them a long time and a lot of work doesn’t change that the decision they come to is a denial of their identity on a molecular level.

    The fact is that Ms. Beatie has functioning ovaries, fallopian tubes and a birth canal. Her genetic code began creating those as soon as cellular division began in her mother’s womb. Surgeries could alter her body so as to mimic the urinary and reproductive organs of a male, but she has the double-X chromosome as a part of every cell in her body. She is, therefore, “she.” Many women undergo mastectomies as a part of their treatment for breast cancer. Women may take testosterone as a part of medical treatments as well. We do not suddenly begin to call either group “men” or say that such changes have somehow removed their identity as women.

  9. Similarly, hermaphrodites should simply be referred to as ‘it’ until they’ve had genetic testing done to reveal what human language should be used to speak of them, rather than assuming they have any feelings or thoughts on the matter.

    Brett, I sincerely hope that if you ever have the opportunity to meet Mr. Beatie, you have the wherewithal not to insist upon saying ‘Hello, ma’am.’

  10. Further, as a Christian, you should be one of the first to insist that a person’s identity consists of more than merely the scientific descriptions available of that person. I have lived my entire life as a heterosexual male; imagine my chagrin if a DNA test were to reveal that I have no Y-chromosome, and that merely because of that everyone I knew and loved started referring to me as ‘her.’ It is not the sex change operation that merits Mr. Beatie’s identity as a man, it’s the fact that Mr. Beatie, regardless of plumbing, is male, because gender is a social construct. You simultaneously insist that physical characteristics are all that demarcate male v. female, but that post-mastectomy women are still female (I would agree, of course, but it seems that implicit in your reasoning is the notion that they are, perhaps, less female). But you forget: I am more than merely my body.

  11. Tim, FYI: the “Brett” from a few comments up is not me. Don’t know who that is.
    I do agree that we are more than mere bodies, but I heartily disagree that gender is merely a social construct. Sure, there are significant aspects of gender that are culturally variant, you don’t have to convince me of that. But I also think that gender at the base level is deeply ingrained in us on a DNA, bodily level. If it wasn’t, why would it require such artificial activities (purchasing testoterone, removing breasts, etc) to become “fully” male? If the body didn’t matter in our construct of gender, why doesn’t Thomas just say ‘I’m a man’ and be done with it? Why make so much of the process bodily?
    Furthermore, when you say “merely my body,” it reveals a strikingly low, disrespectful view of the body. I tend to see the body/DNA/physical presence as a little more important/sacred, as crucial evidence of our incarnational nature.

  12. My apologies to the site host, I should have clarified I am a different “Brett.” That said, I agree with the host about the idea of bodies being in any way “mere.”

    Christian teaching doesn’t support a dualist understanding that there is somehow a me that is separate from my physical being. I am of course more than my physical being, but it is a part of me and it is a part of what makes me who I am. If the physical dimension of existence were, pardon the phrase, immaterial to our identities, then what use would the Incarnation be? Why would the Word be made flesh if the flesh had no value in determining who we were?

    Social norms play a role in determining some aspects of gender, but they do not construct it ex nihilo.

    And I apologize also if I was unclear, so I let me say directly that the assumption I view women as less female if they have undergone mastectomies (or hysterectomies, or other surgical, hormonal or pharmacological treatments that affect their bodies, for different diseases or conditions ) is incorrect.

  13. I think I hear what you’re saying Kevin, but I hope you’re not feeling the need to defend a group of friends against an an attack I haven’t made. Allow me to repeat that we all struggle with identity formation issues, so I dislike the framing of some sort of a debate in which it’s my group vs. their group.
    I agree that most individuals describing themselves as transgender have gone through very difficult struggles. If there was any attack in my remarks, it is against all of us, for prematurely disengaging our struggles, however painful these struggles are relative to those of another. My suggestion was not that we all have chosen the path of least resistance, but that we often choose paths of less resistance. As a society, I think we have chosen that it’s a lot easier to say, “Here’s the way out,” and toss a suffering person some literature than to walk with them in that suffering as friends. Empathy comes about not through the labeling of someone’s struggle as wholly other and separate from one’s own experience, but in joining with an individual and conversing with them in awareness of one’s own brokenness.

  14. Genesis 1:27
    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

    Genesis 2:24
    “For this reason a MAN will leave his father and mother and be united to HIS WIFE, and they will become one flesh.”

    A man will not be united to another man, God did not create them female and female. God does not make mistakes. Homosexuality is a sin. Transgender and altering your body is a sin. Plain and simple. It’s not about what we “feel” or what we think our “rights” are.

    Deuteronomy 22:5
    “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”

    God does not make mistakes. We do.

  15. I do apologize for confusing Brett with Brett (sincerely).

    As for your inference that I have a ‘strikingly low, disrespectful view’ of the body, I certainly did not intend to deliver such a notion and hope here to correct it. As the other Brett said above, Christianity doesn’t support a dualistic view of the body, and I don’t adhere to a dualistic view of the body. What I was hoping to get across in my earlier comments is that while dualism is wrong, so too is modernism wrong: There is more to understand about the universe than that which science discloses, and there is more to who any individual is than the chromosomes and cellular structures that make up their physical beings. To attempt, as I believe has been done here, to reduce our understanding of human identity and, further, gender to a sort of Enlightenment-level empiricism based wholly on one’s mere biology is a gross disservice to epistemology and constitutes a dangerously reductionist, rationalist worldview.

    This is not mere obscurantism. A being’s sex is biologically determined, but a being’s gender is tangent upon something else (think about your romance languages here). Our use of particular pronouns in reference to one another is not predicated on our knowledge of the other’s genital configuration or chromosomal set-up: If you discovered that, despite all either of us knew about me, I mysteriously have only X-chromosomes, would you henceforth refer to me as female? I suspect that you would not, because this isn’t what we mean when we use such words as ‘he’ and ‘she,’ unless, as in these circumstances, sexual politics is involved.

  16. Tim-
    I’d be the first to deride modernism and Enlightenment-level empiricism as being reductionist; I agree that one’s identity and gender cannot be based wholly on biology. In no place do I attempt such an argument in this post.
    But I do think that the way that you divorce “gender” from “sex” is an unhelpful and irrational dichotomy. You must admit that gender is crucially, inextricably tied to (if not wholly derived from) biology. I assume that when you talk about gender you mean our conceptions of such things as “femininity” and “masculinity.” Sure, they are reinforced in different ways by different cultures, but where do “feminine” traits such as nurturing or “masculine” traits such as aggressiveness come from in the first instance if not from biological attributes such as the female ability to nurse/breastfeed one’s offspring, and the male’s testosterone, respectively?
    I think cultural context can be used to enhance or clarify our understandings of gender, certainly; but to deny that gender is not at the core level derived from and inescapably partnered with biology is to truly and needlessly obfuscate the matter.

  17. You may be dismayed to learn this, but Western cultural norms are less than universal— there are human cultures that consider men the weaker, more sentimental creatures and women the strong, responsible ones. And a simple glance at the animal kingdom should do everything to disavow you of the notion that a Y-chromosome means one is less likely to be the designated nurturer, or more likely to be the designated aggressor.

    And I really must insist that someone address my not-at-all-rhetorical question from previously: Would your behavior— even including only pronoun usage— toward me change if genetic testing revealed I have two X-chromosomes?

  18. This is way off of the current discussion, but I just want to say in defense of Mr. Rogers, that I don’t remember his message as being “you can be whoever and whatever you want to be and don’t let anyone stand in your way.”
    His message was simply that we are special and lovable just as we are…which is a very simple but profound truth.

  19. I’m a christian and I am tired of all the other “christians” who are so judgmental. Shouldn’t you pause for just a moment and realize that Jesus never once won any ones’ heart through judgment and a pious heart. No he won them by his Love. For god so loved the world… John 3:16-come on guys lets get off the pedastal and humble your selves before the Lord your God. You are yet sinners saved by grace and grace alone! Do not judge lest you yourselves be judged in the same way.

  20. I really like your “No” series. Nicely done!

  21. Pingback: Best of the Blog’s First Five Years | The Search

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