The media frenzy begins....
It was only a matter of time. Thomas Beatie, the Oregon trans-man who has publicly come out as pregnant in the current edition of The Advocate represents all the reasons that trans-people have a difficult time fitting in a binary world based on sex-roles and stereotypes. If you thought the bathroom issue that many transgender people face was contentious, then let me tell you something - you ain't seen nothing yet.
Thomas, his marriage, his unborn baby, and his very right to exist will all be called into question as unfounded fears and phobias run rampant. It has already started. Hate disguised as morality is again rearing its ugly head and the focus is not simply this man or his family. It's all of us. And whereas there are even those in the trans community who are uncomfortable with this, I'd argue that being uncomfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing. This discussion cannot be simply about Mr. Beatie's right to be pregnant, or anyone's right to judge it. It's got to be about respect for his right to live his life and have a family. I'm afraid that somehow that will get lost in the din to come.
Many of us have known about this situation for several weeks, and we were quietly amazed when it first appeared online at Advocate.com on Saturday afternoon, March 15, and nothing happened. People had been preparing themselves for this for weeks, expecting a tidal wave of response that never came. We tip-toed around it, knowing that it would eventually reach the masses, but not wanting to be the one to put it there. Little by little it has been seeping into mainstream press. When the Associated Press finally reported it this morning any sense of calm was gone. It is everywhere tonight, and the tsunami of response is just beginning.
Have no doubt - the story in The Advocate is just the start of a media blitz that will turn into an unbridled frenzy by the end of next week when Mr. Beattie is scheduled to appear on Oprah. Concurrently, he will be featured in People magazine. Trans people who bristle at the notion of an MTF being filmed putting on make-up or of getting into a dress as sensationalistic and stereotypical will choke on their tongues when they see photos of Mr. Beattie in the doctor's office with his feet up in stirrups. Just you wait. This is going to get messy.
I couldn't avoid this anywhere today. There was a report about it on Good Morning America this morning. I got in my car to drive to work and the "Morning Sickness" on KUPD was interviewing some Extreme Fighting guy and the discussion turned to the pregnant man. Sodom and Gomorra were mentioned. God was mentioned. Everyone had a few good laughs. It made me mad.
I got an email about a poll today asking "Is society ready for male pregnancy?" The three potential responses are: Yes / I'm afraid not / I can't even look at this picture. One overseas newspaper headline read "American Transvestite is Five Months Pregnant." One friend wrote to tell me that her mother accepts the "Transgender thing" just fine but she's really struggling over this. I'll bet.
I can't help but think that this is the Christine Jorgenson story of our time. It will make the firestorm over whether or not Renee Richards should be allowed to play professional women's tennis look like a tea party. It will push ENDA to the sidelines in a huge way. And, I daresay, that it has several very dire potential consequences. Still - I'm proud of Mr. Beattie. He's not the first person to do this but he's certainly the first to be public about it. I can't help but look at the photo of him in The Advocate and think that it's beautiful and pure and good. It's a shame others can't see it that way, too.
No matter who you are, this story will likely affect you in some way. You just don't know it yet. It will refocus discussion on what, exactly, constitutes a man and a woman. It will raise questions about family and marriage that will transcend transgender. It will spark any number of moral debates. There will be pushback and it will not be pretty. It may even cause you to ask questions about your own open-mindedness and acceptance that you thought you had answered but somehow may now realize you haven't.
Although some are seeing mostly doom and gloom from this I'm not there. In fact, I see rays of light that seem like hope to me. The same way that the disappointments of ENDA got people saying the word "transgender" in places I never imagined hearing it, so too will this situation spark conversation. To be sure, much of the conversation will be negative and will make our blood boil, but that's the nature of social change. This is how it happens. But there is a positive side as well. We just need to give it time to brew.
Some see the disturbing portion of this story as the pregnancy itself. For many in the transgender community, however, a significant concern is the fact that Thomas was turned away by 9 doctors who refused to help. Somehow, I can't escape visions of Robert Eads, a trans-man who lived in Georgia and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996. After his diagnosis he was turned away by two-dozen doctors before finding one who would treat him - almost a year later. Despite heroic efforts to save him help came too late and he succumbed to the cancer in 1999 at the age of 53. His amazing story is captured in the award-winning movie Southern Comfort, and his unceasing dignity in the face of tragedy is something those who watch the movie will never forget.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I have some other significant concerns as well. I have concerns about the safety of Mr. Beatie and his wife. I have concerns about the health of the baby - these kinds of things come with added risk. I have concerns about the impact of this on other things. I have concerns about lots of things but the best thing I can do to address them is to offer my prayers and support. Although I've never met Thomas or even spoken to him, he is a brother, and I will defend his right to be himself and to live his life. That's something any of us should expect to be able to do. And that, truly, is what's at stake here.