Nancy Polikoff

What Thomas Beatie Doesn't Understand

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | November 20, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: adoption rights, Barbara Walters, birth certificates, Thomas Beatie, transgender parent

I watched Thomas and Nancy Beatie on Barbara Walters last week. They described their struggle with the state of Oregon over how they would be identified on their child's birth certificate. They want Thomas listed as the father and Nancy listed as the mother. The hospital insisted that Thomas be listed as the mother, but eventually the state issued a birth certificate with Thomas and Nancy listed as "parent" and "parent."

They are still fighting to get Thomas designated as the father. Give me a break! Parent and parent is the designation that should go on all birth certificates! What makes this an insult? Yes, if the state insisted on listing Thomas as the mother, that I would have a problem with. But a gender neutral term?

And then there's his complaint about the advice he received from some (unnamed) gay rights legal groups. They advised the couple that Nancy should adopt their child.

What do the Beaties say? That Nancy shouldn't have to adopt her own child. Well, welcome to the real world, where every day lesbian couples have children and the one who didn't give birth has to adopt that child to feel safe as the child's legal parent. Don't you think they all take offense at having to adopt their own children? Of course.

LGBT legal groups advise even those who marry in Massachusetts or Connecticut, or enter civil unions or domestic partnerships in other states (including Oregon!) that the non-biological mom should adopt her child. That's because adoption is recognized everywhere, but a parent-child relationship created by a same-sex marriage or civil union or DP may be disregarded in gay-unfriendly states (and there's lots of those).

So why should Thomas and Nancy be different? Because Thomas transitioned and the couple went from being a lesbian couple to being a different-sex couple? I've pointed out that the couple's marriage won't be recognized everywhere...maybe not in most states. Nancy definitely needs to adopt that child...and the second have a solid status as the child's parent.

Do I think it should be that way? No. I think the fact that Nancy consented to Thomas's insemination with the intent to be a parent of their child, an intent Thomas shared, should be enough to make her a parent. Marriage or no marriage. And the American Bar Association agrees. The ABA Model Act Governing Assisted Reproductive Technology would make her a parent. But wishing doesn't make it so.

I'd be willing to defend Nancy's parental rights if anyone challenged them, but does she really want to take the chance it would come out wrong? Is it fair to her daughter? On a matter of principle? With the emotional and financial well-being of her daughter at stake?

(Crossposted at Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage)

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Hear hear!

We've seen a bunch of trans-activists types screaming and ranting and raving over the LGBt communities fighting for marriage rights based on "they left us behind" and totally ignoring that these issues are exactly the same for many of us.

Suppose I were to marry again, could I, as someone born intersexed, be free from some random bigot challenging my marriage on the basis I was born something other than fully female or male? What if I lived in Kansas or parts of Texas? Backlashes from the trans-activists have rendered marriages of anyone with a transsexual or intersexual history uncertain. And finally getting this resolved by way of legalizing same sex marriages would end that once and for all.

It IS a trans issue too and anyone arguing otherwise is living in a fantasy land.

If they are both listed on the birth certificate, then that should establish parental rights for both (unless OR law is dramatically different than other states). Why even discuss the adoption issue?

Thomas Beattie is the Britney Spears of the Trans movement.

No, everybody loves Britney Spears and wants her to make an amazing comeback. Nobody likes Thomas Beattie and his "I've got mine now you can fuck off" attitude. He's more like Paris Hilton.

Except omg! can we just talk about how much I love her new BFF show?? Seriously.

i like thomas beatie, actually.

Good points, Nancy. I totally agree.

Nancy, I tend to love your analysis on things like this, but I've got to question some of the things you bring up here.

They are still fighting to get Thomas designated as the father. Give me a break! Parent and parent is the designation that should go on all birth certificates!

As you say later, but wishing doesn't make it so. Parent and parent should be on all birth certificates, but that's not the way it currently is. And when everyone else get's mother and father, it's a bit dehumanizing to be given something else. It's as if everyone get's the designation of "human," but then when they come to you they pause and give you the designation of "entity." Sure, it's correct, but the unwillingness to identify you by the same humanizing language all others get is a clear sign of a double-standard. I don't see that many legal implications of it, but if they want to challenge a double-standard, why shouldn't they?

Ironically, I'll add that when my parents went through the second parent adoption they altered my birth certificate and to this day my two moms are listed as "mother" and "father."

I've pointed out that the couple's marriage won't be recognized everywhere...maybe not in most states.

Did you? I thought you pointed out that civil unions and same sex marriages aren't recognized in most states, but they have an opposite sex marriage. I know that any marriage with a trans person can be challenged everywhere, but I was also under the impression that they are generally considered valid until challenged, and that when challenged they tend to look at each person's legal gender (by birth certificate) at the time of the marriage. And as marc points out, they are both listed on the birth certificate, wouldn't that be enough to prove parenthood regardless of the legal recognition of their marriage?

This effects me personally, so if you have different information on state recognition of opposite sex marriages with trans people in them, I'd really appreciate hearing it.

A name on a birth certificate does not create legal parenthood. It may have some meaning or it may have no meaning, depending on the state, but it absolutely does not mean a person should forego adoption.

To Tobi-
I don't know where your moms did the second parent adoption, but many states give birth certificates afterwards that say parent and parent. So it's not like Susan Beatie is in a unique situation. I don't actually know what Oregon does after second parent adoption, but it wouldn't surprise me if those also say parent and parent.

As for their marriage, its validity turns on whether the state in which it would be challenged considers Thomas a man or a woman. If the state does not recognize same-sex marriage (40+ of them!), then if a court decide he is a woman then they are not married. The gender on the birth certificate does not determine his legal gender. So both you are Marc are misinformed about the legal significance of birth certificates.

I can tell you for sure that in Kansas and Texas Thomas is a woman and the marriage is not valid. So my advice stands. Nancy should adopt Susan and not depend on her marriage to Thomas or her name on the birth certificate for her legal parental status.

Well, for me it was a CA birth certificate and an OR adoption, nine years ago, so I can see how it might be different now. I was more mentioning it as an interesting note. Nonetheless, as long as there is an OR protocol for saying "mother" and "father" for opposite-sex married parents, I can certainly see how they would want to fight a selective enforcement of that protocol. If I was in their position, I very well might fight for it too, but perhaps not as hard or as high a priority as other issues.

As for the marriage, are the chances that high that while traveling through TX they'll end up in court? Perhaps with their being so well known it is. But I thought that in most cases the rights associated with marriage continue to be granted until someone who has an interest in the marriage (usually custody or inheritance) challenges it. I haven't heard of a government taking initiative to intervene in a trans marriage (except during the marriage license process).

And also, as far as government recognition goes, I've only heard the two standards of 1) what was the legal gender (i.e. birth certificate) at time of marriage; and 2) what was the birth sex (i.e. birth certificate at birth, or chromosomes, etc). Do you know any others that states or federal agencies use? I've always felt fairly secure because, personally, I would "pass" both of those standards.

The chances that hey will end up in court in TX, or another unfriendly venue?

Very good.

If you read the fine print on many legal documents, they set the legal venue that challenges are heard in.

If a company he does business with sets the venue in TX or some other hostile location... that's where his marriage will be shattered.
The net effect is that trans marriages are subject to challenge and dissolution with a simple auto insurance purchase.
USAA, anyone? Based at ground zero in region IV, Texas, where the Littleton case invalidated trans women's marriages when a lesbian attorney for the insurance company decided to make an issue of Christie's past.

And, any company that sets the venue in such a place infects any trans marriage with the same vulnerability.

Bottom line: No trans marriage anywhere is free from the spectre of legal dissolution at any time. Even being dead can not stop it, as Littleton's husband demonstrated nicely.

If you are just gay, this is no issue. nontrans gay privilege is at your service. If you are trans, read the fine print, and be very careful. There is a long list of folks who would be very happy to snuff out trans anything.

Oh--and I forgot to say that in the states that give same-sex couples the presumption of parentage equivalent to the marital presumption, because of marriage, civil unon, or domestic partnership with a woman who gives birth, some of those get "parent" and "parent" birth certificates as well.

Well Cathryn, I am also intersexed (XXY yo') but do not have to worry about problems like that because I live in Ontario, where my marriage is valid regardless of what sex I or my partner are.

Same-sex marriage: it's good for what ails you.

1 - Certain posters replying to this thread have called Tom a woman. They have clled him "she" and her.

Tom represents, for better or worse, the transsexual part of the transgender concept. In totality.

They don't like anyone who identifies as transgender solely on that basis.

2 - the situation of Tom and Nancy needing to adopt is not the same as the need for a lesbian couple to do so, since they are in a legally recognized marriage that is *proof* in and of itself of the hypocrisy and inconsistence in the law regarding marriages of the same sex.

3 - The effect of the Texas and Kansas laws on any marriage I enter into going forward will be nil. This is because in some states, such as my own, the birth certificate is changed in its entirety -- it becomes the original. Legally, I was born female.

In their case, it will depend entirely on the state of Tom's birth Certificate.

dyss, once again you utterly misunderstand the law.

Christie Littleton was "fully, legally" female too with a birth certificate to prove it. How about learning the facts before you give opinions? Both the Texas Littleton decision and the Kansas decision totally sidestepped documentation and went straight for genetics (and neither had any genetic facts to back it)

I am aware of the facts of the case.

I'm also aware of the questions around it.

You leap to a conclusion about my knowledge without any evidence.

tsk tsk.

He would still be legal, and, as a heterosexual marriage held forth in another state, it would hold through full faith and credit unless it was actually taken to court and a *different* question asked than was asked in the littleton case.

Doing so would actually benefit the clarity issues surrounding same sex marriage (it would, for example provide a great test case for FF&C under DOMA), but generally speaking, someone would have to challenge such, and the odds of such a thing happening are rather slim.

So that entire realm is asinine in terms of considering, as unless he were to move there, it would, in truth, not matter.

Transfolk get it from all sides. We're tired of it.

We get it from our own (see Cathryn). We get it from the LGB community (see Chris Crain, a recent guest poster, or another guess poster). We get it from outside.

We must be doing something right to scare that many people.

Christie Lee DID NOT have her birth certificate changed. This, I know, as a fact.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 20, 2008 4:41 PM

Nancy, it's really hard not to feel that Thomas Beatie is a lightning-rod for the LGBT community's buried transphobic feelings. Including, perhaps, some of your own?

Regarding the designation on the birth certificate: According to queer theory, the gender categories of "man" and "woman" are social constructs, not biologically determined. I believe you could argue that "mother" and "father" are also, to a certain extent, socially constructed concepts that extend beyond the biological condition of fathering or giving birth. For example, a child of lesbian parents has "two mommies." No one really believes that both mommies gave birth, yet we rightly expect society to recognize both as the child's mothers. Likewise, when a child is adopted by a hetero couple. Neither parent necessarily gave birth, yet we recognize one as the father and one as the mother.

I agree with Tobi here: Thomas wants his gender publicly recognized. Putting him down as "parent" on the birth certificate, when everyone else is designated as "father" or "mother," fails to do that.

As for your advice to adopt, given the homophobia and transphobia so rampant in our society, I concur that it makes good sense.

Let me see if I've got this straight:

Tom, who used to be a dyke, is now male, and he gestated his baby, who was planned by him and his wife, and the two of them are having a hissy over what the designation on the birth certificate says?

He isn't satisfied with the two of them being designated the child's parents, he wants the parental title that matches his gender presentation.

That sounds like the couple that sued CA to get 'bride' and 'groom' back on their marriage license application. Both are expressing a high level of entitlement to having the state reify their view of the importance of gender, while possessing a low level of empathy for the sacrifices and efforts that make it possible to have gender-neutral role designations on a state-issued document.

This entitlement and lack of empathy made sense coming from desperate Bible-beaters who are looking for someone to be better than, but come across differently here. This story supports the conclusion that Thomas and Nancy are really, really attached to gender roles in a way that is both inherently sexist and completely dismissive of the work feminists did for 50 years to make gender-neutral ANYTHING an option.

I will leave for another time the sheer GRRRRRH of this family asserting a right to parenthood for the married parents toward a child of the marriage, because they're just like every other straight couple--well, gosh, there's no way that can be contradicted! Except for the visit with Oprah... Lightning rod doesn't quite cover it.

Britney or Paris, though, I have no opinion about.

They're not saying everyone should not use gender-neutral birth certificate language, they just don't want to do that themselves.

Is it so bad for people to be able to choose gender-neutral or gender-specific terminology? Is it so bad for some people to follow gender roles while people do not follow gender roles, without either group dictating what the other should do?

The people attempting to put "bride" and "groom" back on their marriage license app weren't necessarily casting down the ability to use gender neutral language - they were just using the language they wanted.

Because the option to use gender neutral terms has been created, does that mean everyone must use them?

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 20, 2008 6:51 PM

You know, PhoenixRising, emails like yours make me despair of ever finding true, longlasting solidarity in the "LGBT" movement.

Honestly, I know many straight people who make a greater effort to understand trans issues and identity than you are doing.

Why don't you do a bit of background research before emoting about privilege and entitlement? Especially on the Transgender Day of Remembrance?!

PhoenixRising | November 20, 2008 7:30 PM

A couple of thoughts:

Solidarity is inherently mutual. This family has not shown solidarity with mine in choosing to be insulted by the designation 'parent'. The gender-neutrality of 'parent' has benefits for me and costs Thomas nothing.

Further, what part of calling Thomas on his privilege makes me ignorant? Maybe you disagree, but you haven't shown why this hissy is less than an expression of het and male privilege, and a reification of gender roles, by assuming I know less than you.

Sometimes smart people with good faith and similar values can disagree about marginal cases, and it doesn't make either of us wrong or ignorant.

Finally, check your assumption that I need schooling on 'trans issues'. This particular guy and his wife are committed to creating facts that cause disagreements--is questioning anything they choose to do the new yardstick for who's supportive of trans issues? That seems extreme.

Oh, and if you think I'm emoting, you don't get out much.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 21, 2008 1:53 AM

What Nancy and PhoenixRising Don't Understand

Solidarity is inherently mutual.

It is? So, whites standing in solidarity with African-Americans during the Civil Rights era, got exactly what "in return"? Anti-war activists opposing the Iraq or Vietnam wars got what from the Iraqis and Vietnamese? Straight allies against Prop 8, what do they get? I could go on, but I won't. My understanding of "solidarity" is that, after study and careful thought, people take principled political stands expecting nothing in return, but rather because it is the right thing to do.

the gender-neutrality of 'parent' has benefits for me and costs Thomas nothing.

The only reason you insist on this is that you have done no background research, and you refuse to hear the comments of transgender people here who have tried to explain to you that it does, indeed, cost Thomas something.

an expression of het and male privilege, and a reification of gender roles,

This sounds essentially like another way of saying that Thomas transitioned to gain male privilege and reinforce gender norms. You backhandedly assert one of the oldest, most offensive charges against FtM transsexuals, on the TDOR, and on an LGBT site, and you wonder why I think you don't get it? Why I'm insulted and angry?!

smart people with good faith and similar values can disagree about marginal cases,

Nothing you have said has proven to me that you are smart, nor acting here in good faith, nor that we have similar values. On the contrary, you have failed to argue logically, instead resorting to ad-hominen. (Your reference to "getting out much.") You have unapologetically failed to do any research while making offensive statements. And you have failed to try to understand where Thomas Beatie may be coming from.

And just exactly why do you designate Beatie and his case "marginal?” Marginalized, yes. Vilified, beleaguered, and attacked from all sides, including LGBT? Yes. But marginal? Not in my opinion.

I am really angry that this article, which thoughtlessly expresses commonly-held misconceptions and displays an underlying transphobia, was posted here at Bilerico and that you, other commenters, and the post’s author have not—in response to comments by actual transgender persons in this comment thread--thought to reconsider your original assumptions, nor apologize, nor really try to understand where Thomas Beatie is coming from. And all this took place on a day set aside to remember those transgender folks brutally murdered for being trans.

With allies like this, who really needs enemies?

Well, you didn't really get it straight, so let me help.

Tom, who has been a guy but people that he was a dyke, and his wife are having their second child now. Their first child, a daughter, was born a while back.

When she was born, however, the hospital staff and the guv'mint wanted to put him down as the mother. He's not the mother, Nancy is. He's the father. He and Nancy wanted the birth certificate to reflect that.

The state, being confused, decided that it was easier to just change the words than to grant he and his wife the simple decent respect that you were able to give him of recognizing his gender.

Instead, they were insulted by havng that respect taken away from them. They were, essentially, reduced to being called "it" on their child's birth certificate, because other people are unable to overcome their own confusion and listen to the two people saying who the father and who the mother is.

This is, really, a lot like saying that the people in a same sex marraige are not husband and husband but partner and partner.

Except worse.

The level of entitlement that you are talking about should be *yours*, too. You should be able to decide what the term used to describe your relationship is, be it husband, or wife, mother or father.

I am my son's father. I would not be happy if someone up and said I was his mother. I'd throw a hissy fit.

If I adopt a child going forward, I will that child's mother, but I will always be JJ's father.

What they are doing is precisely the opposite of what you are saying -- they are breaking down gender roles and separating them from biology entirely, something that all too many feminists forget lies beneath much of feminism.

There is to be no biological destiny other than what *the individual* decides it to be.

That's feminism. That's what they are doing. And their personal history is of a struggle of behalf of feminism, and you do them a disservice.

And yes, PhoenixRising, it can be contradicted. But to do so requires that you invalidate his claim to be a man, and therefore Cathryn's claim to be a woman, and my claim to be a woman, and you invalidate the whole effort of feminism by insisting that he's not a man, hes a woman.

But if you *do* agree that he is a man, and I think you do, then you have to understand that he is still queer. Still LGBT.

ANd that sometimes that means being LGBT means you are straight. That you can be a straight queer. I am.

And Tom and Nancy Beattie, Mr. and Mrs. Beattie, are not merely a lightning Rod, the are a mirror. And in that mirror we must look, and we are going to see things that we do not like to see.

He is us. Granted by a circumstance and self aggrandizement to stand before us and say "this is the complexity. This is the real meaning, when men can bear children and be a father. This is what it means to be different, to be odd, to be strange -- to be Queer, which means to be odd or strange or different. And by all that you may hold holy, we are here and we are not going to go away."

Hopefully now you get it.

Hopefully you will read this after you get back from a day of remembrance event.

Where you showed that you are one of us, as much as we are one of you.

It is true that Thomas and Nancy are married unless someone challenges it, but lawyers prepare their clients for challenges. There are dozens of scenarios in which it could be challenged. As for Nancy as Susan's parent, I'm standing by my opinion that she is vulnerable, and her daughter is vulnerable, without an adoption. Maybe nothing will go wrong with either of them for the next 18 years and their relationship will never be called into question. Certainly I have warned clients of the risks of some decisions, and they have made those decisions anyway, and sometimes everything is fine. But sometimes it isn't.

Just a comment that the URL to Nancy's site is wrong. It takes you to a sort of religious clearing house for bible verses.

This posting and some of the comments have proven once again that Mother Nature can think beyond binaries and Human Nature cannot. It still amazes me that straight people are far easier to educate on the fluidity of gender while some gays and lesbians have such a ridged view that they cannot think outside of the binary box. Why is it so hard to allow a person the dignity to decide their gender identity? You're not living their life. One wonders why some people dost protest too much . . . ah, PhoenixRising?

I think that you're spot on on the second point, but I think in our community we have to make room for those people who are still firmly attached to their gendered identifications -- mother or father.

Yes, there's a tension between those of us who are working to break down gender stereotypes and those of us who find them important. But there's room in the world for respect for both.

"Yes, there's a tension between those of us who are working to break down gender stereotypes and those of us who find them important. But there's room in the world for respect for both."

It would be nice if there were respect.......but then some of us who came from trans/intersexed histories who find comfort in the gender binary are not shown much of that. Gender stereotypes and gender identities are different is fitting in within a gendered worldview shared by 99% of the world and those who'd deny you your own identity by not limiting their gender deconstruction to themselves but insisting on shoving it down your throat as well.

Respect is a two-way street. In the ten years I have known you, you have never once made an attempt to show others respect, then you bitch when people don't show it to you. You bring the disrespect you get on yourself. Karma. But, you refuse to listen. So, what's new?