Dana Rudolph

NPR Misleads in Article on Pregnant Transgender Men

Filed By Dana Rudolph | November 11, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: bad reporting, butch, NPR, pregnancy, transgender

Pregnant man Thomas Beatie and his babyNPR reported a few days ago on a new study of transgender men who have been pregnant. The author tries to be sympathetic to the challenges they face, but risks confusing people about the difference between being transgender and being a butch lesbian.

The article, by Robin Marantz Henig, starts by talking about a small research study of 41 transgender men who had had at least one child. The study, conducted by Dr. Jennifer Kerns of the University of California, San Francisco and her medical student, Alexis Light, found "no difference in pregnancy, delivery, or birth outcomes" between those who had taken testosterone before pregnancy and those who hadn't. It also looked at the impact of pregnancy on how comfortable the men were with their bodies -- something that varied depending on the person.

One common challenge, however, was insensitivity, hostility, and ignorance of many in the health care system toward their transgender patients. That's useful to know, and could help improve healthcare for transgender people seeking to become parents.

Then, however, Henig puts in a paragraph about A.K. Summers, author of the graphic memoir Pregnant Butch. I reviewed her book and interviewed her, and to the best of my knowledge, she does not identify as trans, but as a "butch dyke," as she says on the first page of her book. Henig doesn't clarify the difference, though, and in fact simply describes her as "The author of the new graphic memoir Pregnant Butch, a masculine-looking woman named by [sic] A.K. Summers."

Being butch, however, as most of us know, is about more than just "looking masculine." It's a deeply-held identity, not a short haircut and a flannel shirt. To throw this into an article on transgender men, furthermore, risks making people think (incorrectly) that being transgender is also a simple matter of masculine appearance.

More problematically, Henig fails to note that there is a difference between being a butch dyke and being a transgender man. As Summers herself says in the introduction to her book: "If you are a masculine person who sees yourself first and foremost as trans, then 'butch' as a descriptor is not going to do it for you."

Some butch dykes may indeed find pregnancy as a masculine person challenging. Some of these challenges may overlap with those of transgender men; others may not. Some transgender men (though not all) may have considered themselves to be butch lesbians before realizing they were really trans men -- but they're not the same thing.

As Roey Thorpe of the Equality Federation wrote at HuffPo in "Where Have All the Butches Gone?":

For some, the hard-won space and freedom to try out different forms of gender expression has confirmed what they knew deep down: that fundamentally, they're not women at all. And they know that because they've had the space and the freedom to be butch, and it still wasn't the right fit.

And as Rev. Emily Heath wrote at Bilerico a few years ago in "Claiming Butch Identity":

First and foremost, I am not male. I may have genderqueer tendencies, and I may enjoy playing in the middle of the two binary genders. It may make me masculine, but that is different than being male. The two are not intrinsically linked.

For Henig to stick a paragraph about a butch dyke between two paragraphs about transgender men, without explanation, is therefore misleading, especially since the study the article is based on was solely about pregnant transgender men. Both are valid identities, but they are not identical. To treat them as if they are is to do a disservice to both.

The intent of the article was good, and Henig seems generally sympathetic to the needs of transgender men who have gone through or are considering pregnancy. The paragraph about Summers should have been struck, though, or expanded into a distinct, complementary section on the experiences of pregnant butches.

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