ABC: Courts, not Chromosomes, Now Define Sex

Barbara Walters is challenging America's definition of man and woman, and ABC is giving her multiple opportunities to promote her views on the airwaves. 

As Walters promoted her latest special, “What is a Man, What is Woman? Journey of a Pregnant Man,” for the second day in a row on ABC's The View, she aggressively asserted that Thomas Beatie, a pregnant woman, is a “man.”  Beatie, born Tracy LaGondino, has undergone surgery and hormone treatments to make herself resemble a man.  


Yesterday's View promotion featured a clip in which Beatie, the pregnant “man” who made headlines last spring, and Beatie's partner Nancy, announced Beatie's second pregnancy.  Today, Walters focused on the differences between legal status and biology when determining an individual's sex.

The notion that a woman can insist she's a man, though she has functioning female reproductive organs, is a concept many people cannot easily accept. Walters' co-hosts on The View were no exception, but Walters brooked no dissent from her colleagues. 

Moderator Whoopi Goldberg asked Walters in the beginning of the conversation, “So it was a woman who became a man, but only partially?” 

Walters answered:

Well, no. I mean, you see, that's the whole thing. What is a man and what is a woman? And he's not our only example. And by the way, he's not the only “man” who has ever been pregnant. So we raise the whole question -- we have another couple, too, whom I will tell you about. So it goes beyond how did she do it? How did she make him pregnant? Or you know, how did she do it? What was it like? To the whole question of what is a man? What is a woman?

Walters used the question to lead into a clip from her special, which is scheduled to air on ABC at 10:00 tonight:

BARBARA WALTERS: Thomas, what is a man?

THOMAS BEATIE:  I feel that you're not born a man. You become a man. However, I also do feel that I was born biological male up in my brain.

WALTERS:  So it's what's in my head?

BEATIE:  Yes. When I wake up in the morning, I feel like a man.

WALTERS:  You make a great many people very uneasy.

BEATIE:  Why is that?

WALTERS: Here is a man with facial hair, with a mustache, with scars under his breast, pregnant. It is a disturbing picture, Thomas.

BEATIE: I think people are not used to seeing the image of a pregnant man and it's causing a lot of people to think.

WALTERS: You know, Thomas, there are a lot of people who say just because you've taken testosterone, cut your hair short, grown a beard, had your breasts removed,  that doesn't make you a man. You have a woman's reproductive organs. Therefore, they say, you are a woman.

BEATIE:  I used my female reproductive organs to become a father.

WALTERS: Aren't you trying to have it both ways?

BEATIE:  Well, first of all, what would be wrong with that? I'm not trying to change people's minds. I'm just asking them to open them.

Walters informed her co-hosts that Beatie and Nancy “make love like a man and woman.” She also reminded them, “that legally, [Thomas] has been declared a man…[Thomas] is legally a man but kept his reproductive organs.”

Walters quickly challenged her co-hosts when they voiced skepticism and bewilderment about Beatie's story.  When Goldberg brought up the dictionary definition of a man, Walters immediately took issue:  

WHOOPI GOLDBERG:  Well, all the way, when you look in the Webster's dictionary, a man is defined by his genitalia. If you have a penis --

WALTERS: But if your penis is cut off, does that make you a woman?

GOLDBERG:  No. But you start out with a penis and you also have the reproductive ducts and all that stuff --

WALTERS:  Not necessarily.

            GOLDBERG: This is in the dictionary when they describe it.

            WALTERS: But that's the dictionary. But, legally, legally, he was able to be             considered a male.

            GOLDBERG: But how?

            HASSELBECK: It's interesting--

WALTERS:  Because if you, and this something, let me give you another case. If you have a letter from your doctor, at least this was in Hawaii and Oregon, where he lives – and by the way, this is very brave of him to come forward, and his wife, and talk about it. This is not something small and shallow and I hope he'll come on The View next week. But anyway, if you have had the psychological testing and you have had the surgery, you -- and a letter from your doctor -- you are legally considered, in certain states, a man. Everything he has, he is a man.  Now, the interesting thing is what does it say on the birth certificate when the baby was born.

When Elisabeth Hasselbeck wondered about the effect the Beaties' choices would have on their children, Walters responded:

And let me just say one thing to you. When you say it's all so strange, I'll bet that your little girl will be going to school and there will be a child in the school who has two mommies or two daddies… If we were talking about this 10 years ago, you would have said “What? What are they going to tell the child?”

Walters also appeared on ABC's Good Morning America to promote tonight's special.  Beatie is scheduled to appear on Monday's broadcast of Good Morning America as well. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.