It's (Not) a Man, Baby!

Guy Trebay characterizes common-sense reactions to transgendered "man" Thomas Beatie's infamous pregnancy as a "phobic response" to identity change.

Fashion writer Guy Trebaymade the front page of the Sunday Styles section with "He's Pregnant. You're Speechless, on the notorious case of Thomas Beatie, who tabloid readers know as the transgendered "man" born a woman, who became pregnant. Beatie's baby is due in a few weeks.

When Thomas Beatie gives birth in the next few weeks to a baby girl, the blessed event will mark both a personal milestone and a strange and wondrous crossroads in the evolution of American pop culture.

Mr. Beatie - as anyone who has turned on a television, linked to a blog or picked up a tabloid in the last few months is aware - is a married 34-year-old man, born a woman, who managed to impregnate himself last year using frozen sperm and who went public this spring as the nation's first "pregnant father."

That this story attracted attention around the world was hardly surprising. Who, after all, could resist the image of a shirtless Madonna, with a ripe belly on a body lacking breasts and with a square jaw unmistakably fringed by a beard?

Who indeed.

For a time, clips of Mr. Beatie's appearance on "Oprah," where he was filmed undergoing ultrasound, as well as shirtless images of him from an autobiographical feature in the Advocate magazine, were everywhere, and they were impossible to look away from.

Beatie does seem to have the "attention addict" gene, regardless of her chromosomal makeup.

Partly a carnival sideshow and partly a glimpse at shifting sexual tectonics, his image and story powered past traditional definitions of gender and exposed a realm that seemed more than passing strange to some observers - and altogether natural to those who inhabit it....Yet as the first pregnant transman to go public, Mr. Beatie has exposed a mass audience to alterations in the outlines of gender that may be outpacing our comprehension. In the discussions that followed his announcement, what became poignantly clear is that there is no good language yet to discuss his situation, words like an all-purpose pronoun to describe an idea as complex as a pregnant man.


[CUNY Professor Kosofsky] Sedgwick said that if you look at postings on Web sites like Oprah Winfrey's and The Huffington Post, "It seems as though there are lots and lots of comments saying: 'That's not a man having a baby. That's a woman having a baby.'"

Partly that reaction results from what Ms. Sedgwick calls a phobic response to changes in identities that for most people seem God-given and settled at birth. Partly it is a matter "of people having to go through the stages of figuring things out," she said.

More likely that reaction results from a passing understanding of Biology, which fashion writer Trebay apparently skipped in lieu of Funnel Collars and Snakeskin Outerwear 101. As Kristen Fyfe pointed out at the Culture and Media Institutesite:

Beatie was born a female, but underwent reconstructive surgery and hormone therapy to take on the attributes of a male. She has body hair and musculature associated with the male physique, but she opted to keep her female reproductive organs. A man does not have fallopian tubes, a uterus, or two X chromosomes, which means that biologically, Thomas Beatie is and always will be a woman.