I was made aware of the story about this loving couple before it broke. I too initially had questions in my mind and heart that I caused me to take time to do a self inventory of why I was feeling both joy and apprehension.
As I read the various reactions locally, nationally and internationally my joy and apprehension have shifted focus.
Just for the record and as a matter of disclosure, I am a woman, a lesbian, a parent, a latina, an activist, and among all the other identities which we use to describe ourselves in shorthand, I also have a transgender history. I am out to the world and choose not to hide or conceal any part of my life.
When I first learned of the story and how it was about to unfold in the media, I felt a cringe. The same kind of cringe I felt a la Jerry Springer Show. I also wondered about the motivation of a man who is transgender, more accurately transsexual (there is a difference) would want or consent to being pregnant. Scenes from Letterman’s or Leno’s monologues immediately played in my mind.
At the same time I felt joy for two human beings, challenged by medical and social difficulties, who wanted to start a family and found a way to be happy. As mentioned my focus has shifted. In monitoring the reaction locally and nationally in the GLBT community, I was struck with the overall discussion being one of education and self examination in the most positive sense.
The topic of gender identity and expression is a conversation that has long needed to be had within our community.
While the majority of responses are overwhelmingly supportive and personally contemplative, there is still evidence concerning confusion surrounding what the transgender experience is all about in legal and societal context.
This is something I welcome from my perspective as we will continue to be bogged by confusion and misunderstandings.
I was particularly impressed with href=http://recoveringstraightgirl.com/index.php/2008/03/25/pregnant-father/#comments>Recovering Straight Girl’s blog and the resulting posts. I felt a need to weigh in on some positive level. I am not the “PC” police nor am I a gender studies scholar. I do not purport to be an expert or a spokesperson for people who are of transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or whatever fill-in-the-blank experience. I am just me and trying like heck to be happy, honest, and just another human who tries sincerely to contribute to the positive energy of the universe.
Having said that, I do want to underscore that words are important but I don’t really subscribe to the context of being politically correct. For that reason, I believe it is important that people do not refer to other people as an “it”. Thomas Beatie is a person regardless of gender, sex assigned at his birth, or any confusion regarding such.
People may identify as transgender, but people are not transgendered. Not any more than any person is gayed, lesbianed, or bisexualed. I apologize for being nit picky and realize for the most part that the term and phraseology used by most folks is not meant to be dehumanizing in any way, but rather points to the confusion and need to check our own personal inventory of attitudes and human experience.
I mentioned I am not a spokesperson or an expert on gender identity issues. But there are some points concerning the story of a legally recognized and legally married man who is pregnant that seem to create more confusion for some than others.
Again having said that and having some personal experience as a perspective, I just want to take a moment to help put the perceived contradictions in the perspective of legal and social logistics of how this situation can exist.
How is it that a person who is legally a man be pregnant? Some folks have expressed the thought in the vain that he cannot be a real man if he has retained a uterus, vagina, and all the other reproductive organs associated with bearing a child.
There are two parts to that answer in my experience. Gender identity is not always governed by body parts, anatomy, biology or chromosomes. It is not totally governed by nurture, societal patterning, or anything that is beyond the very soul and being of a person.
Gender identity is totally separate from sexual identity, only being similar in that both human experiences are seated deeply within the human body and brain in an intangible place. What you call that place is up to the individual. It can be called the soul, it can be the id, but it is the most inner self of human experience. Science is evolving rapidly beyond the chromosome level to the actual genes contained in DNA.
Just as scientists are attempting to find a gay gene, perhaps someday they will find a transgender gene. All of which raises other concerns and ethical related arguments concerning a so called cure for homosexuality which is best left for another equally important discussion.
Human sexuality is as diverse and individual as one’s expression and being. We can see the diverse nature of human sexuality by glimpsing at the sexual history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight identified people individually and as a broad classification of groups.
As a society we are coming to the consensus that sexual identity is something that cannot be repressed or cured.
At the best, some people hope that one day our human sexuality will be openly celebrated. At the worst, all of us hope to be treated socially and legally equal someday. This has been a historic struggle which has ebbed and flowed in human civilization to where we find ourselves today.
Gender identity, while not widely understood, is as diverse in expression as any other human experience. More importantly human gender identity is as real and as valid as human sexuality or any other inherent human trait. It is a human experience which cannot be repressed or posed as something to be cured. It comes with the best hope of being openly celebrated one day and the at the worst being treated socially and legally equal.
The second part of the answer in my experience concerns the legal aspect of being recognized as, in this case, being a man despite being physically capable of child bearing. In the context of society at the time in which we live, for better or worse the reality of the situation is that there is a so called binary system which categorizes human beings by genitals.
Around the world human babies are born to people with functioning reproductive organs and assigned to male and female categories by way of a birth certificate, a government required document.
The existence of birth certificates begs the question as to the actual reasonable purpose and intent birth certificates serve.
Birth certificates established an organized way for a government to document the existence of an individual for legitimate reasons concerning government benefits and protections, for example: citizenship, tax collection, and creating necessary individual identities for human beings.
In the low tech atmosphere when birth certificates were first used, physical and social identity markers were used to individuate people. A person’s birth date, parents names, race, place of birth, and genital sex were used. More modern times added an inked foot print. Moving along in time, social security numbers were added to further identify people for government benefits. At the same time dehumanizing the same humans the system sought to provide benefits. We became a number for all intents and purposes.
I digressed and I apologize, for the point I am trying to make is that the gender marker on a birth certificate, driver license, passport, or social security record is obsolete and woefully antiquated with the technology of today for the purpose of identifying individuals.
In practical terms many government jurisdictions have slowly and quietly recognized the practical and real issue of gender markers to everyday people and their lives.
Process, rules, and laws have been promulgated which address legal recognition of someone who was born with genitals that do not conform to their everyday lives.
The legal requirements vary upon the jurisdiction. Some government entities recognize only those individuals who have permanently and irreversibly undergone surgery to bring their body at birth in line with their gender identity. Other jurisdictions are less restrictive. So in many cases it is dependent on one’s zip code.
Thomas Beatie said he is legally a man and legally married to his wife. So be it and I would not in any case argue differently. Nor would I doubt the fact that he is in social context a man. Any assertion that he is not a real man due to the fact he is able to bear a child in a loving and committed relationship, is showing a fair amount of ignorance at best. I use the word ignorance in the sense of being uneducated and not as a derogatory term.
What is it that defines being a real man or a real woman? Why does it really matter to anyone besides the individuals involved? Why do some feel compelled to classify their relationship in the context of gay or straight?
Personally and honestly I do not quite understand why any man would consider bearing a child, especially a man who has most likely had some struggle with transgender issues legally and socially. I don’t understand it much the same way I do not understand why anyone would consider donating a kidney to a stranger or being a surrogate birth parent. But I genuinely admire the human capacity to do something like that. Thomas and his wife’s situation personally makes sense to me when I put in the context of other loving and committed couples who for one reason or another cannot bear children due to one or both partners being incapable to carry a pregnancy and seek out the alternatives to being happy.
I also can make sense of their situation when I think of what the epitome and measure of being a man is in the best traditional sense of the word.
As much as I wish the best to Thomas, his wife and about to be born baby, I have concerns as to how their story will play out in the media and political arenas. I have questions as to the motivations of Thomas and his wife for making this part of their lives so public. Why did they voluntarily release the story themselves to the Advocate and Oprah? I certainly do not intend my questions to be taken as suspicious or doubtful of them personally. These are simply unanswered questions in my mind and take into my personal consideration as to what are the potential ramifications of their story being told.