Pregnancy! It is all the rage! Last year, movies like “Knocked Up,” “Juno,” and “Waitress” dealt with the unwanted kind of fetus-growing, and then hillbilly starlet Jamie Lynn Spears (sister of hillbilly trainwreck Britney Spears) went and got herself a bun in the oven, too. Why, pregnancy is so trendy that even the menfolk are getting in on the act!
I refer to Thomas Beatie, famous in recent weeks as the “pregnant man” who has appeared on Oprah and numerous news programs. When I first heard there was a pregnant man, my reaction was the same as most men’s: WHERE IS THAT BABY GOING TO COME OUT OF?!! (Secondary reaction: IS HE GOING TO BREAST FEED?!!) If men can get pregnant now, that changes everything. For one thing, it means men will actually be concerned about birth control, instead of giving it two seconds of thought during eighth-grade sex-ed class and then forgetting all about it. If men can get pregnant, we’ll start seeing baby showers held at Hooters. Prenatal vitamins will be added to certain brands of beer. Taco Bell’s new slogan: “You’re eating for two, dude.” Men will get high-definition ultrasounds on wall-mounted flat-screen plasma TVs, and then change the channel after 30 seconds. To educate their unborn children, pregnant men will press their bellies up against the TV when Eli Manning is playing.
Yes, male pregnancy opens the door to a whole new world of one-liners and generalizations. So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that Thomas Beatie is not actually a pregnant man. Pregnant, yes. Man, not really.
You see, Beatie is biologically a woman, originally named Tracy Lagondino. She began the lengthy and complicated process of changing her sex to male some time ago, taking testosterone injections, having her breasts surgically reduced, and removing the part of her brain that knows where the laundry hamper is. Beatie now identifies as a man, and the state of Oregon legally recognizes him as a man. He is married to a woman, and not one of those sanctity-of-marriage-destroying gay marriages, either. A regular ol’ marriage. But he still has his original lady parts down below.
It all comes down to the difference between sex and gender. For the vast majority of people, their sex (i.e., which biological parts they have) is the same as their gender (i.e., whether they consider themselves male or female). Even most homosexuals don’t consider there to be any discrepancy between the two; they’re simply attracted to people of the same sex. But there are people for whom there is a conflict. A person might be a woman physically but feel like a man psychologically and emotionally. That was Thomas Beatie’s — well, Tracy Lagondino’s — situation: She was a woman who felt like she ought to be a man.
Well, I feel like I ought to be an astronaut, but that doesn’t make me one. It’s difficult even for open-minded people to accept the idea of calling someone a man just because she wants you to, disregarding all the physical evidence of her femaleness in the process. Most people figure you don’t get to choose whether you’re a man or a woman; you are what you are. And most of us feel like if you have ovaries and Fallopian tubes and a uterus and all that paraphernalia, you’re a woman. Having facial hair and a flat chest doesn’t make you a man. If it did, half the women in Germany would be using different bathrooms.
So I was disappointed to discover that in the case of the pregnant man, there was an asterisk next to the word “man.” It was like I’d been told there was a unicorn behind the curtain, and I paid my 50 cents, and then it was just a horse with a cone taped to its forehead. Beatie’s pregnancy is more or less ordinary from a physical standpoint — which means, as it turns out, it’s not really a big deal. Beatie and his wife (who cannot conceive) are married, they’re having a baby (by way of artificial insemination), and there you go. More power to ’em. I’d say this baby has a better chance of having a healthy, normal life than Jamie Lynn Spears’ baby does.
Something about the controversy bugged me, though, and finally I realized what it was: It bugged me because the controversy was manufactured by Beatie himself. Pregnant woman: not newsworthy. Pregnant man: Oprah time! But Beatie’s definition of “man” is different from the one that most people go by.
It’s all the result of Beatie trying to have it both ways. You consider yourself a man, fine. Call yourself a man. Have the injections and the surgeries required, and spend your free time watching sports and porn. But getting pregnant sort of muddies the issue, don’t you think? Carrying a baby means you’re a woman, at least from the belly down. I realize that the English language doesn’t really have a common word for someone who is female biologically but considers himself a man, and that this linguistic oversight means a person in that situation must choose to go by either “man” or “woman” even though neither term is completely accurate. But if you want people to think of you as a man and nothing but a man, then you probably shouldn’t get pregnant. That’s kind of a deal-breaker, being-a-man-wise. You can talk about Xbox and A-Rod and “Transformers” till you’re blue in the face, it won’t convince people you’re a man if you’re doing it with a womb full of fetus.
It’s like if I went on the Oprah show declaring that I was Guatemalan. I would be an object of curiosity: Look at the man who is Guatemalan despite having been born in the United States to American parents and never having been to Guatemala! Listen to his perfect command of the English language and his complete lack of an accent! How is it possible that such a man is actually a Guatemalan?!
Oh, well, you see … biologically, I’m American. But I really, really want to be Guatemalan! I’ve taken a lot of Spanish classes! I dress in customary Guatemalan garb, and every Sept. 15 I celebrate Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821. In my heart, mind, and soul, I know I am truly Guatemalan.
After I explained all this, Oprah would scold me for wasting her time, and summon her minions to have me slain.
Anyway, I do hope Beatie’s pregnancy continues to go well, and I agree that it’s unprofessional for doctors to refuse to treat him, as several, shamefully, have done. I hope my comments here have not hurt anyone’s feelings. You’ll have to forgive me — I’m a little on edge because I’m “late” this month, and the last thing I need is to be a single father.
Words cannot express how much joy I derive from this column's title. It's hard to choose, but I believe "duderus" is my favorite. I'm a simple man, and I have simple pleasures.
I had been thinking about a pregnancy column anyway, what with the trend in movies and the Jamie Lynn Spears thing, and I was only going to mention the pregnant man for a couple of paragraphs. Then that became the main focus, at which point I realized I should have written about it a month ago, when Thomas Beatie was on Oprah and everything. But I can't go back in time, so here we are.
Many thanks to my ol' pal Smacky for helping with some of the lines about how pregnancy would be different if men could do it. Thomas Beatie's first-person story about his situation, which you can read here, is useful for background, and it's where I got the idea that he wants it both ways. He keeps talking about how his identity as a male is constant -- and yet he is pregnant, which is the most non-male thing there is. Doesn't being pregnant make you feel at least a little bit ladylike? I mean, shouldn't it?
Beatie eventually gave birth to a healthy baby, then announced late in 2008 that he was pregnant again. By this time, no one cared. The horn taped to the horse's forehead had fallen off.
SnideCast intro: "Motherhood," from the "Hello, Dolly!" Broadway cast recording; outro: "She's Always a Woman," Billy Joel.