Trans Positions

As the media world buzzed about the “pregnant man,” trans activists stayed relatively mum. Now we’re asking: Has Thomas Beatie’s public exposure hurt the transgender movement?

BY Jen Christensen

May 02 2008 11:00 PM ET

In a larger
sense, the attention already has hurt the Beaties. With so
many reporters nosing around, the couple had to put a
“closed” sign temporarily on their
screen-printing business. Neighbors told reporters the
couple has left home and “gone to ground” to
avoid the press. Nancy told Winfrey if they lose their
business, so what? When the talk-show host inquired
what they’d do financially, Nancy said they had some
savings—and Thomas has been writing a book about his
life story. Perhaps all the publicity will make it a
best seller.

Margaret
Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for
Medicine, Ethics, and Law at McGill University in
Montreal, thinks if the media continues to hound
Beatie it will hurt the child. “Could you imagine the
child growing up with all this publicity?” she asks.
“The child, who never could have consented to
this, will be hurt. Imagine having to always explain
that your father is your biological mother. The child will
never fit in.”

Some trans
activists also note that this story has a high
“ick” factor for the general population.
The first reactions Green read online were
discouraging. “They wrote ‘disgusting’
or asked, ‘How can someone do that to
themselves and think he is a man?’ and worse,”
he recalls. “I worry that for the uneducated
and less accepting, this brings back the whole
‘freak’ label to transgender people.”
When she saw the teaser for the Oprah show, alarm
bells went off for Cathy Renna, managing partner of
Renna Communications, a New York City–based firm that
develops communications strategies for LGBT
organizations. “My sense is that this story has
all the hallmarks of one that could be easily
sensationalized—one that could easily set back some
of the improvements that have been made by transgender
people,” she says. “Beatie’s article
opened the Pandora’s box.”

Think about what
happened in 2003 after the Massachusetts supreme
judicial court ruled that the state had to allow marriage as
an option for gay couples. Other state governments
panicked. Twenty-three states amended their
constitutions to limit marriage to one man and one woman,
joining three that had done so earlier. Some states, such as
Michigan, even went further—using their
amendment to justify denying health benefits to the
gay partners of state employees.

“Generally, with the public and mainstream media
we’re still doing Trans 101,” says
Renna. “I worry this kind of story will create a
whole new level of regulation. Anti-trans groups will
use this as ammunition to influence politics to make
laws that won’t let trans people make decisions
about their own body. I so hope I’m wrong.”

That’s not
just negative thinking. In Japan it’s illegal to
transition if you’ve already given birth or
fathered a child. So far no such law exists in this
country, although three states—Idaho, Ohio, and
Tennessee—will not allow their transgender
citizens to legally change their gender on birth
certificates.

“I think
there is a significant amount of churn over this,”
says Donna Rose, a transgender activist. “And
we can expect any number of people to grab a hold of
this story and move it in a negative direction for
personal gain. But while there are significant concerns
about potential impacts, we must remember potential is
the key word. It’s premature to jump to
worst-case scenarios.

“We may
hear all kinds of noise in terms of morality and ethics, but
to me it’s just that,” adds Rose, who
says she has no problem with Beatie speaking out.
“We heard the same noise when people first started
talking about test-tube babies. But then the
discussion faded.” Rose is wary of spelling out
all the things that could go wrong with the trans
man’s pregnancy, saying, “I don’t
want to give our enemies a road map on how to hurt
us.”

Which may point
to why, for the most part, LGBT and trans groups have
stayed relatively quiet about this story. Though some have
issued press releases condemning the sensationalized
press coverage, none of the national organizations The
Advocate contacted would say what plans, if any, they
have to counter possible backlash—like Oregon laws
becoming more restrictive toward trans people.

Tags: World

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