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 03 2008 12:00 AM ET

Currently
Beatie’s home state happens to be progressive on
transgender issues. In 2007 it enacted a law
forbidding discrimination based on gender identity.
And Oregon law states that the courts “may order a
legal change of sex and enter a judgment indicating
the change of sex of a person whose sex has been
changed by surgical procedure.” Notice that
this doesn’t define or limit what kind of surgical
procedure is required. Lake James H. Perriguey, a
Portland lawyer who represents several transgender
clients, handles a number of legal sex-change cases a year.
“Sure, some people will panic,” Perriguey says
of the Beatie aftermath. “But out here we have
assisted suicide and medical marijuana. I’m not
worried. Around here it’s really no secret that there
are a lot of transgender people who have children.
It’s really ‘live and let live.’

Karynn Fish,
communications director for Basic Rights Oregon, a gay
rights group that monitors state politics and works on
legislative issues, doesn’t anticipate problems
either. “I don’t think this brings up
any particular policy issues in Oregon,” she says.
“We’ve had good laws on the books for a
couple of decades now.”

“I
don’t imagine there will be negative legal
consequences for [the Beaties] personally,”
says Dean Spade, a lawyer who specializes in
transgender rights. After all, the couple is legally married
and therefore has all the parental rights a marriage
provides. “The idea of someone challenging this
doesn’t make sense. The biological tie is
generally respected in court.” Spade adds that
Beatie’s legal gender can’t be
questioned, and because this is a marriage between a legal
man and woman, he doesn’t see how the story
could have any impact on heterosexual marriage laws in
Oregon.

Worried or not,
Donna Rose perhaps summarizes the situation best:
“He’s incredibly proud of his
relationship. He’s not afraid to share his story
about it. Some will see this as self-serving. I don’t
see it like that. We as a community are not hiding
anymore.The upheaval that comes with a story like this
-- when it all settles down -- is headed in the positive
direction. Acceptance of our community will
continue.”

Rose, who
transitioned in 2000, says Beatie’s desire to tell
his story is consistent with the general transgender
experience. “I feel my own journey is about
self-discovery and challenging notions of
constraints,” she explains.
“That’s what he is doing.” On a much
grander scale, Rose believes the story may help more
people begin to understand that not everything about
gender fits into this “neat little binary.”
And she hopes the sensational stories will spur more
thoughtful discussion about gender and transgender
issues.

If the audience
at the Oprah show is any indication, perhaps there is
hope. At first they reacted just as the media initially did
-- women sat openmouthed with eyebrows raised as they
listened to their beloved host explaining the
show’s theme. But after hearing Beatie’s
story, things quickly changed. They laughed when
Beatie joked “Does size matter?” as he
explained that testosterone injections enlarge his clitoris
so that it resembles a small penis. Oprah summed up
the show with a quote from Beatie’s Advocate
story: that his situation will “ask everyone to
embrace the gamut of human possibility and to define
for themselves what is normal.” And when she
added, “I really applaud you for having the courage
to do it,” the audience applauded too.

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