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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?

"I'm going to be sick. I am upset.... That was not only stupid and useless but, quite frankly, disgusting." --Mika Brzezinski, cohost, Morning Joe, MSNBC

"There is no way this child will be able to lead a normal life. Oregon is a strange state, but they cannot seriously allow this to happen. It is unethical, immoral, and disturbing." --a comment posted on a Washington Post blog

When Oregon trans man Thomas Beatie first told the world that he was pregnant in The Advocate in March, readers learned that he transitioned about 10 years ago, underwent a double mastectomy, and began testosterone injections. He and his wife, Nancy, decided to have a child, but because of a hysterectomy years ago, Nancy couldn't carry the baby. So Beatie stopped his hormone injections, underwent artificial insemination, and, after several doctors refused to treat him, finally found an obstetrician who would. His pregnancy, he wrote, was "free of complications." Health complications, maybe, but it would not be without other difficulties.

For all the personal trials Thomas Beatie has endured, his decision to go public may cause even broader political and cultural implications for the transgender population as a whole. And some trans people worry that the sensational--and occasionally nasty--media coverage that's appeared since the article was published is only the beginning.

Good Morning America, the Associated Press, Fox News, and the BBC picked up the story. Overnight, readers from China to Chico, p

Calif., were digesting what one blogger called this "real Mr. Mom's" incredible journey. Headlines screamed, "This Is No Belly Gaffe--Pregnant Pop Aims to Deliver," (New York Post), "Pregnant Dad Was a Pin-Up Girl," (South Africa's Sunday Tribune), and "Case of Bearded Mummy" (the U.K. Sunday Mirror). Some media organizations wondered if the story was an elaborate April Fool's joke timed to Beatie's upcoming appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Some of Beatie's neighbors in Bend, Ore., went on the record saying the story wasn't true. One speculated he just had a large beer belly.

But after an exclusive agreement to pose for a People magazine photo shoot and appear on Oprah, which showed video of him getting an ultrasound, everyone had to believe it. During the hour-long program Winfrey gently teased the story out of a shy Beatie. His stepdaughters, neighbors, and ob-gyn also weighed in, confirming how happy they are about the pregnancy and stressing how normal the Beaties are.

Beatie, however, did have one complaint that might have been lost in all the baby news. He said he reached out to transgender organizations before he went public. Half never called back; most of the others discouraged him from the exposure. Ultimately, they said, they were worried.

The worry seems to stem from a couple of different issues. First, some people are concerned specifically for Beatie's family. Transgender activist Jamison Green admits he was in this camp. He says he's thrilled Beatie's pregnancy is healthy and that he knows other transgender people who have had children, but none have been so vocal about it. "I wish he didn't turn himself over to the media," says Green, author of Becoming a Visible Man. "It makes me wonder, Down the line will all this publicity hurt them or hurt their child? Will the media ever leave them alone?"

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.

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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