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Is There Such a
Thing as Bad Press?

Is There Such a
Thing as Bad Press?


He's having a baby, and the media is begging for input from the LGBT community. Will we miss this opportunity?

Thomas Beatie and his wife, Nancy, have made national headlines for something very ordinary: starting a family. Thomas is a transgender man who has chosen to carry the couple's child because Nancy isn't able to. From where I sit -- safely inside an urban bubble and well ensconced in the transgender movement both personally and professionally -- what Thomas is doing isn't shocking in the least. He is far from the first transman to carry a child, and he certainly won't be the last. What is different about Thomas and Nancy is that they were proactive in garnering media coverage -- and in a big way. With joint exclusive interviews with both the Oprah Show and People magazine, the Beaties have reached a national audience with their story of family -- the story of queer family.

Now I'm not the kid-loving or -bearing kind. I've just never had the instinct or the drive to bring, adopt, conceive, foster, or otherwise beget any kin of any kind. But I've got to give kudos to the Beaties. It's a brave thing to commit to loving and supporting another human being for the rest of their lives -- no matter what.

As a trans advocate -- as an LGBT advocate -- what concerns me about the Beaties' story is: 1) the beyond-the-pale defamation that I've seen on national cable news, Letterman's Top 10 and now in the Boston Globe, and 2) the relative silence of our community in public response. The Beaties are doing what we communications professionals write into nearly every PR plan that's put to paper. That is, "we must tell our personal stories." The only way that "mainstream" America is going to come to terms with our existence is to read it in People magazine, watch it on Oprah, and recognize a bit of common humanity between us.

The pregnant man is both a PR crisis and an opportunity for the LGBT community. We can stand behind the Beaties and publicly support their right to form a family in the way that they choose. Or we can remain hushed because we fear that no good can come from engaging in this particular LGBT media moment. While easier in the short-term to let the Beaties stand in the spotlight alone as an unusual human interest story, passing on this public education opportunity will come back to bite us down the line. Sure, the optics of a pregnant transman are shocking, and perhaps the Beaties are publicly begging questions we don't want to answer, but not solidly and publicly backing this couple's family as a movement threatens to undermine all of our rights to family formation (if we should chose to exercise them).

So, is it bad PR to have a pregnant man on Oprah? Or is the old adage, ''there's no such thing as bad press'' true? It this case, reporters and producers are looking for ''our side of the story,'' and they're having a tough time finding pro-LGBT spokespeople to speak on the record in support of the Beatie's family. And it's that silence, I think, not the pregnant man, that fosters bad press.

Let's not remain quiet during an opportunity to educate national audiences on queer families, the realities of transmen's bodies, the ability of an individual to identify as male and to give birth, the inhumane obstacles to basic health/prenatal care that Thomas has faced, and the need for a safe school environment when the little Beattie goes to kindergarten. There is a media vacuum waiting to be filled, and if pro-LGBT voices don't step up to fill it, we will be left with Letterman's "androgynous freak show" comments and the Globe's comparisons to incest and forced polygamy with nothing to balance the story. And that will hurt us all long after this labor of love is welcomed into the world.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Simon Aronoff