A Word in Edgewise

I had not thought much about Thomas and Nancy Beatie in the past few weeks, but they’re in the news again. Thomas, you may remember, is the transgender man who is carrying the couple’s child.

A decade ago, Thomas had undergone a double mastectomy, and had started on testosterone injections, but had not had genital reconstruction. Nancy was infertile, so when they decided that they wanted a child, Thomas stopped his injections, and became pregnant via artificial insemination, despite the obstacles thrown in their path by unhelpful, often highly critical and obstructive, medical personnel.

I don’t know how the pregnancy would have proceeded had the Beaties kept a low profile in Bend, Oregon, but they broke their story to the media. AP, Fox News, and BBC disseminated it. Thomas appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, posed for a People photo shoot, and gave an extensive interview to The Advocate. A globally aired ultrasound procedure refuted any accusations of fraud.

The obvious question was how all the hype would affect the family—the child in particular. The next and ongoing question is how the media circus will impact the transgender community and groups working with transgender issues.

The Beaties already have closed their screen-printing business, and left home for an undetermined period of time. Several transgender activists quoted on Advocate News stated concerns that the publicity may not only halt progress, but also generate increased political repression of trans people.

What to tell, when and whether to tell, are valid questions. While clarifying his own situation, did Beatie have the responsibility of thinking through the possible ramifications? Or does silence merely prolong existing secrecy and ignorance?

Surely, in a society obsessed by “bumps” on the likes of Britney Spears’s teen sister, or the sex lives of the rich and famous, the story of a “pregnant man” must presuppose panglobal coverage? Sex alone sets off a Pavlovian reader drool; sex with a gender twist is media Nirvana.

“Sports Star Devastated,” headlines recently blared. “I’m sorry and ashamed,” monomonickered soccer player Ronaldo moaned, claiming to have made the “biggest mistake of my life.” He’d hied off to a Sao Paulo motel with three “ladies” who turned out to be transvestites, and now, although he claims no sex was involved, he is “devastated.” The implication is that cavorting with a bevy of female prostitutes is manly sport; gender-confusion is a mistake of life-altering proportions.

The Beatie/media question is one of the many to which I have no answer. Yes, becoming known is the best way to hasten acceptance of the unknown; yes, too much knowledge too soon can lead to backlash and potential repression.

The first problem to tackle may be our society that is both enthralled and repelled by any expression of sex and gender.

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