Sunday, 8 March 2009

World's First Pregnant Man?!

He has been billed as the "World's First Pregnant Man". He is a "man" with a baby. Shock! Horror! I think not. Thomas Beatie is only a man by gender. His sex is still female, i.e. his reproductive organs are those that he was born with- a woman's.

In late March this year (2008), Thomas Beatie announced his pregnancy to a television audience of millions.

“World’s First Pregnant Man”, Beatie revealed his truth on the Oprah Winfrey show. He told the audience how he and his wife Nancy did the artificial insemination procedure themselves to avoid complications with doctors and that now he is pregnant with a baby girl. He has claimed that, “It’s not a male or a female desire to have a child… it’s a human desire”.

So, sensationalism aside, what’s going on?

Beatie was born Tracey Lagondino. She says that she never felt “trapped in a man’s body” but she was a tomboy and when a boyfriend at college told her that she was, “Not feminine enough,” she began to question her sexuality. During the three and a half years shared with her first girlfriend, Tracey did a lot of research into sex change operations and after the split, she began taking testosterone. She then began dating current wife Nancy and later had her breasts removed and legally changed her name and sex. He married Nancy and they decided that they wanted children.

But Nancy was unable to have children, as emergency surgery after a severe ectopic pregnancy had left her infertile. “Why shouldn’t Thomas have the child?” the couple wondered. After all, although he could claim to be a man, he had kept his female reproductive organs.

The couple approached nine doctors in all and they were consistently turned away, frequently because of the doctors’ religious beliefs. They decided to do the insemination themselves and eventually found a doctor who would give check-ups and ultrasounds. Dr. Kimberly Jones considers it, “An average pregnancy” and treats the imminent parents as she would any other. She is pleased to say that Thomas and Nancy’s girl is totally healthy, with regular hormone levels (Thomas has done extensive research and stopped taking her bi-monthly testosterone two years before trying for a baby. He didn’t need to take any hormone supplements or drugs to aid the pregnancy).

On the Oprah show, Thomas made the claim that, “Different is normal and love makes a family. That’s all that matters”.

The news was first made public in an article Thomas wrote for gay magazine The Advocate. In it, he is quick to cite the treatment the couple received from health care professionals. Some refused to call the future mother by a male pronoun and many have laughed at him, asking him to cut his beard off before they’ll treat him as somebody who wishes to get pregnant.

In the eyes of the law, Thomas is male. His Advocate article says that, “Unlike those in same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships or civil unions, [they] are afforded the more than 1 100 federal rights of marriage”. He could keep his “reproductive rights” because sterilisation is not a requirement of changing gender.

But the appearance on Oprah has angered many of her fans. The message board on her website is full of furious posts from viewers who see the story as worthy of Jerry Springer but not for a serious talk show. The crux of the point is that sexually, Beatie is NOT a man. “He” is sexually a woman, i.e. her reproductive system is that of a woman. He is a “he” in the sense of his gender, i.e. how he feels. Beatie is legally a man because the law recognises him for how he feels. That’s why he’s referred to as a “he”. But he’s genetically a woman because his reproductive system is sexually the same as the one he was born with- a woman’s.

So, although initially weird and exciting, there’s nothing biologically interesting about Beatie’s pregnancy, apart from the fact that his ovaries are not damaged by testosterone treatment. The story is one of a woman who decided to become a legal man and then decided to have a child. And the story seems to be selling. The 20 May edition of England's Daily Mirror dedicated a double page spread and other publications are quick to sensationalise the story. And on Oprah, the couple made repeated plugs of Beatie's new book "Love Makes a Family: A Memoir of Hardship, Healing and an Extraordinary Pregnancy". His appearance on Oprah may have helped to get his opinion on pregnancy across and it was bound to help book sales. But her pregnancy is not amazing, only novel. Either way, the photos of a bearded man with a baby-bump are quite amazing!

Thomas and Nancy expect the girl on July 3.

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