ROOM for all
|by Eric Peterson|
|Your Basic Coming Out Story
I'm sure you've all seen the picture.
It's a photograph that was featured in newsmagazines and supermarket tabloids alike, you know the one I mean. The picture of the pregnant guy.
Many find the picture disgusting. Some, I'm sure, think it's beautiful. Others are simply intrigued. I suppose I'm in that final category, as I'm neither repulsed nor drawn to the photo, and yet, like many others, I did a double-take when I first realized what I was seeing in that photoI'll admit that at first, I thought it was perhaps the "before" picture in a story about how someone lost a bunch of weight. Then of course, I realized that that man's belly and mine were very, very different.
Just in case you haven't seen the picture, you can find it easily enough by doing a Google search for "Thomas Beattie." Mr. Beattie, a transgender man (which means that he transitioned from a female identity to a male one), decided to carry a child using his still-functioning ovaries and uterus, when it was discovered that his wife was infertile. He wrote an article about his pregnancy in The Advocate, and talked about it on The Oprah Winfrey Show andsurprise, surprisehe garnered a lot of attention. He is often called the "first pregnant man," which isn't exactly true. Matt Rice, another transgender man, was artificially inseminated in 1999 and gave birth to a childhowever, since Rice was never "legally" declared male, he was just a freaky pregnant dyke as far as the state of California was concerned.
And, of course, there are many who would apply the word "freak" to Mr. Beattie as well. Others are more tactful in their vocabulary, and yet the feeling is still there. There are even some within the GLBT community who disapprove of Mr. Beattie, or at the very least wish he'd just quietly go away.
Recently, a friend of mine expressed her opinion that he's doing a disservice to the transgender community, most of whom want to transition completely to the opposite gender and not remind the world that their gender identity is a little more complicated. I don't think my friend is alone in this belief; I imagine that many people would agree with her. But I do wonder if the transgender community of yesteryear is the same transgender community of today.
A few decades ago, most transgender people were counseled by professional psychoanalysts to prepare for their future lives in the following way: Quit your job. Divorce your spouse. Say goodbye to your friends. Disappear. Have whatever procedures, surgical or cosmetic, you plan to have. Learn to live in your new body. Change your name. Find a new home, preferably far away from the old one. Make new friends. Be prepared to sever all ties. Find a new job, and not a very good one (since you won't really be able to list any references who knew you "before"). Divorce yourself from your old life. Pretend it never happened. Keep your secret. Tell no one.
And if you're a woman transitioning to a male identity, under no circumstances should you get pregnant and talk about it on The Oprah Winfrey Show. (Okay, that last one probably goes without saying...but I'm making a point.)
In other words, find a nice safe closet and stay there. I suppose that before anyone really understood the transgender experience, this technique might have been the safest, most reasonable route to take. Of course, nowadays, transgender people are transitioning with the support of their families. Many are staying in their marriages. They're staying in touch with their kids. If they work for a progressive corporation, quite a few transition on the job. More and more transgender men and women are coming out of that closet, and I'd wager to say that the majority find life on the outside just as uplifting and enriching as most out GLB people do.
Thomas Beattie is an out transgender man. Clearly, trying to fool anyone into believing that he's just like every other man isn't very high on his priority list. Just as out gay people have taught the world that not all love stories begin with "boy meets girl," out transgender people are beginning to teach the rest of us that there's something between "boy" and "girl"in fact, a whole range of possibilities exist there, up to and including a guy with whiskers, a deep voice, and hairy armpits who will give birth to a child later this year.
And you know what? After writing all that down, I'm beginning to think that the infamous photograph is beautiful, after all.
Eric C Peterson is a diversity practitioner living in Washington DC and a frequent visitor to Rehoboth Beach. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 05 May 16, 2008