Friday, April 4, 2008

No Shelter From The Storm: Transphobia Rears Its Ugly Head

I know I should be happier.

There's a pregnant transman all over the news (Google 'pregnant man') and I should be jumping for joy. Yay for trans visibility! More yay for pregnant transman visibility! Mega yay for the ever-magical process known as childbirth, and the knowledge that a child will grow up in such a tolerant and loving home.

And then I go anywhere on the Internet and my smile droops, my energy drops, and I almost want to cry.

From simple statements of "freak", referrals to daddy-to-be Thomas Beatie as 'it' or, perhaps even worse, as 'she', all the way to arguments about what constitutes a man (general consensus seems to be: penis), anywhere where anyone can make a statement, they're making it. I know that these are growing pangs of a transphobic society getting exposed to novel concepts, and that there's not going to be instant acceptance, and yet I wasn't ready for the hate. I was reading some comments on some post or another and someone had written about forgetting that we queers (gender queers, sexual queers, hell, even just cultural queers) have become accustomed to living in a warm, loving, and most importantly, insulated GLBT communities where acceptance and tolerance reign supreme and our collected numbers allow us to laugh off the bashers and homo- or trans-phobes who come calling with their bigotry and Bible-thumpin'. So it's a terrible shock when something is offered to mainstream society at large- because suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to offer their opinion . . . and the most vehement and prevalent seem to be the hate-mongers.

And it hurts. I try to pretend that it doesn't, but God, it does. I'm not even trans, and yet I cringe, I look at what people have to say, and I know that I could never even begin to answer every negative comment, to give them thumbs down (Youtube), report them (Yahoo! Answers) or simply respond. I feel myself drowning in a sea of animosity and misunderstanding, and I am thrown into a fury at the number of people who preface each of their comments with "I totally support gays and lesbians and all that, but this . . .". People seem so anxious to scream out "That's not a man!", and I wonder why they're so scared, what plucking-the-wings-off-flies sort of person they must be when they assert over and over again "WOMAN" and use female pronouns with a mean sort of glee. The anger fades and it's simply replaced with exhaustion. I don't want to fight it, I feel like I can't, and I'm depressed because of it. The only tiny thing that manages to bring life to my spirits is watching the Youtube clip of Thomas seeing the ultrasound of his daughter- that mixture of amazement and love on his face brings me back to the real issue here, which is the beauty of giving birth to a child, and of gorgeous, miraculous transman pregnancy.
Having written that (and somewhat calmed and salved my soul), I would like to address some of the statements that I see written and the questions I hear asked. Sidestepping the obvious bigots, here's something for the other people:

* "Wow, the first pregnant man!". Sorry, everyone. I don't know who's spreading this information, but Thomas Beatie is definitely not the first pregnant transman. Transguys have been having babies for quite a while now, and I hope that in light of the media's attention on this that maybe they can drum up some families willing to step forward and show their normal lives. But even if they don't, we really need to cut with the "first pregnant man" bit. Matt Rice, partner of my fave author and sex activist Pat Califia, gave birth quite a while ago. Not too long ago, transman photographer Kael T. Block posted a gorgeous photograph of a pregnant James (who is now the proud father of a healthy, bouncing baby girl):

* "Isn't the baby going to be messed up because of the hormones?". Nope. In order to actually menstruate so they can even get pregnant, transmen must necessarily stop their male hormones. Beatie had been off of hormones for two years before getting pregnant- that baby will be just fine.

* "What about breastfeeding?". What about it? Not every mother chooses to breastfeed her baby, and *many* do so through bottled formula. People who are getting in a hussy over this at least ought to get in a hussy over other women not breastfeeding. There are simply many options for someone who chooses not to- including using formula or having another woman breastfeed the child.

* "It takes hormones and cuts its hair but still keeps the female reproductive organs? Talk about selfish!". This is the weirdest comment that I keep on seeing . . . it's as though people think that Thomas is being some kind of odd transman for still having his uterus and reproductive organs. I think this boils down to ignorance and a lack of understanding about female-to-male transsexuality and surgical options today . . . there are many transmen who have all their inner workings still intact, whether because they want it (possibly for future pregnancy, or other reasons), because it's prohibitively expensive or dangerous, or heck, simply because IT DOESN'T MATTER TO THEM. These people seem to think that if you're going to be a man, you have to give up all options relegated to females. My response: 1) "Why?", and 2) sounds like someone's jealous!

* "That's not a man.". Huh. Debatable, I suppose. I could write hundreds of thousands of words on this topic and never be finished. What makes an individual a certain gender is a highly complex question, and for almost every person's claim, I can make a powerful counterargument (if a man must have a penis, does that mean that men who have lost theirs in combat or accidents are now women? or if claim that only XY chromosomal individuals are men, you better damn well be ready to prove to me that you get a guarantee on a dude's genetic makeup before you make any gender decision about him). I only wish that instead of people simply screaming "Man!" and "Not a man!" back and forth that we could open the dialogue and start asking deep-seated questions about gender and our own prejudices. Until then, respect the law (Thomas is legally recognized as a man), and more importantly, respect his feelings. As my mother always said, if you can't say anything nice (and calling someone something that will insult and hurt them definitely ain't nice), don't say anything at all.

* "That's a woman.". All I have to say to this is: okay . . . so you'd sleep with her? I'd like to see what kind of ladies these people are hanging around, because where I come from, women do not have beards, deep voices, male names, and they do not identify as men. Beatie is a man, or, if we must get really precise, a transman. For anyone who simply refuses to call him a man because he is pregnant or for whatever reason, I challenge them to deny that he is a transman.

* "Yeah, how are they going to explain that to the kid? Actually I'm your daddy but I gave birth to you . . .". Oh, I know. And God, can you imagine those crazy single-parent families where the parent has to try to explain where the kid came from? And those divorced freaks? Oh, and man, adopted kids! (Heavy, dripping sarcasm). Families come in so many different ways, and just because it's different doesn't mean kids will have a hard time understanding it. I think it's brilliant.

* "She thinks she's a man because she grew up without a mom.". Yeah, I heard him talk about that on Oprah, too. If only people could hear from a broad spectrum of transmen- the ones who had strong feminine presences in life and still happened to be trans. Drop the discussions of "she's a confused woman" and freaking listen to what he's saying; what he's feeling. The common way to take power away from anyone is to question their mental faculties- it's happened time and time before.

* "You don't mess with what God gave you.". Hah. Which is why we never do things like repair cleft lips or other disfigurements, or administer medicine when people are sick- because that's God's will that they have such things, or die from their disease. Right? I'm not all that religious, but I can tell you that we certainly intervene all the time in what was naturally given to us. You don't get to use that argument until you're living an all-natural life.

And there's probably tons more, but I'm tired (and getting more depressed yet again browsing online for stuff to respond to). The fact of the matter is that Thomas Beatie has done something amazing- and the least of it is being a pregnant man. It is about stepping up and making his story known, and regardless of what his motives are, it's definitely shaking the world up (a great thing) and letting people know of the possibilities that are out there- of transsexuality, of living openly and bravely. Amen to that.

Congratulations, Thomas and Nancy. Let's hope the forces of love and tolerance and at least the seeking of understanding prevail, so I can be happy again.

No comments: