Thomas Beatie’s story broke in 2007.
A decade later, the headlines seem to have an almost exploitative edge. Lines about the “first pregnant man” insinuated some massive scientific breakthrough that would herald a new world with new rules.
Of course, in reality, the biology of the story was fairly straightforward. Beatie was born with female anatomy, including a uterus. He identifies as a man. In fact, it’s doubtful that he was the first (or last) man to give birth; according to one UCLA analysis, about 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender people. While that’s about 0.6 percent of the population, it’s still a large number—at some point in the line, some other man probably became pregnant without attracting as many headlines.
The story, of course, came from the definition of words like “man,” “woman,” “mother,” and “father.” Beatie was the first pregnant man legally recognized by the United States government, which made those headlines technically true (at least, true enough for the tabloids).
What was really happening was a social breakthrough: People with non-traditional genders were starting to come forward. As more and more high-profile stories came out, the mainstream media was forced to grapple with some uncomfortable questions.
These questions weren’t uncomfortable because they were confusing—after all, anyone can quickly learn to use different pronouns—they were uncomfortable because they directly opposed the status quo. If anatomy didn’t indicate gender, a man could give birth, while a woman could be a biological father.
6. Thomas Beatie, advocate of transgender fertility/reproductive rights, AKA a dad making a difference. Derided by the media as "The Pregnant Man", in 2007 Thomas became the 1st legal male to give birth & has since become a shining example of parenthood & activism #WPUK pic.twitter.com/E9KLeQKjvx
— ceci n'est pas it, chief (@killjoysilk) May 24, 2018
Today, those statements seem almost quaint, and the confusion and exploitation around them seem backward. Over the last few years, we’ve watched the rise of Caitlyn Jenner and Chaz Bono, and however we feel about gender issues, we understand that they’re complex.
Sometimes, though, we forget that they involve real people. While bloggers, comics, and late-night hosts make jokes, the people at the center of these stories are trying to lead normal lives. Over the last few days, we exchanged emails with Beatie to find out how the coverage affected his life and his relationships. Here’s what happens when your pregnancy becomes national news.
The story began when Beatie and his then-wife, Nancy, had trouble conceiving in 2007.
Nancy was infertile, so Thomas chose to impregnate himself using frozen sperm. Soon after, he made the decision to go public with the pregnancy, appearing on Oprah and in numerous other shows and magazines.
In part, Beatie decided to go public with his pregnancy to draw awareness to gender issues; he’d anticipated support from the LGBT community. Unfortunately, that support wasn’t really there.
“To be brutally honest, the trans community has essentially ostracized me for being a pregnant man on top of being so visible,” he writes. “I’ve been trying to grapple with this shock for the last 10 years. When I decided not to hide in the shadows and to tell my story, they tried to tell me what to say. When I wouldn’t read the scripts they wanted me to read, they made a point to exclude me.”
“If confronted, the major orgs and talking heads would say it’s probably all been done before. But it hadn’t. And I had to figure out the legal consequences myself. (The Transgender Law Center did support me throughout my legal appeal).”
Those legal consequences, by the way, were substantial: In 2012, Beatie separated from his wife, Nancy, launching a legal battle that was greatly complicated by his gender identity. Eventually, Beatie was awarded custody of his three children and was ordered to pay alimony.
Throughout that time, Beatie was a public advocate for LGBT issues—and was constantly mocked.
Imagine going through a pregnancy, then a divorce, while every late night show looks for new ways to make fun of your identity. Beatie says it wasn’t an easy experience, but it was an important one.
“Now that we’re 10 years into the future, in looking back at the unfolding of my story—I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” he writes. “It allowed people to start a deeper conversation about gender and social roles in a way that wouldn’t have been broached otherwise.”
By coming forward as the “first pregnant man,” Beatie was thrusting himself directly into the center of those discussions.
“One of the most frequent comments I received was, ‘’I just can’t wrap my head around this,'” he writes. “Now, the concept has been out there for many years, and there are probably hundreds of trans men out there on the spectrum who have given birth or are in the process of it. It was brutal, though, I’ll admit. I was the butt of jokes on David Letterman to SNL to South Park.”
South Park, in fact, produced an entire story based on Beatie’s pregnancy. Even Whoopi Goldberg referred to Beatie as a woman, and Ellen DeGeneres made jokes that, to Beatie, were hurtful at the time. And those were just the comedians.
“I had conservative shows on Fox demean me as a human being in ways I didn’t think was possible, in this day and age, with no protection from [anti-discrimination] media organizations that are in existence for that very reason,” he writes.
While the reasons behind the negativity are multifaceted, the provocative nature of some of the coverage probably contributed. He appeared in magazines with his shirt off, bearing a sizable baby bump. He took camera crews along for ultrasound appointments. Essentially, he invited the public into an exceptionally private part of his life. The imagery rubbed some people the wrong way, but it also jump-started conversations about gender and trans issues.
“There was no way to tell the story without [those images],” he says. “How else is a pregnant man going to look? I was the only one who could tell my story—if I didn’t, the media would have had their way with it and disseminated even more misinformation. For me and my family—we took the criticism, with little to no support from the LGBT community.”
“In fact, the LGBT community hurled some of the worst insults and name-calling I’ve ever experienced. Now, of course, there were individuals who went out of their way to show their support, but by and large, it was hardcore heartbreaking and negative.”
For example, after Barbara Walters interviewed Beatie, a trans person created a spoof video mocking Beatie’s public image.
But while support wasn’t exactly abundant, some people were respectful and helpful.
“On the brighter side, Oprah and a worldwide documentary [Pregnant Man, which appeared on Discovery Health in 2008] told my story with compassion to the masses. Barbara Walters and Anderson Cooper drove home the importance of my legal and social struggles. Countries across the world opened their doors to me to show that I was a normal person with the same dream of family as anyone else.”
At the time, Beatie was arguably the most high-profile trans person.
“If my story had happened today, rather than 10 years ago, perhaps it wouldn’t have been as far-reaching as it was,” he notes.
“I was essentially the first trans man the general public had met. Before that, people like me were not visible. Today, trans people and trans topics are everywhere; there seems to always be a trans news story on Yahoo, or a trans character on a hit TV show, or new diversity training at work covering the issue. On a regular basis, countries across the world are reporting that they have their first pregnant man of their nation. The other month, it was Finland.”
Even with the around-the-clock coverage, Beatie says that there are some crucial misconceptions about his experience.
“Probably the biggest misconception is that I went back to being a woman to get pregnant,” he writes. “For me, this is the furthest thing from the truth. I was a fully legal man and husband before I got pregnant, while I was pregnant, and right now. I never vacillated. I got pregnant and delivered my three children to be a father.”
We asked whether he uses traditional terms like “father” in his home; noting that he can’t speak for other trans people, he says that he and his wife, Amber, are traditional in that sense.
“That is what I am legally on [my kids]’ birth certificates and socially as they live their lives,” he says. “They know I gave birth to them and also know me in no other way—other than as their dad.”
“Throughout my pregnancies, I maintained a very solid male gender identity. I was simply a pregnant husband; something I would hope any man would do for his family, if his wife were unable to do so.”
“Isn’t protecting and fighting for family seen as a manly thing to do?” he notes. “In the very least, isn’t it a chivalrous and loving gesture?”
We asked him why he feels the LGBT community didn’t provide more support as a whole.
“I have my theories,” he says. “But it all points to the fact that we’re not done discussing the expanding concept of gender. When a white conservative male calls and leaves a message of support on my answering machine and the next message is from a trans person saying he’d kill himself if he were me—Houston, we have a problem.”
“[That problem still exists] until the general population gets it as a whole, including the marginalized themselves. Then we will know there is, at least, a basic level of communication and understanding.”
Beatie’s role in the national gender discussion was to act as a sort of lightning rod for the ugliest hate speech. By making his pregnancy public, he showed the public something that they weren’t quite ready to see—and, perhaps understandably, they reacted strongly.
“The imagery shocked the senses,” he says. “Because as a species, we’re so set on the differences of absolutes, black and white. Because people had never seen something like this before in real life. Some people thought it was freaky, some were angry, others thought it was cool. Many people wanted to guess the outcome—the children would be physically malformed or psychologically screwed up, [or maybe] the children are going to be the most opened-minded people on the planet.”
Today, Beatie has a successful career and a loving family.
Over the past decade, Beatie has been a successful stockbroker at a major financial firm. He also writes, acts, and appears on television; in 2016, he was a contestant on Secret Story, a French reality show in which contestants share a house (think Big Brother, but every contestant has a secret; Beatie’s was that he was the world’s first pregnant man).
“I lasted three months in the house, spoke French all the while, and took second place,” Beatie writes. “It was a trip, and the French people were awesome with their support of my story—a million-fold over the [people in the] U.S.”
Along the way, he found Amber—who, in a strange twist, had seen Beatie’s documentary years before she actually met him.
“She had been in early childhood education for 25 years and had only been with biological men, [as in] born male,” he writes. “Little did she know that we’d fall in love, get married, and she’d carry my child. FYI, we went through IVF and used the same sperm donor as my three children to have a child between us. [The child’s] name is Jackson and he is 3 months old. Amber is 48 years old, so he is quite the little miracle for us.”
— Thomas Trace Beatie (@ThePregnantMan) March 9, 2018
Beatie’s public life has settled down substantially. That’s fine with him—but he doesn’t regret his advocacy, even given the negative reactions he’d encountered when he first came forward a decade ago.
“Back then, people said the world wasn’t ready for this,” he writes. “If I had waited for the world to be ready, I wouldn’t be the father I am today. Here we are now, my visibility has given many transgender people the courage to live their best lives. Gender norms are constantly evolving, and one day we will have our first female president.”
“For a private transgender man to put himself out in the public eye—it wasn’t the coolest or easiest thing to do, but my hope was that my visibility might lead the way for others like me to have hope and live their lives proudly and openly, with fairness under the law. Though the landscape has changed, we still have a long way to go.”