Friday, April 4, 2008

Thomas Beatie on Oprah

Let's talk about Thomas Beatie. My mom excitedly emailed me yesterday that Thomas would be on Oprah so i TiVoed it... Oprah's show was Thomas' first TV interview.

If you're unfamiliar with Thomas' story, here's a brief recap in his own words via

"I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy. Unlike those in same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions, Nancy and I are afforded the more than 1,100 federal rights of marriage. Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire.

Ten years ago, when Nancy and I became a couple, the idea of us having a child was more dream than plan. I always wanted to have children. However, due to severe endometriosis 20 years ago, Nancy had to undergo a hysterectomy and is unable to carry a child. But after the success of our custom screen-printing business and a move from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest two years ago, the timing finally seemed right. I stopped taking my bimonthly testosterone injections. It had been roughly eight years since I had my last menstrual cycle, so this wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. My body regulated itself after about four months, and I didn’t have to take any exogenous estrogen, progesterone, or fertility drugs to aid my pregnancy."

Lots of people are really bothered by this... let's talk about why.

Before we get into anything, I will preemptively answer some questions that i've either heard or read over the past few days:

Q. But doesn't that mean he's actually a she?
A. Well no. Gender and sex are two very different things. Gender is how you act. It's how you present yourself and how you want to be viewed by others. Sex is your genitals and reproductive organs. (In Thomas' case, just to be clear, he has a penis - his clitoris enlarged as a result of taking testosterone, he does not have a surgically constructed penis - as well as female reproductive organs sans breasts). Maleness and femaleness include many different things such as: reproductive capabilities, the way a person presents him/herself and acts in the world, the person's ability to "pass" and mostly, what the individual feels and believes s/he is. Long story short, No, Thomas is not a woman. Thomas is a man. He is also transgender.

Q. Ew! Isn't that weird?!
A. No. Just because it's not something you have come across before does not make it "weird," "gross," or in any way "wrong." Wrapping our brains around something unfamiliar to us is a wonderful thing, allow this to challenge your notions of maleness and femaleness instead of disregarding it. Also, dichotomous thinking is dangerous, wouldn't it be better if we all viewed life on a spectrum - right Jacks? ;)

Q. Oh my goodness, isn't the testosterone Thomas takes to keep his facial hair dangerous for the baby?!
A. No. Thomas has actually been off testosterone for two years before even trying to conceive. His hormone levels were absolutely normal when he got pregnant and are where they should be as he progresses in the pregnancy. On Oprah, when Thomas' doctor was asked this question she responded by saying, "this is a normal pregnancy." Which it, very much, is.

Q. (All very similar) 1. What about the poor child? This is absolutely sick. 2. What terrible parents! 3. I truly wonder what sort of problems the child will have in the future. This is going to be a mine field of problems I believe. Posted by: Dr. Ray of Cairns...
A. Well since Dr. Ray of Cairns, Australia says so, it must be true... Or not. But for real, folks, "love makes a family." This child is going to be raised in an open minded, accepting, and loving household. Isn't that all we can ask for any child being brought into the world? Nancy (Thomas' wife) has two gorgeous daughters from a previous marriage that were on the show yesterday as well. Oprah asked one of the daughters how she felt when Tracy made the decision to transition to Thomas, the daughter said, "He actually got to be who he is and there wasn't much confusion after that." Honestly, it's pretty simple. The daughters talked a lot about Thomas and Nancy's great relationship and that the they model their marriages after Nancy and Thomas. The daughters, like Nancy and Thomas, were very honest, straight-forward, and sincere. This is the type of family i want a child brought into. I don't think those "worried" about "this poor girl" need to fret, she will be brought up in a loving household where being yourself and being open minded towards others are valued characteristics. She will be loved. She will be educated. And (hopefully) she will be armed with the tools she needs to defend herself and her family's lifestyle from those individuals that can't accept anything out of the "ordinary."

Q. Why on earth would this couple want all this sensationalist publicity? (AKA "Fine, whatever, they're pregnant, but why are they making this such a big deal and going public with it? Couldn't they have just been pregnant in their own home and kept quiet about it?)
A. Silence is never the answer. "Keeping it quiet" may be a fine solution for you but most people are extremely proud of their children and want to share with the world when they are pregnant. Why should this couple be any different? You have no right to silence anyone else simply because they don't fit in your definition of normal. Also, Thomas explained that they went public with this because they rather be the ones to tell their story than to have their story told by the tabloids and gossiping neighbors.

Q. (I don't want to link her post and thus give it more traffic but here's a question i found searching for info on the case) The day she decided to be a male and started artificial interference in her own body was the day as far as I am concerned that she ceased to have the right to carry a child as a mother. if she cared about having a child then she should not have artificially interfered with her sexuality.
A. Who the fuck are you to decide who "has the right" to carry a child and who doesn't? Also, Thomas made a statement yesterday regarding sexuality: "Sexuality is a completely different topic than how you feel, that's your gender. The gender role in society that i felt most comfortable being or gravitating to was the male gender role. It's hard to explain how it is a different issue. When i woke up in the morning, i felt like a man. it was difficult for society to respect me the way i felt on the inside if my outside didn't match it."

Q. Who the F cares? Why is this a big deal?
A. Well for Thomas and Nancy this pregnancy includes political, legal, and social consequences. They are legally married and Thomas is legally male. Because of this, Thomas' pregnancy may set political and medical precedents that don't only effect them but will effect others in the future. They have experienced discrimination not only from the community but also from health care professionals (I believe they said on Oprah that it took 9 doctors before finding one that accepted them and would take Thomas on as a patient). Not only that but Thomas expressed, due to their religious beliefs, "health care professionals refused to call him by a male pronoun or recognize Nancy as his wife."

Now that we got all of that out of the way, what's the problem? Why does Thomas and Nancy's nontraditional life bother so many people? Why is it so difficult for us to broaden our notions of sex, gender, and normalcy to allow Thomas and many others like Thomas (because even though they may not be pregnant, there are many transgender individuals trying to fit into these strictly binary definitions of sex and gender) in to our minds? Let's rewind pre-pregnancy for a second. Before Thomas become pregnant, his friends, family, community, and on lookers did not question his sex for a moment. He "passed" as a man. Why does that now change? Why do so many now disregard this story as, "so what, it's just a butch female having a baby?" My opinion? He is NOT a female having a baby. He is a male - legally, socially, (and for the most part) physiologically. Yes, Thomas may have the physical capabilities of a woman to give birth but he also does not have breasts. Does one outweigh the other? Well no. Thomas is a man. Thomas relates to himself and to others as male. Thomas is legally a male and before Thomas got pregnant, no one denied him of his "malehood." Why deny him now? Yes, i understand it's easier to reject what we are uncomfortable with than to expand our notions of categories but it is important to understand that not all people neatly fit into a category. Like i said, dichotomous thinking is dangerous. Don't deny Thomas the right to be what he is simply because you can't accept him into a binary or a social norm.

Male/Female argument aside, let's especially not ostracize Thomas and Nancy (as well as tons of other "nontraditional" couples) for making the choices that best fit into their lives. My vote is to not only accept and "tolerate" others but to celebrate everyone's differences, after all, isn't that how we all grow and learn from one another?

I'll end with a statement Thomas made yesterday on the show. In response to a question Oprah posed, Thomas asked the world to, "embrace the gamut of human possibility and to define for [yourself] what is normal"

What are some of your thoughts?
Let me just quickly say that ya'll know i moderate comments. Genuine questions and statement are always appreciated but just so you are forewarned, bigotry will not be tolerated.


Dave said...

While I did nap through part of the Oprah story, I did see enough to not appreciate Oprah's responses and questions. She seemed to operate under the notion that this was a freak show story, and I had the impression that Thomas had to take a defensive stance for most of the show. Its almost like he was invited on the show so people could watch the crowd reaction faces and think "wow, this is so weird!" This just supports the notion that gender and sexuality are so unknowingly interrelated that the general public has trouble separating the facts. This is a great post. I think the way to move forward is to keep reminding people that gender is a created concept used to pigeonhole and has very little to do with what is between our legs. I certainly wish Thomas the best of luck.

Renee said...

Sad to say I missed him on Oprah, but love love LOVE that his story is getting so much attention!! Hopefully non-normative sexuality will start to be legitimized with stories like Thomas' and his family.

(I'm sure the religious right is having a HAYDAY with this one!)

Vesper de Vil said...

awesome! thanks for posting.

Heather said...

I missed Oprah yesterday, but I read the story last week at The story struck me as normal and explainable. Then when the news hit the mainstream media, I was shocked to read how disturbed people were about this. I just feel like it's a huge step for the LGBT community. And it's also a chance for the entire culture to understand that ideas like sexuality and gender and the notion of family and reproductive rights cannot be defined in a narrow way.
Thanks for writing about it and explaining it further!

therapydoc said...

It's all very wonderful and people really do need to know more about it. Thanks.

phd in yogurtry said...

we discussed this over dinner at our picnic table ... I think its cool that he kept his baby making options open. best of both worlds, sorta.

Rebecca said...

Nice job on debunking some of these myths - it's good to see this sort of thing coming from cispeople - and you're spot on on each note.

I would have really liked to have seen his Oprah appearance, but I have no idea when it was/will be on here, alas.

Amelia said...

I watched Thomas's appearance on Oprah, and I love him! I wrote down some of his quotes because they were so amazingly...real.

I am so glad Oprah had him on because that is just what this country needs: a look at this man. It's easier to move toward being understanding when people can SEE the one they don't really know.

Thomas mad me so happy! I'm happy for him and Nancy. It made me just...feel good. :)

Smirking Cat said...

We were just talking about this at dinner, and I had commented that people are screeching about how weird it is, and oh the poor child, what the child will go through growing up...but the ultimate problem is not the parents, it is a narrow-minded and judgmental public who constantly feels the need to point fingers and make decisions for others based on what makes them feel most comfortable.

Sarah J said...

what's blown my mind a little bit about this is that legally, he is a male and legally married to a woman. so our legal system is more friendly to transpeople than to cisgendered gay folks.

GottabeMe said...

SaraJ, excellent point! I wonder if Thomas was legally declared a man before marrying Nancy? That would have made it legally impossible to deny them a marriage license in states that define marriage as between a man and a woman. More like Thomas found a legal loophole. The laws don't say that marriage is between a man that was born with all of the anatomical attributes of a man and a woman who was born with all of the anatomical attributes of a woman, etc. Just the legal side of me thinking.

I agree though, that the problems the child will encoutner will be due to the xenophobia, fear, and ignorance of others, not due to their own family. I thought of the parents in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" discussing the "additional challenges" that the interracial couple would face from other people who were not accepting of interracial couples. Same damn thing here.

Kandee said...

Yes, that's a big legal loophole. I'm glad they exposed it! I missed the episode, though. I hope Oprah didn't turn into too much of a side show with her sometimes shallow questions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that very clear and cogent argument setting out the case for a more pluralist society! Hurray!