Transphobia runs deep

If one thing is evident from all the hoopla over Thomas Beatie, the transgender pregnant man from Bend, it’s that transphobia is very much alive and tolerated, even in our progressive city that was called “a mecca for transsexuals” by Lori Sirotsky of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.

If one thing is evident from all the hoopla over Thomas Beatie, the transgender pregnant man from Bend, it’s that transphobia is very much alive and tolerated, even in our progressive city that was called “a mecca for transsexuals” by Lori Sirotsky of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition.

Beatie and his wife’s situation (his wife is sterile, hence the decision for him to carry the child) has been dissected and judged every which way since the national LGBT magazine The Advocate published an account of their struggle, penned by Beatie himself. He later went on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where a seemingly-flustered Oprah tried to grapple with the issue at hand, probing him about the state of his genitals as well as asking the rather ignorant question: “Why not just be a lesbian?”

Oprah and company seem to mean well, but blatantly offensive statements are almost falling out of the mouths of some. Take Susan Nielsen, columnist for the Oregonian. The Sunday after the Oprah interview, she published a rather refreshing piece questioning her own knee-jerk intolerance towards Beatie’s situation, making statements such as, “If you support gay rights but draw the line at pregnant men on Oprah, it’s worth asking why.”

She goes on to say, “I’m not ready for this story. But still, I can’t stop thinking about Beatie’s doctor and neighbors in Bend, who appeared on TV to express their support. They managed to wrap their minds around the idea of their expectant transgender neighbor. They shamed me into thinking twice.” A thoughtful self-examination.

But Nielsen also uses “she” to describe Beatie throughout much of the column (a gaffe highly disrespectful to most transfolks). She refers to transgender as a “sexual orientation” (not true, gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different and one does not necessarily determine the other). And even has the audacity to begin her column with the statement, “It’s hard to see the ‘Pregnant Man From Oregon’ as anything other than a freak. That’s true no matter what you believe about sexual orientation and gender identity.” First of all, what a degrading remark. Second of all, don’t you dare implicate me in your own intolerance.

Most marked of all was the alternative weekly The Portland Mercury’s publishing of Ann Romano’s hateful blurb on Beatie in her gossip column “One Day at a Time,” where she claimed “Beatie is only a ‘man’ in the loosest sense of the word,” for the reasons that he still had his “va-jay-jay and reproductive organs.”

To Romano’s credit, she published a lengthy apology on the Mercury‘s Web site last Saturday, and editor Wm. Steven Humphrey wrote a similar apology to all those who had written to the weekly to complain, acknowledging his responsibility in letting the piece get published. But her original incendiary comments remain indicative of a society that’s still attached to a rather archaic notion: What makes you a man or a woman is what’s between your legs (or in Beatie’s case, what’s in your abdomen).

This was also evident in the Oprah interview, when she asked him what he was packing down there. In modern liberal society, some of us still can’t quite get past the idea of bodies that don’t fit within the gender binary. And when we’re confronted with them, we have to know how they work. This is completely understandable (I admit I was pretty curious to hear about the state of Beatie’s gonads) but it’s also quite offensive. Would you ask a non-transperson about the size and shape of their genitals, even if you had reason to be curious? Of course not.

Yet transpeople encounter that question all the time, among other more invasive inquiries. And that goes back to the whole heart of the controversy surrounding Thomas Beatie and his wife: It’s not anybody’s business but theirs. It’s not anybody’s body but his. And it’s not anybody’s child but theirs. His lifestyle is not anybody’s to condemn.

But wait, some people are crying, he took it upon himself to announce his pregnancy in a national magazine. He chose to go on Oprah. Didn’t he sort of bring scrutiny upon himself? Don’t you think maybe he’s looking for all this attention?

Maybe. Maybe he’s trying to set a precedent for transpeople. Maybe he’s trying to stir up a shit storm. Maybe he was just bored (he does live in Bend, after all). Maybe he just thought his story was worth telling, and if the media attention he’s getting is any indication, it obviously is.

It’s also telling that even in the most liberal of areas, there remains a vast array of ignorance and prejudice against transgender people, a prejudice that is currently deadly. Over the last couple decades, an average of one transperson a month in the United States alone has been murdered due to transgender prejudice. That’s something that doesn’t get media attention.

If you think being transgender is “unnatural” or “goes against biology,” don’t forget that not too long ago that was the prevailing attitude towards homosexuality. If you are curious about what it means to be transgender, there is plenty of information out there and plenty of people willing to fill you in.

One of the better parts of the Oprah interview was a clip that showed Beatie and his wife going for an ultrasound. Beatie’s eyes lit up at the picture of his child and he said in awe, “She’s kicking! Is she punching or kicking? Oh my God …” and the sparkle and love in his face transcended any idea of gender.

Beatie’s doctor has confirmed that the baby is healthy, and the pregnancy is progressing normally. By the time the child is due, the world’s eye will likely have forgotten about Thomas Beatie, and his ovaries.

But hopefully it’ll remember the next time a trans issue comes up, be it an anti-discrimination law, a gender-neutral bathroom or a deplorable act of violence. Hopefully the Susan Nielsens and Ann Romanos of the world will remember to use a little more tact. And hopefully the transphobic (the ranks of which are rather large) will be able to find more compassion and acceptance within themselves.