Time Magazine recently ran an article entitled “My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of a New American Family” by Jessi Hempel about a transgender man getting pregnant, having a baby and nursing his child (which introduced us to our new favorite term, “chest-feeding”):
Pregnancies like Evan’s—and the many that are likely to follow—will stretch our cultural perceptions of gender norms even further. Americans are just starting to open up to the idea that you may be born into a female body, but believe that you are really a man. But what if you are born into a female body, know you are a man and still want to participate in the traditionally exclusive rite of womanhood? What kind of man are you then?
We’ll say it again: A lucky one!
How many cool (i.e. not sexist or homophobic) men would give birth to a baby or breastfeed if only they could?! A healthy percentage (according to our totally unscientific survey at the recent cocktail party). And what a uniquely fantastic opportunity that would be!
But you can imagine the outrage, the horror even, on the part of conservatives who believe in the black & whiteness of gender and nature — a belief often spawned from ancient religious texts light on science, nuance and human rights. It spawns comments like the following to one of our posts about how to raise less gendered kids for their own benefit:
Idiotic . . . The idea of dressing children gender neutral and avoiding the terms girl or boy defies Common Sense which seems to be not very common now days. Boys and Girls Are different. Always have been, always will be. Your [sic] trying to fight something that’s existed for millions of years . . . .
What’s more surprising, though, are the progressive people who just can’t seem to get their heads around a phenomenon like this. For example, one feminist friend (whom, it should be noted, we adore) has said, “If you were born female but want to be a man, then you should live as a man, with all the benefits and limits that entails. You shouldn’t get to have your cake and eat it, too.” (She’s Jewish and also believes Jews shouldn’t have
Xmas pagan holiday trees in their homes during the holidays.)
This is the problem with clinging to two opposing gender binaries — male & female — when there is already so much overlap between them. There are some men who are more feminine than some women, and some women who are more masculine than some men. Rather than men and women existing in opposing corners of the ring, they almost all intermingle to some extent in the middle somewhere, with only a few stuck firmly in their corners.
As Dr. Obedin-Maliver, one of leaders of the only study done on trans pregnancy, says in the piece: “Take two pregnant women and their experiences will be different and we don’t ascribe that to their womanhood . . . We have to be careful about that and not say there’s one trans-man experience going through pregnancy.” Similarly, there’s not one female experience that we should ascribe to “womanhood” and one male experience that we should ascribe to “manhood.” If we did, then a woman who either couldn’t or chose not to birth a child could be considered a lesser, inadequate woman.
Our culture — indeed, most of the world’s societies — like to put masculine and feminine “ideals” on a pedestal, i.e. “be a ‘real’ man” and “these are exclusive rites of womanhood.” It’s in our brain’s nature to make sense of an overwhelmingly complex, grey world to (often erroneously) put things in black and white boxes. But as we evolve and get smarter and more enlightened as a species, we’ll do so much better to think of people as humans first, rather than male or female.
Which is not to say we’re not for honoring the past traditions and painful histories of the sexes, especially those of oppressed women. But putting people on separate planets is rarely helpful. Trans people and awareness about them will make the differences between the sexes so much less precious, even as they themselves embrace those differences — and that’s a good thing.
There are sea horses all over their home–on onesies and bibs, in drawings and stitched on blankets. It has become Evan’s emblem, because like my brother, the male sea horse gives birth after carrying eggs in a protective pouch on his belly. A sea horse’s masculinity is not threatened by gestation; it is reinforced by it.
There are so many ways to be a man or a woman or even someone in between.