Saturday, July 5, 2008

It's a Baby!

The New Addition to the Thomas Beatie Family

He caused such a stir, "The Pregnant Man". Chronicled by The Advocate, a ratings-busting appearance on Oprah. News now that Thomas Beatie has delivered a healthy child. Yay! And whew! Deliveries are usually a "whew", I know that was the case for both my daughters - even though one got instantly whisked away for treatment of a pneumothorax caused by a hole in one lung. Congratulations! And...well since you just gotta know...the baby is a Girl. That's always our first questions isn't it? Boy or Girl? Why should it matter? But it does.

Thomas' pregnancy caused a lot of discomfort in the transgender community and news of the Beatie Bouncing Baby continues to be noted with some disturbing commentary from transgender leaders, in particular Mara Keisling, the male-to-female head of the National Center for Transgender Equality and Jamison Green, the female-to-male author and advocate.

Both are quoted in this article from Salon.Com that suggests they’d both prefer that Thomas and his family simply disappear. Ms. Keisling is quoted:

"The media hasn't gotten a message yet that they ought to get a life," she snaps. [and]
"The only positive thing that's come out of this is that the Beaties get to have a baby,"

And in the same paragraph, Judith Halberstam, who is a gender theorist at the University of Southern California:

"I don't see this as a cause for celebration among transgendered people," Halberstam concurs. In fact, she's worried that Beatie's publicity may have endangered people's abilities to access hormones or sexual reassignment surgery. His story may allow doctors to point to him as an example of why such surgery isn't even necessary or advisable. "I don't see how this helps anybody except to publicize that [people like Beatie] exist," says Halberstam.

Jamison Green seems a bit more supportive, but not really:

Green, however, is slightly more enthusiastic, and believes the story will lead to some positive changes. For the time being, though, he thinks Beatie should stop focusing on the media and starting thinking about himself. "The best thing that Thomas Beatie can do for the trans community is live his life as honestly as he can, and worry about what his immediate neighbors think of him, and how successful he is in his local community." Green adds, "If people go back to accepting him as a man, that would be a big plus."

Well, there ya go folks - the truth about the trans "community" bared for all to see - even though you probably don't see it. So here goes Donna on an expository rant.

The hidden reality of the trans "community" is that we aren't as supportive of each other as many have you believe. There is a division between the transwomen and the transmen (notice it was MtF Keisling who held the more shrill commentary) and there is a division between those who have had surgery and those who have not and there is a division between those who are "passable" and those who are not and there is a division between those who are college educated and/or authors and those whose lives are much more common or spent continuing to live on the margins.

First, regarding Penn State/Harvard educated Ms. Keisling. In my opinion she completely misses the point - and has with some other issues regarding our individuality - the Beatie pregnancy isn't about our "community", its about Thomas and his wife living their lives as authentically unto themselves as THEY choose - PERIOD. This was one of the great mistakes, IMO, about the Feminist Movement of the 60's and 70's. Unless you cast off your bra, scraped the makeup off, wore jeans and held antagonistic chats with men, you weren't an "authentic" Feminist. For me, Feminism - and now Transgender existences - is about letting us MAKE OUR OWN DECISIONS, not blindly bending to the constraints of society.

If a woman CHOOSES to be June Cleaver that's fine by me. Of course, there were those who didn't understand WHY someone would "chose" that perfectly acceptable role in life, so they declared it wasn’t really a “choice”. In this situation, Thomas CHOSE to keep his reproductive abilities while it appears that both Keisling and Green would have preferred he bend to their constraints and definitions about what represents an "authentic" transman. If transgenders are challenging society's definition of male/female gender roles by simply accepting another definition (one imposed by the trans "community"), then we have gained absolutely nothing.

Our lives are, and should be, OURS to live according to our own sense of self and comfort. I live my life as I need, not as defined by or in the pursuit of the acceptance of Ms. Keisling, Mr. Green or anyone else for that matter.

As for Mr. Green's comment about "the best thing can do for the trans community is live his life as honestly as he can, and worry about what his immediate neighbors think of him, and how successful he is in his local community.", it sure looks like Mr. Green is trying to dictate by which Thomas must now live his life. Green, an author of his own story, should recognize his intent and should recognize the right that Thomas has to write (or publicize in his own way) his own story not leaving it to others.

Thomas owes nothing to the trans community - he owes everything to the people in his life, regardless of how he lives that life. There is this pervasive sense that transgenders "owe" something to the entire community as if it is a debt that must be somehow repaid. I certainly have great appreciation for those that made my path easier and Ms. Keisling and Mr. Green are among those that are, and will continue to be, among in that group, but I am not required to repay that "debt". That I choose to do so in my own, small way, is MY choice not a remittance of a bill like the one I receive each month from the local utility company.

Mr. Green concludes with ""If people go back to accepting him as a man, that would be a big plus.". It sure looks to me that Mr. Green is trying to stuff Thomas back into the closet - just a different one. Why must people "accept" Thomas as a "man"? Why can they, WE, simply accept him as "Thomas"? If we who transcend the concepts and barriers of gender in our daily lives are then inhibited by different concepts and barriers of gender, then we will not make any progress in our lives or in society.

Halberstam, an academic, seems to regard Thomas as something of an anomaly to be discarded or disregarded, except for the baseless declaration that his life will somehow destroy health care options for all transgenders everywhere. Pish posh. Worry more about the Zucker/Blanchard cabal and the upcoming revision of the DSM.

I think my own daughter said it best with an amazingly loving note she sent me last November following her attendance at her very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. She wrote: "You have a strength inside you that most can't even touch. You have faced your friends, your family, and your community and said, "This is who I am." You put yourself out there to be mocked, loved, ridiculed, but above all, you've put yourself out there. You stepped out of the shadows and have stood basking in the sun as your self--not the self so many others would have you be."

Wow..."not the self so many others would have you be". For Thomas I offer my genuine congratulations and I wish you and your family all the best. Live as YOU choose not as others would have you be, even if those "others" are also transgender people.


Jamison Green said...

I don't normally read blogs, but a friend alerted me to this writer's interpretation of my "real" thoughts in the matter of Thomas Beatie. This interpretation is so far off base that I felt compelled to log a correction. Please note that a few lines chosen by a reporter from a 45 minute conversation with him do not comprise my perspective on the matter of Mr. Beatie. The interview that I had with the reporter was focused on my sense of what the wider media attention meant for trans people, not what Mr. Beatie's actions in themselves meant. For a somewhat better idea of what I think, you might read my keynote address given at the IFGE conference in Tucson on April 3, 2008, the day Mr. Beatie was to appear on the "Oprah!" show (the speech was written and delivered before the show was broadcast). I believe that text is still posted on Donna Rose's web site, Far be it from me to dictate how anyone should live his or her life, and I would certainly not push anyone "back in the closet." When contacted by the media, I try to respond to the questions asked of me in the moment. Mr. Beatie has repeatedly insisted that he is a man, that he wishes to be seen as a man, and respected as a man. My comments support both his expressed desires, and my belief in each person's integrity and autonomy -- each person's inherent right to do with one's body as one sees fit. I do not have any shame about my or anyone else's transness, nor do I think that anyone should have to live in a way that is not comfortable for them. If readers think that I have ever expressed something that runs counter to what they have perceived my philosophy to be, based on their reading of my work or their apprehension of ideas expressed in a speech that they have heard me give in its entirety (not abstractions filtered through other people's notions of what is in my head) they might ask me directly to clarify my ideas, rather than decide what I think, and then criticize me for what they think I think. Halberstam and Keisling also deserve a larger stage on which to fully express their ideas about this (obviously) controversial topic. Soundbytes in can't capture the complexities of transgender lives, nor the ramifications of intricate policy matters that some of us have on our minds every day. In closing, I agree with you that Thomas Beatie doesn't owe anyone --or the trans community -- anything. And you are certainly entitled to express your critical ideas without censorship. Likewise, I do not owe anyone an explanation of my ideas, but because I am serious about the need for understanding and mutual respect in this world (especially among those of us who are marginalized for various reasons, because we need each other's support more than most) I hope you will receive this communication in the spirit of community, which is the spirit in which it is offered. I am well aware that individuals may experience conflict in their ideas, or breakdowns (misunderstandings) in communication, but my intention is to heal the breach and ask that we respect each other enough to ask for the truth before we build more antipathy among ourselves. What else are blogs for?

Donna said...

Mr. Green,

I appreciate your response and accept it, as you said, in the spirit intended. I think you'll find that we are not that far apart in our thinking and philosophies. And having been the subject of a few interviews myself, I understand how limiting - and sometime non-contextually - our comments get boiled down into.

As I said, I do respect the work you and Ms. Keisling have done and continue to do. The general tenor presented in this article however set me off on one of my frustrations about the "community" and that is how we have been dividing and trying to define ourselves within that "community". And to that part of this essay, I hope you will agree that the divisions are there. My own area continues to struggle with who is "authentic" enough to be included in support groups, etc. from time to time.

The article in which your comments were made also come on the heels of the police beating in Memphis in which everyone has rallied to Duanna Johnson's defense only AFTER the video became public. There are those in that area who had contacted local advocacy groups about her situation who offered no help until after the world could see what happened.

Further, many transgender advocates in my area had been beseeched by a local FtM leader to be silent about the Beatie pregnancy when it first became public. He offered no reason as to why - the best assumption was because of "community" embarrassment.

Admittedly my nerves are still raw from the ENDA debacle which exposed a hidden, but in my opinion, deep division in the LGB/T community, so when I read things from within the T part only of the community that appear divisive from within, it exacerbates the sensitivity of those nerves - even if that article didn't accurately or fairly portray the intended sentiments.

Jamison Green said...


Thanks for understanding; I know it's easy to become frustrated when it seems so much is stacked against us. I am optimistic that fairness and justice, compassion and respect can be winning strategies in the fight for transgender rights. There are times when my emotions are frayed and my patience tried to the max, and I've even been seen yelling at someone in a public place once in a moment of complete frustration. But I really try to hold onto my guiding principles. Even in the face of the ENDA debacle, the fact that there is anti-trans sentiment in the GL (and perhaps even B, though I hope not!) community was no surprise to me. Our movement will never be in lock-step, and that's one of its potential strenghts, if we can learn to manage our disagreements. I know tht many FTMs really WERE (and maybe still are) embarrassed by Mr. Beatie, but the idea that we can ever control another person ought to be anathema to anyone of transgender or transsexual experience. Thank you for your efforts to express your truth and educate others; and thanks for this exchange. Very Best Regards, Jamison