Doing Gender the ‘Right Way’

By MK Worthington

As I’ve struggled to navigate the many obstacles which have appeared in my path since I made the decision to come out and pursue transition from female to male a year ago, the binary gender system has proven to be my worst enemy. Allies have been incredibly hard to come by and, in far too many cases, support is only extended so far as gendered expectations are met.  

A few weeks ago, Thomas Beatie, the (in)famous “Pregnant Man” who made the news several years ago when he decided bear children so he and his wife could have a family, appeared in the news again, this time because a judge denied the couple a divorce. The Arizona judge decided to ignore Beatie’s legal status as a man based on the fact he’d had children, declaring him a woman and thereby invalidating the couple’s marriage, calling it instead a same-sex union, something not recognized by the state of Arizona.

A fairly good article discussing this problem and a video of the Barbara Walters special interview with Beatie is located here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/pregnant-man-thomas-beatie-appeal-divorce-denial/story?id=18863380#.UX0zbcr_E35

A couple of weeks ago, when this story was making the rounds in the news, my employer went on a rant, telling me how she felt about Beatie and his life choices. She began by reminding me what a great friend she’s always been to me, and expressing her love and support for me and my journey. For Thomas Beatie, however, she did not have any such charitable feelings. “Men cannot have babies. They just can’t, and if that person really wanted to be legally recognized as a man, they should have accepted that limitation.”

I disagreed—vehemently. The binary gender system attempts to shove people into one of two—and only two—tiny, limited boxes that very few, if any, individuals actually fit into.

 In my employer’s opinion—and, indeed, in the opinion of the judge in Arizona and countless other Americans, giving birth to his own children disqualifies Thomas Beatie for the label of ‘man’. In one quick motion, ‘womanhood’ has been reduced to the simple act of giving birth. If Mr. Beatie had not chosen to have children his claims of manhood could be accepted—but getting pregnant and having a baby makes a person a woman. So, where does that leave infertile women, like Beatie’s wife? Does her inability to bear children make her a man then?

 Transgender individuals, like all people, fall somewhere outside of the limits of masculinity and femininity. We choose to take hormones—or not—based on what we need to feel comfortable with ourselves in our own bodies. What my employer, and others like her, seem to expect is for us to adjust our lives and our bodies to a place where THEY can feel comfortable. Those demands are unfair and even cruel. Thomas Beatie endured the acute misery of going through puberty in a female body, he housed healthy, fully functioning female reproductive organs—why the hell shouldn’t he use them if that is what he wants?

 The eventual outcome of the Beatie divorce is a much bigger issue than many people realize. Arizona is claiming the right to determine—and alter according to its own whim—Thomas Beatie’s gender. The outcome could potentially place even more devastating limits and requirement on transpeople seeking to legally change their gender status—and on the choices they can make about their own bodies.

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