The Quantum Mechanics of a Pregnant Transman

The performativity of science

Thomas Beattie is hot right now. Pregnant transmen boggle our imaginations. Pregnant? you say. And he says he is a man??

How can this be?!?

Mr. Beattie’s claims that the FtM community hasn’t been very supportive of him. While I’ve only read positive support for his decision (on Facebook in particular), I’ve seen this negative behavior before. Way back in the ’90s (which belies current statements that Thomas Beattie is the world’s first pregnant man) Matt Rice got stalked on-line by another FtM, enraged that Mr. Rice would choice to bear a child after declaring himself a man. Vague and not so vague threats were made.

That degree of hatred suggests to me that we’ve not really evolved beyond our own instilled binary notions of gender. That after all this time, after Kate Bornstein and Riki Ann Wilchens and Judith Butler and genderqueer, and fuck the binary, all of us – and most certainly transsexuals – believe that our biology is really real.

We believe that our biology – manifest in our bodies – really determines our gender.

But I want to delve into biology as it is manifest in our social and cultural practices. That is to say, I want to discuss how biology, and all of science, is socially constructed. The progressive left’s efforts at gender radicalism point out – rightfully so, I believe – that gender is largely a set of socially agreed upon scripts. Where transfolks and genderqueer people run into trouble is when we change those scripts.

But in this rubric, while we have popularized the phrase gender as performance almost ad naseum, we have not similarly popularized the phrase science as performance.

So I ask, why? Why, despite the efforts of feminist scholars Donna Haraway, sociologist Bruno Latour and others, do we on the progressive left still believe that science is a set of facts that exist outside the instruments we have used to discover this facts, that these facts exist throughout time (i.e. metahistorical), and that these facts do exist outside our thinking about them.

In essence, we’re still dating Newton (universalism) while Heisenberg (relativism) is our man.

Even as I write this last sentence, I’m thinking, “Oh God. Science! Math! Physics! Calculus! They are never going to read on.” We ignore science because we’re often not very good at it – if grades are the determining factor – but we do so at our own peril.

I wish not to be alarmist but rather to suggest that when we ignore science as part of the stories we tell about our gender, we fail ourselves. Failing to grasp all the plot points, and the complexities those plot points suss out, that adding this character Science to our story brings out, we resign ourselves to the very binary we seek to dismantle.

Over the next several posts I will talk about the history of science, the construction of scientific facts, the inaccuracy of terms like natural and biology, quantum mechanics, and how of this relates to Mr. Thomas Beattie.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for covering this issue. I saw the clip of the Letterman top ten thing where he called the pregnant man a “freak show.” This poor guy is getting it from all directions. He is really, really brave for coming out about this. I wish the trans community could be more supportive of each other and less about the “you’re the wrong kind of trans.”

    I’ve been on T for a few months now, and while I can’t see myself ever wanting to be pregnant, I’m wondering if I even want the categories of “man” and “woman” to apply to me. It’s completely impossible to strictly define “man” or “woman” and that’s actually, fine as all categories are more or less like that – they ALL have fuzzy edges. Platypuses nurse their young which hatch from eggs. That doesn’t mean there can’t be such a thing as mammal, that just means it’s not always cut and dry. Anyway, for me, I want to embody masculinity. Do I want to embody maleness? I don’t even know what it means!

    There’s a really interesting book on Ontology called “Women, Fire and Dangerous Things” and talks about the inherently subjective nature of categorization systems. It’s a really good book – and probably the source of my platypus analogy. From it and from feminist thought, I got the notion that categories might be a good way to describe the world, but that they’re nothing but trouble when they become prescriptive.

  2. Les!

    Good to hear from you.

    I like your discussion of fuzzy categorization and platypuses. This example is exactly what I’m getting at – or trying to anyway – in this, and future, post(s).

    Too, I understand about wanting to embody masculinity yet finding “man” and “maleness” odd. Today I’m okay with man as term of self-organization (gee, isn’t that a title of a book!?), but that may change.

    What intrigues most about Mr. Beattie’s situation is a lack of thoughtful reflection on such categories as “science.”

    I admire him for following his heart. My heart led me down a different path, but our world needs more people with heart.

  3. I’m not a fan of categorization AT ALL, but I understand the need for it as a tool to deal with the overwhelming reality of existence. But if there weren’t fuzzy categorizations and differing opinions, it would be a really boring existence. Robots are all the same, not people.

    Not surprisingly, Mr. Beattie’s pregnancy has elicited a wide variety of reactions in the gay/lesbian community (check out links from my post on it to other places), but it has also served as a platform to do a little education and to provide an opening for some discussions about sex, gender and sexuality and their independence and simultaneous interrelationship.

  4. Hi Jami,

    Thanks for the pointer to your blog.

    I think people like Mr. Beattie, who choose a “radical” stance with regard to their body, will, for quite some time, elicit reactions of all kinds.

  5. Jay,
    Thank you so much for posting this— it’s been so wonderful to see the amount of support that he has been getting by many folks in the community. he is of course not the first to do this, but for sure the first to do so this with the amount of media coverage he has had. ultimately i see it as such a good thing, and have been really impressed with the way folks have handled it (especially outside of the community)

    people feel threatened by those of us whose bodies move outside of what they have decided are these narrow narratives that have been constructed for what it means to be trans, and as such i have seen a lot of the bigoted hatred that he referenced on the Oprah show, and have been disheartened to say the least, although i know better i would have hoped we would have moved beyond such a fear of those who embody being trans differently.

    p.s.
    i’m excited to read more of your thoughts on the constructed nature of science!

  6. Jay, I can’t read the comments — the right margin is cut off for some reason. Is this a browser problem on my end, or something on yours. Do others have this problem?

    I knew an FtM who was pregnant back in the 90s. I think his name was Matt Rice. He had a son (who, if memory serves, was autistic). I thought then, and I think now, that it was marvelous. He would send me photos of himself as he began to show. I thought it was pretty cool to see a balding, bearded pregnant man. He drew an incredible amount of flack for his pregnancy. He was dating Pat Califia, I think. Forgive me, my memory is sometimes like swiss cheese. In any event, he and I kept up with each other for many years. He even sent me his resume once when he was job hunting and I was CFOing. I was sorry when we finally lost touch.

    I also think that some have put forth the idea that biology is socially constructed, certainly as it relates to sex. Again, my memory fails me, but I thought it was Judith Butler. In the end, I think that I — at least at a conscious thinking level — DON’T believe that my biology is real. I don’t think that surgery made me a woman. I’m not even clear there is such a thing AS woman. That said, I play along, more often than not.

    Great post.

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  8. …all of us – and most certainly transsexuals – believe that our biology is really real.

    We believe that our biology – manifest in our bodies – really determines our gender.

    yes, and as such, some people who were born male, still carry that privilege with them even after they transition to female, and therefore can still father (or have fathered) children, without being seen as “truly male”.

    on the other hand, people born as female, have no privilege, including when it comes to defining who they are, and as such, cannot engage in reproduction without being seen as “truly female”.

    while that’s certainly not universal (i.e., many people will never accept any transpeople as their target gender), it’s something i’ve noticed.

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