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Men Having Babies and Other Postmodern Myths


Holly Hamilton-Bleakley - published on 12/24/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Biological terms like "mother" and "father" have become politically loaded. Seriously?

A new study has come out in the US on what it is like to be "male and pregnant."

The online journal Obstetrics and Gynecology published the research article "Transgender Men Who Experienced Pregnancy After Female-to-Male Gender Transitioning." The study, which looks at 41 transgender men and their experiences in pregnancy, is seen as cutting-edge work, thought to be the first study of its kind.

There are some interesting facts which emerge from the study, which reveal a bit about the lives of women who have become transgendered males. For instance, apparently "prior testosterone use" did not have an effect on the pregnancy, delivery or birth outcomes of the participants. And the "men in this small study had little trouble conceiving," with the majority of the participants getting pregnant using "their own eggs and their partner’s sperm." Indeed, only seven percent of the participants had to use fertility drugs; one-third did not even plan their pregnancies.

Yet, there is something troubling about this study, and the way it has been reported. It revolves, I think, around the use of language. There is a deliberate insistence on calling the participants "men," which, in the context of pregnancy and childbirth, makes for very provocative reading. For instance, "the men had little trouble conceiving," or the men "used their own eggs," or the men "were denied prenatal care." One of the participants in the study is quoted as saying, "Pregnancy and childbirth were very male experiences for me. When I birthed my children, I was born into fatherhood."

Of course, any gender theorist will tell you that "gender identity is a spectrum," and that there is a fundamental distinction between one’s gender and one’s biological sex. You can be a man if you wish, or a woman if you wish. What matters is not what is in your DNA – what matters is what you want.

And so, there must be a change in language to reflect this "spectrum" understanding of gender. Thus, the single most defining characteristic of the distinction between the sexes –that is, the ability to have babies – is now something both a man and a woman can do.

Yet, surely the distinction between gender and biological sex breaks down when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. For if we have to say that a man is giving birth, then that also means we have to call this man the father of the child. But clearly the father of the child is someone else. There is a biological father, and a biological mother; one who impregnates, and one who carries and bears the child. Perhaps a child could have two fathers, but a child cannot have two biological fathers. Thus, we need separate terms to signify the people that have these distinct biological roles.
Perhaps the gender theorist would answer that since one’s biological sex is distinct from one’s gender, it is possible for a transgender man to perform the biological function of a woman, but still psychologically identify herself as a man. But here again, the distinction between gender and sex seems tenuous.

For gender theorists, gender is a construct, something culturally created, that oppresses one by dictating how one should act and think – indeed, how one should be – based upon one’s sex. Thus, when gender and sex are distinct, to "be a man" is not necessarily to have the requisite body parts; rather, it is to identify with a certain, masculine way of being. Yet, being pregnant is not something that any man can "be." In this way, no male can identify with the biological experience of being pregnant. Therefore, it is doubtful that a woman could identify herself as a man while being pregnant, because no man can identify with her.

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