By Katelyn Jacobson
Gender/Sexuality Reporter

The promise of cravings, morning sickness and swollen feet has at last become a reality for Thomas and Nancy Beatie, an Oregon couple who eagerly await the birth of their first child this summer. The Beaties run their own business and bought their first home in the small town of Bend. There was nothing out of the ordinary until it was decided that Thomas, not Nancy, would be the one to carry and give birth to their child.

There are vestiges of the former beauty queen lingering in his cheekbones and dark almond eyes, features that are now paired with a light beard and the strong jaw line resulting from about 10 years of hormone treatment. Thomas was born Tracy Lagondino, and was an activist for gay rights when she fell in love with Nancy Roberts. She had been thinking about getting a sex change for some time, and finally made the decision when the couple realized that their home state of Hawaii didn’t allow same-sex marriage.

“Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but keep my reproductive rights,” Beatie said in an exclusive interview with Advocate magazine. “Wanting to have a biological child is neither a male nor female desire, but a human desire.”

A “closed” sign has hung in the window of their Oregon screen-printing business, “Define Normal,” since the media frenzy erupted, and in an effort to avoid the reporters and possible ill-wishers haunting the area, Thomas and Nancy have broached the possibility of using their savings to go into hiding. They have stopped talking to media outlets at this time, and Thomas Beatie declined an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP).

Despite his elusiveness, Beatie has come to represent a blurring of boundaries and categories, asserting his status as a man while simultaneously carrying out one of the most feminine roles in nature. In light of Beatie’s recent pregnancy, many people have refused to recognize his status as a man.

“We have only begun experiencing opposition from people who are upset by our situation,” Beatie said to the Advocate. “Doctors have discriminated against us, turning us away due to their religious beliefs. Health care professionals have refused to call me by a male pronoun or recognize Nancy as my wife. Receptionists have laughed at us. Friends and family have been unsupportive.”

Lee Maranto, a UC Santa Cruz alumnus transgender man who works as the program manager for the Student Organization and Advising Resources (SOAR), said that many people who criticize Thomas Beatie may be feeling that their own identity structure is being shaken as a result, and referred to the fact that gender roles are neither constant nor universal. He stressed that the constructs associated with gender in America are strictly a Western phenomenon, pointing out that 100 years ago, long pants and loose hair were forbidden to women, while in some cultures men are expected to be effeminate and non-combative.

“The construct is that masculinity and femininity are polar opposites, and [the criticisms] are grounded in the assumption that these things have always been fixed,” Maranto said. “People think that if you’re not a man because you don’t have a deep voice, don’t have facial hair, then you must be a woman, and from there is the basis of homophobia.”

Gender identities represent social markers that dictate how a man or a woman should behave and respond to situations. Maranto explained that gender roles are more than hairstyles or clothing choices, and that they define how people view each other and themselves on basic levels. Beatie ascribed to this view during his first television appearance, speaking on “Oprah” and telling her why he couldn’t simply be a gay woman and cut his hair.

“Sexuality is a completely different topic from how you feel as your gender, and the gender role in society that I felt most comfortable being was a male gender role,” Beatie said. “It’s hard to explain how it is a separate issue. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like a man, and it was difficult for society to respect me the way I felt on the inside if my outside didn’t match it.”

The difficulties that plagued UCSC alumnus Nickolas McDaniel before his female-to-male transition have motivated him to become a guidance counselor for other transgender people. An activist and speaker, he has given society’s issues with gender-bending a lot of thought.

“We like to place things in neat little boxes, and when we can’t, it makes us uncomfortable,” McDaniel said. “Gender roles are like stereotyping, a man does one thing, a woman does another. I think gender roles can be useful for discussion, but nothing else. Everyone is oppressed by these stupid gender roles, by this binary system, and it needs to loosen up.”

McDaniel went on to share his experience of undergoing the female-to-male reassignment process. He questioned the right of society to define a person’s identity, and condemned thinking that has led to “proper” ways of behaving.

“I was stuck as an ‘it’ for 30 years, and for me being in between doesn’t work, but for some people it does,” McDaniel said. “People who are gender normative don’t choose to be that way — that’s just who they are. There’s no one way to express being a woman, just like there is no one way to express being transgender.”

Nicole is a male-to-female architect who has kept her transition a secret from acquaintances and co-workers. She declined to give her last name due to reasons of privacy. She described her transition as going from one closet to another, and said that for her it wasn’t about challenging gender roles.

“I call my kids my immaculate conceptions 1 and 2, because I only had sex about six or seven times in my whole marriage,” Nicole said. “If someone would touch me someplace, that would be it — I was done. It would remind me what I was, and I hated myself, I couldn’t look at myself, couldn’t touch myself.

“I knew a woman who had transitioned, and she hadn’t transitioned very well,” Nicole said. “People she worked with gave her so much grief, and she committed suicide in her company lobby. In the city obituaries, it said ‘Transgender woman commits suicide.’ I didn’t go through all the stuff I went through to become a transsexual — I did it to become the woman I am.”

Critics of gender reassignment argue that the biology a person is born with is too great an obstacle to overcome, which makes the desire for a sex change a quest without an end. On the other hand, director Deb Abbott of UCSC’s Lionel Cantú Queer Center advocates the validity of gender-reassignment procedures.

“You can’t change what’s in your chromosomes,” Abbott said, “but transgender people get surgeries. You can’t make a penis grow, but technology can make one. Human bodies with technology can do a wide range of things.”

The necessity of succumbing to nature’s will died with the advent of medical technology, and the progress made has enabled people who choose to undergo surgical reassignment to become the gender that they feel comfortable embodying.

“If you extend the argument about what’s natural, babies whose heads were too big used to die along with their mothers,” Abbott argued. “It’s not natural to have a Caesarian, it’s not common, but technology has let women who can’t have babies vaginally have a C-section.”

The Beaties faced skepticism and condemnation from doctors. It took over a year for the couple to gain access to a cryogenic sperm bank, resorting at last to home insemination.

“This whole process, from trying to get pregnant to being pregnant, has been a challenge for us,” Beatie told the Advocate. “A few months and a couple thousand dollars later, [our original doctor] told us that he would no longer treat us, saying he and his staff felt uncomfortable working with ‘someone like me.’ In total, nine different doctors have been involved.”

In October 2005, the Santa Cruz Planned Parenthood Westside clinic branched out to accommodate the transgender community, offering hormone treatments and basic primary medical care to a demographic that has often been discriminated against by physicians. Obstetrician and gynecologist Jennifer Hastings pushed for the program after recognizing the need for it, noting the struggles of a transgender co-worker.

She explained that most physicians have had minimal training, if any, concerning transgender issues, and she described how her own initial prejudices were instilled by scanty transgender education. The only way she was taught to view being transgender was in terms of a psychological pathology, and was taught nothing about the practicalities of helping someone through the transition.

“I felt a palpable unfolding of consciousness, and an unlearning of this prejudice as I learned more about the transgender experience,” Hastings said. “Many transgender people don’t seek health care because they’re afraid they will be mistreated and misunderstood. Many get hormones on the Internet, and never get the consultation or follow-up that they deserve because they don’t know of a safe place to get care.”

Thomas Beatie isn’t alone in his struggle for medical care, and since the beginning of the Santa Cruz program, over 100 transgender people have flocked to the clinic to receive health care.

“The process of truly seeing someone as the gender they experience themselves to be, rather than their born sex, is rather remarkable,” Hastings said. “We are so defined by our gender, and taking oneself out of the genital/biological and into the emotional/experiential is in itself radical. For a health care professional to refuse to recognize Beatie is a travesty, and yet it isn’t surprising.”

Some transgender people have genital surgeries in order to completely erase the physical evidence of the sex they were born as. Hastings explained that most of her patients either cannot afford surgery, or choose to remain with their given genitalia. It is common for transmen to still have their uterus since a hysterectomy, the surgery to remove the uterus, is so expensive.

Biologically, Beatie’s pregnancy is no marvel of science, and his main objective is getting society to recognize and validate his choice to represent both genders.

“Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident of being the man that I am,” Beatie told Advocate. “In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child. I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter’s father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.”

On Mother’s Day weekend, the Lionel Cantú Queer Center hosted the Rainbow Families Fair, a safe space allowing alternative families to come together, and the kind of event the Beaties may soon frequent. The most prevalent concerns about Thomas Beatie being both father and birth mother to his daughter involve questions regarding the emotional issues the child may face because of the circumstances of her birth. Rainbow Fair attendee Pam Owen has two children with her partner, and shared her own experiences raising children in an alternative family.

“My son accepts that he has two moms and that he doesn’t have a dad, and he’s kind of matter-of-fact about it,” Owen said. “I just think [Beatie] is kind of ambivalent about how he projects himself, and it’s just going to confuse [his daughter] for a while.”

Lee Maranto believes that children are clean slates, born without any inherent biases or ideas about what is strange or socially unacceptable.

“Until the time someone says, ‘Your family isn’t right,’ she won’t go home and question it,” Maranto said. “It’s really a matter of how people react to them that will influence that child. Kids are resilient, like sponges, and if she gets hated she’ll grow up with self-hate, but if people are kind she’ll grow up very open-minded and stable.”

“The bottom line is [whether or not] kids are loved,” Owen said. “I think that if it’s an intact family and there’s a clear commitment, it’s going to be fine.”

Thomas Beatie has appeared on “Oprah” and in People magazine as the “Pregnant Man,” a title reminiscent of early sideshow attractions, and it is not unlikely that this sensationalized media coverage may have unexpected implications for the rest of the trans community, as well as personal repercussions.

“A lot of people in a lot of places have problems with people who are transgender, and they see it as an abomination,” McDaniel said. “[Thomas Beatie’s pregnancy] is very extreme for many people, and they won’t understand. I’d worry about this guy’s safety.”

When Beatie became pregnant he sought the advice of different transgender groups and asked whether or not he should go public. Only about half of the organizations he contacted responded, and the ones that did discouraged him from going public and appearing on “Oprah.” One told him that the world simply wasn’t ready for him.

Beatie is not the only female-to-male person who has become pregnant, however, which makes the issue more about the extent of his self-promotion and interactions with the media.

Maranto is optimistic about Beatie’s choice to go public with his story, and compares this pregnancy to the 1990s sitcom “Ellen” when Ellen DeGeneres’ character became the first woman to come out as gay on a national television show. The landmark episode struck a chord in the life of the 18-year-old Maranto, and two of his students who later came out themselves cited it as their first exposure to homosexuality.

“The people who blaze these trails really do open the doors to all kinds of other people,” Maranto said. “There are tons of transmen who have wanted to get pregnant, and now maybe they’ll be able to do it.”

McDaniel agreed, praising the strength it takes to go against the norm and challenge an imposed identity.

“It’ll blow their mind, but to reassess gender identity people have to start thinking and talking about it,” McDaniel said. “I see him sacrificing himself for love, and I admire his dedication and courage, because for me, I could never stop the hormones; that would not be a good thing.”

But there may be more negative implications as well. The malicious side of society has already begun to rear its head by pushing the Beaties into possible hiding, and Nicole voiced concerns regarding Thomas Beatie’s recently acquired public fame.

“For me, I did [my transition] very privately,” Nicole said. “Going through that is not for the faint of heart, and I feel that going on national television is just setting yourself up for heartbreak. I knew a woman who was the sports editor for the LA Times and she completed her transition in the public eye, in the fishbowl, and now she’s suffering for it.”

For McDaniel, the important thing to take away from Thomas Beatie’s story is a message of accepting diversity and the fact not everyone fits into a mold.

“I like to think that gender is like the stars,” McDaniel said. “The thing you need to do next time you’re outside is go look at the sky, to see the infinite possibilities and know that there are no limits.”

Towards the end of his interview, Maranto addressed the issue of criticizing transgender men or women and advocated social awareness and introspection in order to question intolerance.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is it important for me to know his or her gender?’” Maranto said. “Unless it impedes with what I’m going to do, more power to you. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nobody’s business.”