Thomas Beatie, also known as “The World’s First Pregnant Man,” is an American female-to-male transsexual who in 2008 became a major pop culture icon by becoming pregnant through artificial insemination. Beatie’s transgendered identity and pregnancy challenge traditional societal norms and scientific notions of gender. Beatie’s pregnancy was received by the public with horror: “this person is a freak of nature and disgusts me,” or downplayed with anxious justification: “it’s a woman!! Say no to this sick agenda. Satan is working overtime” (TMZ.com). Beatie’s ambiguous gender identity and “unnatural” biological pregnancy exemplify Kristeva and Creed’s discussion of abjection as something that disturbs the social order and ideology. Beatie’s male pregnancy is “foreign” and extremely threatening to the “symbolic order,” and is therefore received with the same repulsion as corpse would be received in a horror film (Kristeva 2, 4).
In “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” Kristeva states “it is thus not lack of cleanliness that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Kristeva 4). As a transgender male, Beatie epitomizes ambiguity of gender – he appears and identifies as male, he has a beard, he has a wife, but he has female reproductive organs and bore his own children. In this way, he is both “familiar” and “foreign,” our initial understanding of him as the traditional husband/father figure is uncomfortably challenged by his biological femininity (Kristeva 2). Beatie, as an abject figure, does not respect the “positions” or “rules” of the traditional American household. Is he the husband or the wife? Is he the mother or the father of the children? Beatie was not received with repulsion or disgust because he was dirty or scary-looking like a zombie in a film – his monstrous reception was a result of the popular anxiety produced from his challenging of societal gender norms.
Beatie is an especially compelling example in light of Creed’s discussion of the “monstrous feminine.” As Creed describes, “the concept of the monstrous-feminine, as constructed within/by a patriarchal and phallocentric ideology, is related intimately to the problem of sexual difference and castration” (Creed 252). As a pregnant man, Beatie is especially complex because he simultaneously represents the castrated woman and the phallic man. He has the societal power of a man without the corresponding genitalia, but his female castration (resulting in his ability to bear children) does not take away his phallic male power (as the patriarch/husband/head of the household). He has male power without a penis; he has female genitalia but is not defined by his “lack.” In this way, Beatie challenges even our very notions of the abject “monstrous-feminine” as a gendered phenomenon rooted in sexual difference. Beatie not only threatens but transcends the “symbolic order” of gendered power dynamics.
Finally, the public obsession with Beatie’s pregnancy is similar to Creed’s discussion of the “perverse pleasure” viewers take in watching a horror film. Beatie’s name and picture plastered on tabloids, websites, TV shows signal the “perverse pleasure” with which the American public followed Beatie’s pregnancy, filled with both “terror” and “desire” towards Beatie (Creed 253). But as Creed discusses, this is fascination is followed by a desire to “eject the abject” (Creed 253). Viewers such as the TMZ user quoted earlier are compelled to expel their fascination with Beatie and distance themselves from his “abjectness” by proclaiming their “disgust” for Beatie as a “sick…freak of nature” (Creed 253, TMZ.com).