Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Thomas Beatie: The World’s First Pregnant Man as “The Abject”

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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).

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4 thoughts on “Thomas Beatie: The World’s First Pregnant Man as “The Abject”

  1. I think the idea that Beatie “not only threatens but transcends the ‘symbolic order’ of gendered power dynamics” is a very compelling argument. Surely his lack of an easily defined gender makes him threatening, but is he really transcending gender power dynamics? I think that he is actually reinforcing them in a way – he defies the regular “male” gender by being “part female,” I suppose, but clearly the fact that he is abject (which I wholeheartedly agree with) complicates that. He represents a feminine man, and the public outrage/fascination with him shows that he is a lesser man, as if feminizing masculinity, especially to this drastic an extent, is unacceptable. So I agree that he complicates and threatens ideas of masculinity and gender, but I think by being abject he shows that transcendence of gendered power dynamics is not really possible due to the Symbolic nature of those power dynamics in the first place.

  2. You make a lot of excellent and thought-provoking points in this post on the ways that Thomas Beatie is transformed into the abject by the media. This topic is intriguing to me because, as you mention, simply by identifying as a man and bearing a child Thomas somehow “does not respect the ‘positions’ or ‘rules’ of the traditional American household.” In the typical American household there is a man and a woman who are husband and wife, and it is the wife who bears the children. Thomas Beatie’s situation is quite complex because, in some ways, the Beatie household conforms to this traditional setup, while in others it challenges the very nature of the tradition. On the one hand, the relationship is ostensibly still between a man and a woman, but the concept of “male” in this situation is an uncomfortable thing for many people to try and understand. It is interesting to me that the nature of the abject in this case (which at its root is an instance of artificial insemination in a biologically female-female relationship) really appears to stem from the fact that Thomas Beatie identifies as a male, even though his organs are technically that of a female, and he was the one to bear the child. Would this abjection be the same if Thomas’ wife had been the one who was artificially inseminated? Would it have still been the case if he had identified as a female in accordance with his biological parts? It would appear that any departure at all from the strict traditional norms of society becomes inherently abject.

  3. This is fascinating. I would be curious to hear about how the “phallic mother” and abject m

  4. This is fascinating. I would be curious to hear about how the “phallic mother” and abject mother play into this, and how the author would categorize a transvestite within that. It’s funny almost, because it pushes the envelope…pretty far. I wish the author were here to add little amendments to her arguments.

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