It’s actually impossible for me to watch this. I keep pausing it, switching tabs, going back to the clip only to be astounded by another of Oprah’s really fucking odd statements. Apparently until not too long ago, gay teenagers understood themselves as being ‘in the wrong body’, genderwise. There’s other stuff, which you can see for yourselves. Mostly, I can’t watch the clip because I identify with Thomas Beatie, his nervousness, his desire to please and be seen as sympathetic — even the attempt at which is sure to be coded as ‘feminine’, because a ‘real man’ never explains, never apologises. I relate to the attempt to tell a complex story publicly that in the soundbite logic of the medium, winds up seeming implausible. And I relate, more than a tiny bit, to his desire to bear a child.
Of course, while the mainstream media has a poke, ftm email lists and communities are going just as crazy, if not more so. First, you have the transmen who respond with pure disgust, rage and a flat dictate: “Men don’t have babies; therefore Thomas Beatie is a woman.” The more interesting arguments touch on the politics of visibility and invisibility. A lot of transmen seem to think Beatie should have just borne his baby quietly without making a stink. Some of these arguments are conservative: the logic that as long as a pregnant transman ‘does it’ in private, it’s acceptable; when it’s public, it becomes unacceptable, because it tarnishes the image of transmen as authentically male. The other argument against visibility is far more precise: given the swing of public aympathy against Beatie, law-makers will use this example as a way to argue for regulating access to change of gender markers even more than they already are, possibly requiring infertility as a condition of any rights. I am a fan of clandestinity, at times; I don’t think visibility or recognition is necessarily always the right answer. But I’m wondering how in this case, various transpeople’s desire for a clandestinity which facilitates more freedom seems to be collapsing into the logic that all ‘authentic’ transpeople desire to remain stealth, and that stealth (passing as ‘real’ men and women) should, in fact, be a condition of recognition. When does a radical clandestine politics mutate into a conservatism that simply preserves the status quo?