The Return of the Pregnant Man

Part 1 of a three-part series: What We Really Need Now is “No”

Just when I had almost purged the memory from my mind, the “pregnant man” re-emerged in the pop culture zeitgeist, and reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that the world is on the brink of losing whatever shred of rational bearings it still has left.

The pregnant man. Oh, the pregnant man. “He” (aka Thomas Beatie, formerly Tracy Beatie) first made waves last spring when (s)he appeared on Oprah, with a beard and a pregnant belly. (S)he gave birth to a baby girl last summer, which (s)he plans to raise with his/her wife/lesbian, Nancy. To read about the sordid biological minutia of all this, just google “Thomas Beatie Pregnant Man.”

On Oprah, Beatie said that whether you are a man or a woman, you have the right to get pregnant and have a baby.

"I feel it's not a male or female desire to have a child. It's a human need. I'm a person and I have the right to have a biological child."

Really? I mean … Really?? Even though it is physically impossible for a male to biologically get pregnant and have a baby, it is somehow still their right to do so?

Is it a right because you say it is a right? Does it follow that whatever one sincerely feels or desires deeply—whether to get pregnant as a man, or perhaps to marry a horse—that it is a “right”? Since when are rights derived from the fickle and variant desires of the individual? Personally, I sincerely, passionately desire that I be able to fly… but even if it became scientifically plausible, I would not ever consider it to be the right or natural thing to do. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. Clearly, humans were not created to fly. Clearly, men were not created to give birth to babies.

It’s a very western, capitalistic notion, I think: this idea that it is our human right and prerogative to do and be whatever we want. To some extent, it is healthy to champion this “sky is the limit” mentality. But there have to be limits: clear, moral limits that necessarily rely on some sense of transcendent truth. Unbridled capitalism (I think we’d all agree) means trouble, just as a “buy and become whatever you desire” consumer mindset frequently winds up being damaging.

And the same goes for identity. Young generations in the industrialized west have grown up hearing from everyone that they can be whoever they want to be, that their identity is completely within their grasp and is definable by them and them alone. “You are special,” was the message we got from Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, teachers, parents, and presidents. “You can be whoever you want to be. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.”

And of course, when that is what a civilization preaches, it is only a matter of time (and science) before we get things like “the pregnant man.”

How far will we go in this “anything goes” free-for-all before we collectively recognize that there must be limits? We’ve set a moral course and precedent that relies on dangerous precepts—that something is permissible if 1) it is sincerely or passionately felt to be one’s “right,” 2) it doesn’t directly hurt anyone else, and 3) it is scientifically possible.

My sense is that younger generations will be the first to rebel against this “all is permissible” mindset. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are going to be (I think) the last generations to actively push this “you can and should do whatever you think is right” fallacy. In my experience, kids these days are fatigued by hearing “yes you can!” from every direction. They recognize the lack of authenticity and sustainability inherent in this overpopulated forest of yeses. They are desperately longing for limits, for someone—anyone—to tell them “No!” We’ve gone up the postmodern mountain and over the hump, and now (I think) we are cautiously coming down on the other side.