Phallus in Wonderland
Male pregnancy and a la carte sex changes.
Last week, we found out just how functional the organ was. Reportedly, Beatie had been scheduled for a Caesarean. Instead, according to ABC News, he gave birth the "natural" way.
For skeptics, this is too much. "There is no 'pregnant man.' There is only a confused and unsettled woman," Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe protested after the Oprah interview. In Jacoby's view, Beatie "remains physically a woman, with a woman's reproductive system, a woman's genitals, and a woman's chromosomes."
But female genitals don't settle the matter. "Did you have, like, a penis implant?" Oprah asked Beatie. No, he answered, but "hormones are an incredible thing." "Does the clitoris get larger?" she asked. "It does. It looks like a penis—a small penis," he replied. How small? "I can have intercourse with my wife," he smiled.
So here's the score: Beatie has a vagina, a uterus, ovaries, and a baby. He also has a beard, a flat chest, a wife, and an altered clitoris that functions sexually like a penis. Under Oregon law, he's legally male and legally married to a woman. "I am stable and confident being the man that I am," he wrote in the Advocate. But he added, "In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate."
That's probably the best way to understand Beatie and the frontier he represents. Sex isn't necessarily binary. It isn't even necessarily zero-sum. Beatie made himself capable of penetration while retaining his ability to bear children. He kept his female equipment tucked away for the day when he'd need a surrogate. The surrogate was himself. Beatie the man preserved and used Beatie the woman.
If you regard Beatie's sex change as a crime against nature, it's not clear what you should propose to do about it now. He and his wife have a baby. As things stand, this girl will grow up with a mom and dad. Do you want to tell her she has no dad? Do you want her to have two mommies? Do you want to nullify her parents' marriage?
Male pregnancy won't end with Beatie. It didn't even begin with him. Eight years ago in the Village Voice, a transgendered person in San Francisco told a similar story. Thanks to testosterone, he wrote, "My hips are smaller, my muscle mass is growing, and every day it seems like there's more hair on my face and body." But that was nothing compared to his partner's transformation: "My boyfriend is the mother of my child."
How many other men will pursue pregnancy, now that they know it can be done? To put it the other way, how many women will change their sex and still try to have babies? In the world of a la carte body modification, you can't stop them. You can't even make them choose a firm identity. And once they've changed their bodies, you can't accuse them of not acting like a regular man or woman. That's not what they are anymore.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.