Can a Trans Man Give Birth?
The strange idea of ‘transitioning’ from one sex, or rather, ‘gender’, to another, is nothing new. Here’s an except from ‘A Christmas Carol’, an episode of The Goon Show, first broadcast by the BBC on 24 December 1959, in which the characters Ray Ellington (a black jazz singer, played by himself) and Scratchit (Harry Secombe) have the following conversation:
‘Hullo there, Daddy darling!’
‘Ahh Gladys, my golden haired daughter…My, how you’ve changed!’
‘Daughter? I’m your son.’
‘You have changed…No more mixed bathing for you!’
Transitioning has lately become an ideology, aggressively promoted by its adherents, to which everyone must pay at least lip service under threat of being accused of the sin of ‘transphobia.’
Knowledge or belief?
If we are to try to understand the curious business of transgenderism, I propose we should approach it on the basis of common sense and science. Unfortunately, in the many websites and utterances sympathetic to trans people, as they are known, common sense and science as well as clarity of thought and language, are noticeably lacking.
Let’s take The National Center for Transgender Equality, based in America. They have produced a document called ‘Understanding Transgender People’ which starts off reasonably enough by saying:
When we’re born, a doctor [or midwife] usually says that we’re male or female based on what our bodies look like.
But then it says:
Most people who were labeled male at birth turn out to actually identify as men, and most people who were labeled female at birth grow up to be women. But some people’s gender identity – their innate knowledge of who they are – is different from what was initially expected when they were born.
People are not ‘labeled’ as male or female at birth: they are recognised as male or female and their sex is registered accordingly. And to say ‘some people’s gender identity – their innate knowledge of who they are’, implies that gender identity is a matter of knowledge, but no objective criteria for it have so far been discovered. They continue:
A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born.
Thought by whom? Perhaps they mean to say:
A transgender woman is a person who lives as a woman but who was recognised as male at birth.
In their anxiety not to upset transgender people, they lapse into careless writing:
A transgender woman…was thought to be male when she [sic] was born.
What this really means is:
A transgender woman is a man who thinks he’s a woman.
Gender identity, then, can’t be a matter of knowledge: it’s a belief, feeling, or sense. However, the website continues:
For many transgender people, recognizing who they are and deciding to start gender transition can take a lot of reflection. Transgender people risk social stigma, discrimination, and harassment when they tell other people who they really are.
What do they mean, ‘who they really are’? A transgender person is someone who, although having been born as a boy or girl, now believes, feels, or senses that he or she, respectively, is a member of the opposite sex.
They even suggest a little thought exercise for people who are not transgender:
What would you do if everyone else – your doctors, your friends, your family – believed you’re a man and expected you to act like a man when you’re actually a woman, or believed you’re a woman even though you’ve always known you’re a man?
They should make up their mind: do they mean, ‘when you’re actually a woman’ or ‘believed you’re a woman’. I’ll rewrite this thought exercise for clarity:
What would you do if everyone regarded you as a man and expected you to act like a man when you’ve always believed you’re a woman?
Now, more confusion:
Why don’t transgender people get counseling to accept the gender they were assigned at birth?
How many times do I have to repeat that gender is not assigned at birth? Therefore, let us re-write the question, as follows:
Why don’t transgender people get counseling to understand, in so far as this may be possible, the source(s) of their confusion and accept or at least come to terms with their sex as recognised at birth?
Although I believe in principle that everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect, there is a limit as to how far this should go. There are otherwise ordinary people with delusions of grandeur who believe they are Jesus Christ, Napoleon, or the heir to the throne of Ruritania, who may expect us to bow down before them and address them as Your Highness, etc. Such people may be humoured and it would be better not to be sarcastic towards them, but in many cases they would be a target for ridicule – not something I recommend. However, one would not normally agree to take their delusions, or we could call it their inner sense of who they think they are, seriously. I discuss this matter further here.
Yet, in the case of so-called transgender people this is indeed what we are expected to do. Some doctors, who ought to know better, bend over backwards and think everyone should do likewise, to defer to the sensibilities of those who believe they’re members of the opposite sex. An example of this is shown in a recent article in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) on fetal monitoring in labour. It has an interesting opening sentence:
The NHS must support high quality, safe care for women and babies, ensuring that the woman or birthing person is empowered to make decisions about their care. (My emphasis.)
Apart from the fact that the NHS obviously wouldn’t support low quality, unsafe care, who, other than a woman, can be a birthing person?
Fortunately, having got this superfluous construction out of the way at the beginning of the piece, it doesn’t occur again. But why mention it at all? I wrote to the lead author of this paper asking the following question:
Since no one other than a woman can give birth, please tell me why you say ‘or birthing person’.
To this I received a prompt reply:
It is indeed possible for non-binary and trans[gender] men to give birth and the importance of inclusive language cannot be overemphasised.
This statement I found unsatisfactory, so I asked the writer, who holds higher qualifications in medicine as well as in obstetrics and gynaecology, a further question:
Would you not agree that, irrespective of the pronoun used, a trans man is a woman and only women can give birth?
And the reply to this?
In order to give birth you require a uterus, but for this you do not need to be a woman.
You learn something new every day. Now all the anatomy textbooks will have to be rewritten!
You do not need to be a doctor to know that only women can give birth, and that someone who calls herself a trans man is a woman. But why should inclusive language in this area be so important that it cannot be overemphasised? To call a woman – and what can be a greater manifestation of womanhood than the ability to give birth? – a man is grotesque and a lie.
If a trans man in the care of obstetric services desires that her pronouns be ‘he’ and ‘him’, is this such a big deal? Let her be referred to in this way if that is her wish, but if in the busy and demanding activity of a labour ward this detail is overlooked or forgotten, does it matter so much that its importance cannot be overemphasised? What matters, and indeed is rightly emphasised in the BMJ article, is the safety of the baby and mother – or do I now have to say the safety of the baby and its birthing person?
For someone to be deluded that they are someone else is one matter. But it’s an entirely different matter for someone’s belief, sense, or feeling to be taken so seriously that it’s regarded as desirable or even necessary for the person’s well-being for doctors and surgeons to participate in a charade: attempting to change, through powerful drugs and irreversible surgery, such a person’s outer reality to correspond to a fantasy.
Text © Gabriel Symonds
Picture credit: Freestocks on Unsplash