It’s been thirteen years since Thomas Beatie sat down for his first TV interview and told Oprah — and the world — how he could possibly be pregnant, as a man.
Today the concept of a transgender man giving birth is hardly novel, although research, education and awareness are still severely lacking.
But society has come a long way, and so has Beatie.
The father of four, now a stockbroker in Phoenix, spoke to TODAY Health about how he thinks the trans community benefited from the media attention his pregnancy garnered, and how he and his family are doing today.
“When my story came out, there wasn’t a single person in the public eye as a transgender man — most people had never heard of it,” Beatie, 47, said.
“This was pre-Chaz Bono. This was pre-Caitlyn Jenner. This was before anyone knew anything. It was a first exposure for a lot of people. And then on top of that, they can give birth. I think exposing the importance of fertility for trans people was a huge eye-opener.”
In 2008, after he wrote an essay for The Advocate about his pregnancy — a piece he wrote, he said, because he was desperately seeking advice from anyone who had been in his shoes, and fearful that his daughter would be taken away by authorities — Beatie’s story spread around the world. Photos of Beatie cradling his stomach — a bare, enlarged, pregnant stomach — achieved infamy.
Requests for TV and magazine interviews rushed in. He wrote a book about his experience titled Labor of Love, became the subject of multiple TV specials and even went on to star in a French reality show.
“Everything was a whirlwind,” he said. “But I still don’t regret it.”
After having his first child, Susan, in 2008, Beatie went on to give birth to two more children with his then-wife, Nancy Beatie. The couple separated in 2012 and, in 2016, Beatie married his second wife, Amber Beatie, nee Nicholas, who worked at the daycare his children had attended. They had a baby together in 2018, whom Amber gave birth to.
Today, Beatie and his family live a relatively quiet life in Phoenix, although Beatie occasionally takes on public-speaking jobs or small acting roles (maybe you saw him as an extra in a U-Haul commercial.) His older children — now 11, 12 and 13 — split their time between his house and their mum’s house, about 10 miles away. When they’re all home, they swim together in their pool, play checkers or test out new recipes.
“We’re on this keto kick right now, so we’re trying to make cool dishes together,” Beatie said. “We’re going to make some healthy ice cream.”
Yet Beatie hasn’t ever been able to fully shake the moniker he earned in 2008, at the time splashed across the covers of tabloids: “the pregnant man.” For a while he thought he’d done just that at the financial centre where he works.
“I thought I melted back into society, that I could just walk down the hall and be anonymous,” he said. But soon enough, word got out about his public past. Not that he minds, exactly.
“I don’t see anything wrong with being a pregnant man,” Beatie said. “I was so proud to be a dad, and I’m still proud to be a dad. I’m so proud that I was the one to bring my kids into the world. It’s kind of like a badge.”
Mostly, he marvels at how much the world, while still very much flawed, has changed since his story was in the spotlight. This was a time before most people understood gender identity and what it means to be transgender, let alone etiquette for speaking about someone who was.
Beatie was misgendered and dead-named (when someone uses the name a person was born with, rather than the name they currently identify with) in the media. He was the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows. In one interview with Beatie, Barbara Walters referred to one of his maternity photos as a “disturbing image”.
“It was really hard when my story came out,” Beatie said. “People were saying things on TV and in the media that if they came close to saying today, they would be immediately fired. I’m just in shock about how wild, Wild West it was back then.”
Trystan Reese, a trans advocate in Portland, Oregon, was working for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, specifically focused on trans issues relating to culture change and policy inclusion, at the time when Beatie’s story became public.
“I remember thinking it was a little early to tell this kind of story publicly,” Reese told TODAY. “Culture change is developmental. It takes people time to understand the kindergarten level of transgender issues … this was PhD-level stuff. I was really scared for him.”
Reese said that had Beatie been more involved with the trans equality movement, he and others would have warned him against sharing his story.
“It is unconscionable, what happened to him,” he said, referring to the mistreatment by the media.
Reese, whose own pregnancy journey has been documented, was also perturbed by the media’s portrayal of Beatie as “the first pregnant man,” adding that he had known dozens of transgender men who had given birth before he heard Beatie’s story.
And yet, for the average person, Beatie was the first. Beatie himself thought of his celebrity — fun at times, painful at others — as a tool to awaken people to the various ways that families can be formed, and hopefully ensure future trans, pregnant men would have a better experience.
“I wanted to make sure that for my family, and for other people, that this was going to be something that’s doable, that our laws would respect it,” Beatie said. “So I did feel an obligation to continue to fight. I wasn’t about to lay down and say, ‘All right, fine, call me a woman.’”
Yet he acknowledges that even if public perception of his personal experience has shifted, there is still plenty more work to be done to support trans people hoping to start families — more training among health care providers, equitable access to fertility treatments and parental leave, for starters.
“I think a lot of people are still pigeonholed, thinking that if you want to be transgender, you have to completely get rid of all your (reproductive) organs,” Beatie said.
“In order to be a true transgender person, you just have to go through with this — and that you shouldn’t want to have kids. There needs to be discussions about fertility, preservation. Being transgender, you shouldn’t have to lose your right of having a family. You’re entitled to be happy and have a family and be respected.”
This content was originally published here.