Looking Beyond Thomas Beatie

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Thomas Beatie’s story continues to pack a punch. In fact today’s NY Times piece on the pregnant trans man provides two in one!

First the smaller item: publishing house St. Martin’s Press has shelved Beatie’s planned memoir. Perhaps because of speculation that Beatie was in it for the money?

Regardless of Beatie’s shrinking spotlight and gossip fodder, there’s a bigger and far more important cultural narrative at work. And one that’s almost as American as apple pie…

“When there’s a lot of fascination around a figure like Thomas Beatie,” said Judith Halberstam, a professor of English and gender studies at the University of Southern California, “it points to other changes already happening elsewhere in the culture.”

Among the changes Ms. Halberstam noted are medical innovations that have expanded the possibilities for body modification. There are also studies that indicate, as Ms. Halberstam noted, that women respond sexually to the individual, before differentiating by sex. And the broadening legal scope of marriage has also had its effects on people like Mr. Beatie, who says of himself, “I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy,” but who might have trouble holding on to some of those assertions if he did something as simple as moving from Oregon.

Americans, Ms. Halberstam said, have long been fascinated by narratives of sexual transformation, at least since the era of Christine Jorgensen, an early male-to-female transsexual (born George Jorgensen Jr. in the Bronx) whose sex change, performed by doctors in Sweden, prompted The Daily News to run a front page story under the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty” and made Miss Jorgensen as tabloid-notorious then as Mr. Beatie is, the man who “went abroad and came back a broad.”

The Jorgensen case in 1951 was treated as groundbreaking, just as Mr. Beatie’s was on “Oprah,” despite the well-established fact that physicians at the German Institute of Sexual Science had performed successful sexual reassignment surgeries decades before. If Miss Jorgensen’s story prefigured Mr. Beatie’s, it also pointed toward a future in which gender continues to change in response to changing laws and mores and, as important, new technology.

Are we the only ones envisioning Trouble On Triton, author Sam Delany’s “heterotopia” in which there are about a dozen different genders? And space ships? It’s awesome. You should read it.