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The blessing and the curse of technology can be summed up by a simple aphorism: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This applies to the trivial (colorizing old movies) and to the potentially terrifying (cross-species gene transplantation). Never has this truism been better illustrated than when technology is used, not simply to circumvent reality, but to facilitate its denial. In this case, I am speaking of Thomas Beattie, the so-called “pregnant man.” More broadly, however, I am speaking of the technology that facilitates “sex reassignment.” The increasing acceptance of such surgical intervention is not just ideologically questionable. Such a practice represents a monstrous disservice to (and permanent mutilation of) people who have real psychological problems and who should be helped.
The case of Thomas Beattie underscores and illustrates both these problems, so we will use it as an example. According to Chicago Pride, and as recounted in numerous other media outlets, a woman named Tracy Lagondino began a lesbian relationship with a woman named Nancy at the age of 24. In 2002, Tracy had a sex change operation. Tracy, now “Thomas,” legally married Nancy in 2003. Because Nancy had undergone a hysterectomy, Thomas – who had been taking male hormones – chose to get pregnant. One presumes the sperm came from a donor bank. The reason it was possible for “Thomas Beattie” to become pregnant is because this “man” has a functional uterus.
The media frenzy over this allegedly “pregnant man,” now 34, has included “The View,” “20/20,” “Entertainment Tonight” and (perhaps most significantly) “Oprah.” It was considered newsworthy enough when Thomas became pregnant and had a daughter named Susan in June of this year, but the media storm has only intensified. This is because Thomas Beattie is pregnant again and admits that “he” did not go back on his testosterone treatments after the birth of “his” daughter.
The denial of reality facilitated by advanced medical technology should be obvious. A person with a uterus who is capable of producing children – not as a fluke, but as a reproducible fact of biology – cannot biologically and should not legally be considered a “man” at all. For what determines one’s male or female status? It is the presence of certain sexual organs, yes, but also the absence of other organs in conjunction with those biological facts. A person with both a functional penis and a functional uterus would, rightly so, be considered a hermaphrodite biologically. A person who has repeatedly birthed children should, by definition, be considered a woman. Wishful thinking can never supersede an acceptance of reality if we are to behave in a reasonable, logical, rational manner. Yet we are being asked, collectively by our media, to do just that in the case of Thomas Beattie. More broadly, Thomas’ media juggernaut (which to this point has culminated in the publication of “Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy“) is illustrative of the horrifying mistreatment of troubled individuals that our society is perpetuating.
Homosexuality has not been considered a mental illness since 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the DSM (their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist, but it seems to me that the worst sort of doublespeak and denial of reality is represented by refusing to characterize a desire to have sexual relations with those of the same sex as anything but other than normal. At least in most cases, homosexuals say they are born as they are, and this seems reasonable (especially given the social stigma still attached to being gay). But how can a biologically paradoxical impulse be considered a “normal” alternative? It defies all common sense.
We characterize as mental disorders the desire to cut or otherwise mutilate one’s own body. There is a growing mental disorder sometimes referred to as “apotemnophilia.” Those afflicted wish to remove their own healthy limbs, to be or look like amputees. There is no reasonable person who would consider such a desire a “normal” or “acceptable” or simply “alternative” lifestyle – yet this is essentially what we are doing when we encourage homosexuals or those with “gender identity disorder” to undergo sexual reassignment (as horrifyingly sanitized a euphemism as ever there was).
Where once such “reassignment” would be impossible or impractical, medical technology now makes sex changes and amputations relatively safe and increasingly common. Hormone treatments simulate this change as well; a man treated with female hormones, for example, will sound like a woman and increasingly look like one (though there will be certain differences in body structure and other physical expressions that can never truly be altered, at least not yet). We have made it possible, through technology, to make these irreversible changes – but have we really stopped to ask ourselves, as a society, if we should? Why have we not focused greater effort on treating the mental illness that underlies the desire to mutilate one’s body, to change one’s sex, rather than trying to make it easier to achieve those goals?
The irresponsibility in having a child when one is taking massive doses of male hormones is bad enough. Having a second child because one wishes to have a “natural” family (while play-acting as a “man”) is simply absurd, and should call into question the denial of reality in which we are all asked to engage when media outlets trumpet the successful birth of the “pregnant man’s” child. The deeper and more alarming issue, and the one for which technological advancement bears the blame, is that of encouraging the expression of mental illness and the achievement of desires spawned by mental disorders, rather than treating the underlying mental illnesses themselves. Yes, we can do certain things … but in focusing on them, we have truly turned the blessing of advanced medical technology into a societal curse.
We will, collectively, be forced to live with the consequences of those decisions for generations to come.