Within my own lifetime, I have seen the evolution of how the trans body is seen in the public eye. Trans folks walk through the world as educators, storytellers, and activists, not necessarily by choice but rather by design. Even so, we usually play the game of “my eyes are up here” while people scrutinize our bodies like tiny frogs on dissection tables.
When I was ten years old, my family drove out to Drumheller, Alberta. It was hot, the roads were dusty, and I remember standing outside a gas station at the edge of town. The doors were thrown wide open on account of the thirty-degree weather, and just outside the doors stood a couple of magazine racks full of tacky tabloid titles.
One in particular caught my eye — on the cover, a bearded man stood in profile, smiling hugely, his round belly on full display. The all-caps title incredulously read “PREGNANT MAN??!?!”
I had so many questions. How could a man end up with a uterus inside him? Did he have a vagina, too? I was proud of my rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive system, but I for sure had no idea what hormones were, how gay people had sex, and what being transgender meant. It would be a few years before I learned that some people had “sex-change operations,” and it would be a grand total of seven years before I learned the word “transgender.”
The questions that I had that day would not plague me for long. It was 2008 when that tabloid came out, and all I can think about now is that the child born from that trans man is now older than I was when I saw the tabloid cover of their father.
I remember the beaming smile on that man’s face as he proudly showed off his pregnant belly, hand resting on it protectively. A normal man living his life and becoming a father was so strange that it made the front cover of a tabloid magazine, the same type of magazine that publishes celebrity scandals and UFO sightings. The tabloid tried to strip the man of his humanity, tried to pin him to a corkboard like a dead butterfly and say “look at this thing! How strange! How unusual! Take a gander at this pregnant man! How could such a thing exist?”
I’m now twenty-two and I’ve been through my own transition. I still think about that magazine cover. I think about the difference between spectacle and sharing experiences of your own volition. I don’t know the man’s story. I never read the article. He may have volunteered to be interviewed, either for fun or as a way of educating people about his “strange and alternative lifestyle.”
I think about my own body as much as anyone else does, so it’s truly no wonder that the part of the trans experience that gets the most publicity is our relationships to our bodies. During my transition, I have moulded it to my own will — but I keep a great many details about it very private. For me, my body is mine and it is for me and those who I choose to share it with. My heart clenches in fear when I think about publicizing it in the way that man on the cover of the magazine must have had to do. I’m not sure why I’m as afraid as I am.
I wonder if he’s planning on driving his kid through Drumheller, Alberta. Hopefully, the gas stations have better magazines.
Featured image source: promotional image from Pregnant Man, a 2008 documentary about the man featured in the tabloid article mentioned in this piece.