Tornado Science, Facts and History
Thomas Beatie of Bend, Ore., is unusual in several ways. For one thing, he was born a woman but later decided to become a man. Over the years Beatie has had various surgeries and hormone therapies, but retained his ovaries and uterus.
Gender reassignment surgery has been around for decades, but what's drawn international interest (and headlines like "He's Having Their Baby”) is his claim, published in the gay rights magazine The Advocate, that he is five months pregnant. Beatie and his wife Nancy are expecting their first child on July 3, though they have given few other details.
Is this a new frontier in science and society? Or a sly publicity stunt?
The inescapable biological fact is that men cannot become pregnant. A few males in the animal kingdom do in a sense become pregnant (such as seahorses, which carry eggs in their pouch once they are deposited there by a female, then fertilize them and carry them to term). Humans, however, are another matter entirely; if Beatie has retained his babymaking equipment, then he is in fact still biologically a woman, not a man. (Of course, "She's Having Their Baby” isn't quite such a startling news headline...)
This is not the first time that a man has claimed to have been pregnant. Several years ago, a man named Lee Mingwei was touted on the Web site MalePregnancy.com as the first man to actually become pregnant. Visitors to the site can peruse Mr. Lee's pregnancy journal, see video archives of the progress of his pregnancy, and even watch a short documentary film on male pregnancy. The site addresses skeptics by stating that suspicions of a hoax are wrong: "Yes, Mr. Lee is really pregnant.”
Curiously, the Web site has been up since 1999, and Mr. Lee is apparently still pregnant! Either the poor man has been in labor for nearly a decade (talk about a rough delivery!), or the story is a fake. Of course, Mr. Lee doesn't exist; the Web site is a hoax created as performance art by an artist named Virgil Wong.
Is Beatie's pregnancy also a hoax? It seems likely, though many news media (including Good Morning America and ABC News) have taken the story seriously, interviewing doctors, surgeons, and psychologists about the dangers of a transgendered birth, both to Beatie and the unborn child. The story may be a publicity stunt by The Advocate, or a hoax in the style of veteran media prankster Alan Abel.
Or maybe Beatie really is in a (non-traditional) family way. Perhaps we will know more when Beatie ends his silence and speaks to the news media as planned on April 1 — April Fool's Day.
- 10 Things You Didn't Know About You
- The Sex Quiz: Myths, Taboo and Bizarre Facts
- A Brief History of Human Sex
Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He wrote about media hoaxes and pop culture in his book" Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us." This and other books can be found on his website.