Why Rosemary McLeod is wrong

Yesterday, Dominion Post columnist Rosemary McLeod wrote a controversial piece titled “Why I feel for the kids of ego-trippers”. In it, she criticises the ‘strange’ methods of conception employed by, amongst others, female-to-male transgender men who have given birth to children. Her overall argument is that such men are ego-tripping, publicity-craving ‘he/she’s’ who are inflicting psychological damage upon their children.

Naturally, Rosemary’s vitriolic column has stirred up considerable protest, including today’s picketing of the Dominion Post office by members of the ‘Queer Avenger’ lobby group. The Wellington Young Feminist’s Collective has also criticised the Dominion Post for being ‘complicit in transphobia’ by publishing the piece.

The majority of commenters on the Post’s website have also condemned the column. However, a small handful have criticised the ‘disgusting quagmire of gender confusion’ supposedly brought about by ‘[s]hrieking fanatical people [who] don’t think very clearly’. Such comments are typical of anti-protestor/anti-feminist/anti-difference rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one’s opposition as illogical and unreasonable, and I will not dissect them in any depth here.

As a white, straight, cisgender middle class male, I can’t pretend to fully comprehend the discrimination that transgendered individuals face on a day-to-day basis. I also haven’t experienced the inner turmoil of coming to grips with one’s gender identity, or the long and protracted process of transitioning.

Nevertheless, as a historian, i’m constantly faced with writing about things that I haven’t directly experienced myself. Therefore, I feel compelled to respond to Rosemary’s column in whatever small way that I can. But how? Well, since Rosemary’s supporters seem convinced that their opponents are shrieking, unthinking fanaticists (a sentiment as offensive as it is incorrect), I thought i’d give them what they apparently crave – a cold, hard, logical breakdown of Rosemary’s argument, and an itemised analysis of why it is completely wrong.

The basic premise of Rosemary’s criticism was three-fold: firstly, that transgender men who give birth are ‘ego trippers bent on being famous’; secondly, that the press attention they supposedly lust after ‘stands a good chance of rebounding against the kids’; thirdly, and perhaps most offensively, that transgender men who retain their ovaries are just ‘wom[e]n who may shave in the morning and have short hair and a deep voice, as may many women with a hormonal imbalance.’

This final premise is further reinforced by Rosemary’s constant use of the pronoun ‘he/she’, along with the accusation that a trans man is no different than a ‘gay woman’. Also peppered throughout her column is the accusation that the ‘unusual situation’ of families with one or more transgendered parents are somehow wrong.

Her first premise – that trans men like Thomas Beatie are ‘ego trippers’ – is predicated on the notion that the sole reason that an individual seeks out publicity is to court personal fame. In reference to another trans male father in California, she has this to say:

He/she is photographed sitting up in bed with the new number three, looking like a rather plain woman, which in fact let’s not beat about the bush is what he/she is.

The fact of the matter is, people choose to seek out publicity for a number of reasons, and Rosemary has presented no evidence whatsoever to support her conclusion that transgender men who give birth are all ‘ego-trippers’. In fact, applying Occam’s Razor would suggest two far more likely conclusions:

  1. Trans parents, just like cis parents, are so overwhelmed with joy at the birth of their child that they want to share it with everyone.
  2. Trans parents are faced with a form of discrimination and a lack of popular awareness/acceptance that cis parents are not; thus, sharing their joy with the public is a method of consciousness-raising.

Rosemary’s second premise – that these supposedly ego-tripping parents are likely to cause psychological harm to their children – is predicated on three non-existent preconditions; namely:

  1. That transgender parents ARE, in fact, ‘ego-trippers’ – a precondition dismissed above.
  2. That the momentary publicity generated by these births will become an ongoing intrusive presence in the child’s life. However, the fickle nature of the press, couple with the positive message underlying the coverage, render this unlikely.
  3. That transgender parents actually WANT to expose their children to ongoing public scrutiny, as opposed to a one-off celebration of their birth.

However, I suspect that Rosemary’s criticism of supposedly ‘ego-tripping’ transgender parents is merely a smokescreen for her disapproval of transgender parents in general. She defends herself by stating that ‘[h]e/she can give birth to live goldfish for all I care’; however, in the same breath, she sternly criticises transgender parents for not keeping their ‘unusual situation private’. This kind of rhetoric is reminiscent of the ‘I don’t care if you’re gay – just keep it behind closed doors’ comments that were all too common as recently as ten years ago.

Common-sense would dictate that the prerequisite for a happy and healthy child is love, irrespective of the form it takes. This is evidenced by the fact that the ‘nuclear family’, staple of Western conservative discourse, is a relatively modern construct. Prior to the early twentieth century it was far more common for children to be raised in extended family environments. Add to this the growing number of single parent, split custody, adopted and raised-by-other-relation family structures, and the centrality of the standard nuclear family is disproven.

Furthermore, a similar argument was once made against children adopted by gay and lesbian couples; however, subsequent studies have shown that such children ‘are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents.’

However, Rosemary’s transphobia is most clearly demonstrated in her third premise, where she questions whether or not transgender men who give birth are even men at all. I’ve decided to reproduce four particularly insulting paragraphs in their entirety:

The transgender community, says the Californian, has set upon him/her nastily for what it may feel is disloyalty. He/she is photographed sitting up in bed with the new number three, looking like a rather plain woman, which in fact let’s not beat about the bush is what he/she is.

Thomas Beatie was born a woman, had sex reassignment surgery and legally changed his/her identity in Hawaii to male. He/she is now married to a woman, had all along kept his/her ovaries and stuff, and never opted for a surgically created penis thingy.

This, to my mind, makes him/her a woman who may shave in the morning and have short hair and a deep voice, as may many women with a hormonal imbalance. But if you called him/her a gay woman you’d hurt his feelings. I’m a bit lost here.

Why should I care? Because if it’s happening today in California, it’ll be happening here next week. We pick up on all extreme trends, and then defend them heatedly as if we invented them.

Four specific claims in this text demonstrate its transphobic nature; firstly, that trans men like Thomas Beatie are merely women with a hormonal imbalance; secondly, that trans men like Thomas Beatie are in fact gay women; thirdly, the doom-and-gloom statement that ‘it’ll be happening here next week’; and finally, the repeated use of the offensive pronoun ‘he/she’.

However, once again, Rosemary’s claims are predicated on several illogical premises:

1. Female-to-male transgender individuals can only be considered male if they have their ovaries removed and undergo phalloplasty.

Firstly, Rosemary is trying to unilaterally impose her own form of categorisation (bordering on segregation) onto the trans community. However, she fails to recognise that gender identity has nothing to do with one’s assigned sex – in fact, the whole rationale of transgenderism is to identify one’s true gender identity in spite of one’s assigned sex.

Secondly, if having ovaries is a precondition for being defined as female, then cis women who undergo a hysterectomy should be considered male. Similarly, if having a penis is a precondition for being a male, then cis men without a penis should be considered female. Such statements are clearly illogical, not to mention offensive.

Which leads on to the fundamental basis of gender studies: that gender is far more than the sum of one’s dangly/wobbly bits. Gender is, to quote an oft-used and brilliant phrase, ‘the social construction of sexual difference’. In short, most of what is considered a sign of gender is merely a socially constructed set of rules and regulations on what is and is not acceptable behaviour for men and women. It is subjective, not objective; evolving, not static; and above all, it is not a precondition for classification under a particular gender label.

2. Gender identity and sexual orientation are the same thing.

By claiming that trans men are simply gay women, Rosemary fails to understand that one’s gender identity (female, male, neither or both) is different from one’s sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, asexual, or none of the above). A trans man born in a woman’s body who is attracted to women is different from a cis woman attracted to other women.

3. Transgender families will spell doom and gloom for New Zealand society.

Rosemary is terrified that ‘it’ll be happening here next week’. However, much like the pandemic of paranoia amongst American conservatives regarding gay parents (and their similar opposition to mixed-race parents several decades ago), transgender parents pose absolutely no threat to their heterosexual counterparts. Same sex marriage has been legalised by ten countries since 2001, and not a single one has imploded in a cess pool of moral degeneracy. Nor has gay and lesbian adoption interefered with the supposed ‘sanctity’ of the nuclear family. There is no reason to suspect that transgender parents will fare any differently.

To conclude – being transgender and a parent does not automatically imply that said parent is a publicity seeker. It also does not restrict their right of gender identity. And finally, it most certainly has no effect on their capacity to love a child. Rosemary McLeod is wrong for all these reasons and more, which is why she should apologise for her column.


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