Book Review: Labor of Love

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Book Review: Labor of Love

His story, one of the most reported upon news items of last year, captured worldwide attention. Heck, he even made Barbara Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People” of 2008 list. I speak, of course, of Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man.

In his memoir, Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy, Beatie chronicles his troubled childhood in Hawaii, his journey of self-discovery as a transgendered man, and finally, the struggle he and his wife Nancy faced after they decided to start a family together, and that—as Nancy was unable to conceive—it would be he who carried their baby. Sparking tremendous controversy, the couple’s decision to go public with the pregnancy caused a media circus, divided the gay and transgender communities upon themselves, and thrust transgender issues to the forefront of American consciousness in a way that hadn’t been seen since, perhaps, the killing of Brandon Teena. The sad irony was not lost on this reader that, despite all the awful, transphobic things said about Beatie in the press and the blogosphere this past year, at least this time the big news was about a trans person celebrating bringing new life into the world, instead of leaving it in a violent and untimely manner, as all too often the headlines read. This book is many things: part life story, part love story, and part social commentary. The entire first third of it deals exclusively with Beatie’s childhood, growing up as a girl in Hawaii. After his mother, suffering from depression, committed suicide when he was twelve, Beatie and his younger brother were left in the care of their misogynistic and abusive father. It is the relationship with the monstrous figure of his father that dominates the narrative, perhaps to its detriment. If I was surprised at how much of the book deals with his childhood and the relationship with his father (compared to the single chapter that deals with his transition as an FTM), I can at least begin to understand why the author took this tack. Beatie takes pains to frame his own struggle to create the loving family life he had never known against the backdrop of neglect and abuse he suffered as a child. The stark contrasts between his determined fight to become a father himself, and what he was willing to go through in order to achieve this, and the cold brutality of the man



Comments [18]

Julia Watson's picture

Congratulations to Lezbeth,

Congratulations to Lezbeth, who has won the haiku contest! Here, again, is her winning entry:

"Dewdrop on wheat stalk
Bearded and heavy with child
Greeting the sunlight"

LB will be receiving a free copy of Thomas Beatie's memoir, Labor of Love. Thanks to everyone who offered up a haiku or two. They were great! And keep an eye out for future book giveaways in conjunction with our book reviews here at VP...

Steph H's picture

Interesting point!

Interesting point!

rovermom's picture

I agree, hun. So many people

I agree, hun.

So many people think it would be a disgrace for them to make money off of this, and yet it no one has said about any other writer for making money off of their stories.

Watch out for a movie. I wonder how many people in the community are going to be screaming at them for making a spectacle. And yell at them for exploiting their children.

"Marley & Me" was a hit. It was about the author's family and love and not giving up on one another and that family is family.

No one yelled at him for exploiting his dog and his family. No one in all those years of his column, or his book, ever said he was exploiting his family by making money off of them.

bronniepickle's picture

There is no way a story like

There is no way a story like that could ever be kept a secret with instant communication and people more than willing to betray their friends and family members to the media for a few bucks. I don't think he was exploiting his pregnancy at all. He was preventing his exploitation by telling the story the way he wanted it to be told...not the sensationalistic cruel account some hack writer dug up from relatives like his misogynistic father who would be more than happy to destroy his son's life for a few bucks. Imagine the permanent emotional trauma that would have been caused by a book that included information from the perspective of the misogynistic father. By writing his own story, he was able to control its content and focus. I hope he does make a lot of money from his story. The hateful way members of our own community have responded demonstrates the critical need for education about the lives of trans people.

rovermom's picture

exactly, Lezbeth. This

exactly, Lezbeth.

This husband and wife took their self responsibility with knowing the consequences - and knowing that life will be forever changed no matter what they do. And what they took on was the scope of letting the world know that they are about love and peace and family.

They're not a freak show, but the world is freaked out about them being different. They are showing the world that they are not that different.

They took their responsibility that they own and used it as they wished - which is to show the world how loving family is. And that family is family of all different kinds.

The responsibility of the people is something that needs to be looked at. It's an evolutionary process.

The assimilation is seeing our similarities.

But I think knowing that it's ok to have differences as well as similarities....is not disassimilation. But as soon as we find differences, we tend to disassimilate - and some even break off all together.

We are a sea of differences and similarities. Cresting and wanning.

We can have a nice flowing sea or rough waters. Some how, some way, we have to learn that we are all together...despite the differences and the similarities.

This couple has put their lives out there with love and not hate. And the reason was for people to grow with love and further their understanding of family.

The responsibility rests on the people with how they deal with this love. And yet they don't, so they condemn this couple with everything they are doing.

Mostly about the way and reason behind exposing their life.

People are mad at being confronted and having to deal with any change and perception. And they're mad because he is doing it with calm and grace and love.

How can someone be an activist and smile and be at peace? So they dismiss them as doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Tex's picture

Excellent - only met her once

Excellent - only met her once - but at that time, she was a quiet, felt presence. She observes and senses - calmed me - and when she speaks you know you want to listen......

Twitter Time @kdhales

Grace Moon's picture

A haiku about Prof

A haiku about Prof Crandall

Professor Crandall
speechless but never thoughtless
arbiter of queer

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Xanadu's picture

I could barely watch that

I could barely watch that Oprah interview ... when she started the show off by saying "A man is pregnant" and the camera panned the gasping audience, I knew it was going to be a cringe fest.

I thought she handled that show in a really tabloid way ... she seems to do this with gender / sexuality shows - which is odd, as she handles most other subjects in a thoughtful way.

minniesota's picture

That was a good book review,

That was a good book review, Julia! My brain is fried so I'll have to think about a haiku later.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Not2Taem's picture

January 10th is tomorrow,

January 10th is tomorrow, Saturday.

bubble bubble, dude!
knocked up but not knocking it
genderless, life springs

or

Baby's Plea

Daddy is mother
My family born of love
Please, just let us be

or

Similar Differences

We came together
like every family
in love and longing

Why do you hate us?
Are we just too familiar?
Shocking, isn't it!

little_earth's picture

I just did my diversity

I just did my diversity training for work. There was a big section about how assimilation was the most detrimental to bringing about equality.

Being a Fed job there was only a brief bit about Bill Clinton and his Executive Order 13087 (1998) which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Federal Civilian Executive Branch. But as explained in other equality in the workplace issues, assimilation was very very very bad. I feel I'm learning more and more about it, especially as it comes to our fight.

As as for discrimination within our own community, it sucks. I try to be aware if I'm doing it, and I always correct my girlfriend when she does it (she has trans issues based on knowing a few who seemed to be transitioning for the wrong reasons). It is always unfortunate for someone to react to another's differences the way they've hated the way people have reacted to their own.

Lots of Love - little_earth "Occasionally, I'm callous and strange" - Willow

Tex's picture

Darkness to love's

Darkness to love's light
Conceived with hope's acceptance:
Love's light to darkness

....and on the lighter side.....

Bearded one protests
Too much pain shut up just breathe!
Behold sweet April

Twitter Time @kdhales

Halfway's picture

I think that Thomas Beatie is

I think that Thomas Beatie is a story of strength and peace, and a great example of a topic that has been ignored by mainstream society for such a long time: what defines a gender, as well as a family... I hope to read his story soon, and I hope that he can continue to open up the eyes of others.

Haikus: (I love writing poetry!)

The dichotomy:
stuck between body and truth.
Hope, love-- Dad gives birth.

Tears fall from his eyes
Same story, just different
A father and child

"Freak show! Weird tranny!"
Words of hate blanket her birth
Parents, babe in love

Professor Crandall's picture

good review. i kept wondering

good review. i kept wondering what would happen with this book so thanks for filling us in.

unfort i'm fresh out of haikus at the moment!

Lezbeth's picture

For me, there's a fine line

For me, there's a fine line between certain forms of victim hood and self-responsibility. Every choice he and his wife made is one with consequences the family (including his children) will be defined by for the rest of their lives. I believe, as adults, the parents chose those consequences and the growth process that will unfold from that choice.

If we look at life as an ongoing opportunity to realize our true natures and work out our unique dilemmas, I can see him as both exploiting and challenging traditional gender paradigms, giving everyone touched by his story an opportunity for deeper personal examination and growth. Some will take that opportunity and some will judge and condemn. I'd like to read the book he writes 20 years from now or even better, one written by his children. To me, those stories, with the benefit of time and retrospect will be truly illuminating.

Amy Nicole Miller's picture

At times, I've questioned the

At times, I've questioned the intentions of Beatie going public with his story. It seems a bit coincidental that it's resulted in his book's huge success. I have gone back and forth with thinking either he knew that going public would help sky-rocket book sales or on the other hand perhaps he wanted to use his story to help bring discussions about transphobia and reproductive rights to the forefront. I know that the former is a hyper-cynical view, and I hope it's not the case.
That being said, the fact that he has been such a target of hate from both the dominant and even worse, lesbian and gay cultures, automatically makes me defend him and thus trumps my cynicism. The argument that he's "a threat to the struggle for gay and trans rights, particularly the battle over same-sex marriage." is ridiculous and shows how transphobic and ignorant many LGB people are.
No matter his intentions, like you said,
"...at least this time the big news was about a trans person celebrating bringing new life into the world, instead of leaving it in a violent and untimely manner, as all too often the headlines read."
Most of the discussions and stories I've seen/read in the mainstream media are super-exploitative, sensationalized and sometimes ignorant, like his interview with Oprah. He's being touted everywhere as "The First Pregnant Man", but that is far from the truth. Many trans men have given birth and I've never personally read anything about him regecting this title. Has he? I would love to know that he has.
Let's hope his book will at least enlighten readers who finally get to know his story from a completely different, intimate angle. Great review! It makes me want to read it.

TheInsomniac's picture

"the story of this family and

"the story of this family and how it came to be shines a cold, hard light on some of the fault lines in the queer and trans communities and the cruel price of the politics of assimilation"

So well said, Julia. The most frustrating response to his story I have heard from the gay community is "well, that person's not really a man." WTF! If that's the case, gay marriage is legal... you just have to go through years of disruptive medical treatment, legal proceedings, and social ostrasization. I don't know this guy or pretend to understand anything about him, but this kind of dismissal of his gender identity pisses me off and the trouble he went to in order to feel OK in his skin suggests to me that he deserves some basic respect for his difficult choices.

Back off gender cops
Babies don't care who feeds them
Let love be the guide

I'd like to read this book!

Insomniac

Lezbeth's picture

Here's one: Dewdrop on wheat

Here's one:

Dewdrop on wheat stalk
Bearded and heavy with child
Greeting the sunlight