I am a Baby Boomer who grew up with Time magazine. From before I was born it arrived at our home every week. We were subscribers, and I devoured every issue. Time was solid—carefully researched and cogently written. When I read the magazine I was educated, not indoctrinated. Regardless of viewpoint, they asked hard questions. They had integrity.
How the mighty have fallen.
For evidence of this ruin, look no further than the recent Time essay, “My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of the New American Family.”
Okay, it was penned by the lesbian sister of a pregnant female-to-male transgender; thus, it’s no surprise that bias was evident, even over-the-top. But was that the right choice for Time to use to depict the birthing and nursing experience of a transgender male as a new normal for American families? The author, Jessi Hempel, has been involved in professional journalism for years with publications such as Fortune, Business Week, Time Asia, and Wired. I reasonably expected a smidgen of objectivity and solid reporting. Unfortunately, this essay never raises a single question or concern that most people other than a social-secular progressive would have.
Perhaps someone with a little more distance should have been given this assignment? Such was the kind of decision that editors used to make when handling controversial and potentially divisive stories, back when news magazines left indoctrination to others.
Instead, we are introduced to Evan, born as one of three female siblings. About 16 years ago, while Evan’s parents were going through a divorce and his dad was coming out as homosexual, and both his sisters had been lesbians for some time, Evan decided to become male—but with a twist: Desiring to give birth someday, and averse to double mastectomy, Evan kept all the “girl parts.”
The reader would immediately like to know more, but because such deeper questions are apparently off limits, even from sisters, we are not told much. Evan’s breasts—that is, his biological chest—shrunk because of male hormone injections. But even then, it still needed to be taped flat. The beard was soft but pretty full, the voice manly. Evan ceased male hormone injections and took medications to trigger ovulation and, as his partner is female, was artificially inseminated.
Hempel disapprovingly notes that Evan encountered all sorts of discriminatory assumptions and practices. Of course, in truth, our medical insurance and diagnostic regime have understandably failed to adjust language, forms, and protocols around the idea that males may give birth and nurse infants. Understandably, insurers still kick back paperwork requesting payment for pregnancy and birth services from someone who checked the “male” box under “gender.” Wearied with lengthy explanatory phone calls, Evan reluctantly agreed to start checking “female” to avoid this.
Hempel’s case of alleged discriminatory assumptions and practices gets worse: Insensitive people are startled by bearded men with large mammary glands nursing infants, and often fail to properly identify this as “chestfeeding.” They speak as if Evan has “breasts.” Thank goodness, notes Hempel, for supportive groups such as the “Birthing and Breast or Chestfeeding Trans People and Allies.” (Yes, such a group indeed exists.)
Alas, Hempel’s perspective and biases aside, here are some questions from an American who is not motivated by hate or fear. May I suggest a follow-up piece of journalism exploring them?
First, why didn’t Evan’s female partner have the baby? That certainly seems less risky and medically intrusive. And if Evan really considered himself to be a male and wants to be categorized as such, shouldn’t he forego the anatomy and possibility of pregnancy, birth, and nursing with the rest of us males? The only rationale that appears in this essay is Evan’s desire to have a personally fulfilling experience. Doesn’t that make Evan’s child a means to a personal end? Reading this, one gets the feeling that the baby is almost a kind of commodity. Do we as a society really need one more reason to devalue children and put adult desires and rights ahead of their needs and our duties to them?
Second, are these children going to be okay? Gay parenting research, problematic as it is, doesn’t really help here. How many decades will it be before we have sufficient numbers of children born and raised this way to know what the impact is? If it is negative, will political correctness make sure that the negative reality never surfaces? Asking if infants, especially those conceived with this much intentionality, are being given optimal environments to thrive as human beings is, well, kind of important.
Third, getting into the politically-correct mindset a bit, this seems a bit biased, but here’s a stark reality: Male-to-female transgendered people don’t get to nurse, get pregnant, have vaginal births. And as “her” and “she,” they actually fit into the feminine category normally associated with that. Should we be working to change this, too?
Fourth, according to the latest June 2016 report of the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A., about 0.6 percent of Americans “identify” as transgender. This is higher than their previous estimate of 0.3 percent, but that’s still awful tiny. Moreover, the percentage that would have been diagnosed as such and taken through the kind of medical treatment Evan received is still much lower than six-tenths of one percent. And then, how many of these are female-to-male who keep their female anatomy so they can get pregnant, give birth, and nurse?
That said, consider the necessity of accurate information for appropriate diagnoses and treatment, the need to build in cross-checks to pick up fraud and error, and everything else that goes into administrating and safeguarding hospitals, medical practices, clinics, and health insurance. Is it reasonable to ask for adjustments of the type that would have made Evan more comfortable to accommodate what is probably less than one-tenth of one percent obtaining elective medical care? Consider the time and cost associated with creating and installing all the new forms, database categories and software, and doing all that training. Does this make sense? My spell-checker doesn’t even know the term “chestfeeding.” Should someone sue Microsoft?
And all this is without considering the wide range of changes being pressed by the Obama administration. Nursing stations in male restrooms? (Yes, that’s being demanded.) Pregnant female-to-male transgendered persons, with fitted uniforms, in Marine platoons?
Gosh, how will Census workers classify this family? Is it headed by a gay couple? A heterosexual couple? How many of the hundreds of reports, tables, graphs need to be modified?
Fifth, what next? When conservatives were predicting this kind of thing 10 years ago as a consequence of accepting gay adoption and redefining marriage and family, they were accused of being bigots and alarmists. Now it is here, and they are bigots and alarmists for objecting to it. What if Evan and his female partner want to take turns having babies? So why not add a third person and make it a trio? Why not a fourth, or a close relative? Why not?
Journalists are supposed to ask the questions we cannot or are afraid to. The ones we know reasonable people think about. Can’t we do better than this fawning essay in Time magazine when we are dealing with something of this much consequence to so many people—many of whom are little children who have to live with what we adults choose for them? Is that unreasonable to ask?
Dr. David J. Ayers is Dean of Alva J. Calderwood School of Arts and Letters at Grove City College and Fellow for Marriage and Family with The Center for Vision & Values.