Open Access Dissertation
Date of Award
Kelly M. Young
William Trapani, III
In 2008, Thomas Beatie, a legally recognized male, transgender man, became pregnant with his first child and approached the American mass media to tell his story and defend his decisions. Shortly thereafter, the public fought against his image, attempting to normalize his body and gender. Beatie's unique gender blurring, his choice for exposure and social recognition, and the resulting public controversy surrounding the incident makes for an important test case to understand Beatie's discursive and visual strategies directed toward the American public.
This study, a rhetorical examination of the discourse and iconic visual image used by Beatie while his pregnant body received coverage by the mass media, seeks specifically to address the shortcomings in the study of discursive strategies for recognition of trans individuals. It uses the framing and theory of apologia rhetoric to understand Beatie's rhetorical choices. This project classifies and analyzes Beatie's messages, specifically looking for ways Beatie creates agency, identification and blurs his sex/gender identity. In exploring Beatie's discourse, this dissertation assesses the following fundamental questions about his discourse: to what degree does his apologia rhetoric operate as recognition? How well is he able to construct persuasive messages of apologia that allow him to be recognized in codes of pregnancy and masculinity at the same time?
In interrogating these questions, this project evaluates Beatie's strategies and determines how they inform conclusions about apologia rhetoric, performatives, and the current American ideologies on sex and gender. I demonstrate the fundamental impossibility of being recognized as both an intelligible pregnant man and explain why Beatie cannot defend certain choices or aspects of his life because his recognition is always incomplete and impossible. It concludes that Beatie acquires a sense of control at the same time that he asks for recognition of a body that is unintelligible to the public. His demand for recognition and its inevitable failure confounds the present system and makes him an individual that is difficult to tack down according to the contemporary sex/gender binary. Most importantly, his partial success and partial failed recognition may be necessary to disrupt long-standing sex/gender norms and cultural assumptions about bodies.
Thomas, Erika Marie, "Recognition of the transgender self: an examination of the apologia of the 'pregnant man'" (2011). Wayne State University Dissertations. Paper 336.