“I’m just using my hardware to do a thing. It’s pragmatic.”
A journalist who was born biologically female, and gave birth to a son last year, told The Guardian in an interview published this week that he still considers himself to be a transgender man and referred to the process of delivering a child as using his “hardware to do a thing.”
Ahead of a documentary, “Seahorse,” chronicling 32-year-old Freddy McConnell’s journey conceiving and having a child, the writer and podcaster said it took him a long time to reconcile “what his body looks like” with his male identity.
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“It is not something that I can choose, or leave behind, or change. It’s not something predicated on my physical state,” the multimedia journalist told The Guardian. “It’s a thing, it’s part of me. So if I’m pregnant, it doesn’t change me being trans.”
“Not only women feel broody,” he says in the trailer for “Seahorse.”
McConnell feared getting pregnant as a man would open him up to attacks or ridicule, which made going through with the decision that much harder. “I went back and forth for ages. But for me, having that genetic link is something I felt I needed to have. It took me so long to feel OK about wanting kids, because there’s a stigma attached to it,” he said.
Ultimately, McConnell arrived at the conclusion that his identity as a man was separate from the sexual and reproductive function of giving birth. “It took me a long time to separate identity from biology. I’m just using my hardware to do a thing. It’s pragmatic,” he said.
But, as “Seahorse” documents, McConnell’s belief in that notion was tested both before and during his pregnancy.
The film shows his body going “in reverse” after he stops taking testosterone, which he started doing at age 25 as he transitioned from male-to-female, to allow him to use a sperm donor to conceive. He also began to have periods again – an apparently painful reminder of his female biology.
“I don’t like the idea that I’ve got tampons in my bag,” he says at one point during “Seahorse.”
He worried about abuse from strangers during his pregnancy, however, his baby bump was not particularly noticeable. “My mum noticed that men’s bellies sit very similarly to the way pregnant bellies sit,” McConnell told The Guardian. “So nobody’s going to think you’re pregnant. People read gender in less than a second – so if I had a beard, it would not matter what the rest of my body looked like, they would read me as male.”
In another scene, McConnell looks through old school reports in which teachers refer to him as “she.”
“It’s really weird being confronted by my old name,” he says of his birth name, which is never revealed in the film. The Guardian asked if that was a deliberate choice on McConnell’s part.
“Yes, definitely, because it’s such a trope of trans storytelling,” he said. “This is my story of starting a family – so what on earth has my old name got to do with it?”
Starting that family came at a cost for the journalist, who happens to work for The Guardian. He suffered withdrawal symptoms after stopping testosterone. Halfway through “Seahorse,” McConnell’s partner tells him he no longer wants to parent the child. One scene captures McConnell having an emotional breakdown, telling the camera he wants to be left alone.
But his commitment to normalizing the lives of trans people seems to have made the experience worth it for McConnell.
“Hopefully people will come away thinking they’ve seen something relatable, a universal story about love and family and wanting to have kids,” he told The Guardian about what he hopes viewers will take from “Seahorse.”
The work of transgender activists has resulted in increased societal awareness of trans rights issues in all facets of society. But critics of the movement argue that the change of pace is progressing too rapidly and there should be negotiating between the demands of the trans community and existing social norms.
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