I’m a man, but that’s not why we thought I couldn’t get pregnant.
We worried because we’d been trying for ten years, because I’m over 30, because my cycle has always been irregular. But then, last year, about ten years after getting married and maybe six years after I came to terms with my own masculinity, there I was, staring at a moving ultrasound image of a small human being with the wand being pressed in increasingly uncomfortable ways against my stomach.
I am spectacularly bad at passing, and have been since the first time I tried to present as male back in high school. Suffice to say I looked like an effeminate but mostly goth Elvis impersonator in a poorly-fitted shirt. When presented with androgyny, people err on the side of the feminine, and it took a few years to accept that. But in the sixteen or so years since that first attempt to pass, I’ve managed to find the set of visual cues that mostly gets me the right kind of social treatment.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be accepted as another man — the sense of familiarity, like you’re in a club of some kind, the degree of acceptance when you show a competitive streak. There is posture and body language, the way you take up space or square your shoulders. There’s the set of your feet, the way you swing your hands when you walk. People associate a lot of the hallmarks of confident body language with manliness. It’s not just about clothes, at all; these days my bearing is masculine enough that even when I glam up, I get pegged as a poorly-disguised drag queen.
But when there’s an “f” marked on your chart, particularly with pregnancy involved, there is a behavior expected of you — a certain amount of class or grace, even from the most jeans-and-t-shirt punk rockers. Let’s call it “ladylike behavior.” They’ll forgive a few profanities — actually, they’ll forgive several profanities, even without the hormones — but the moment you start acting genuinely crass they don’t know what to do. Same goes for morbid humor. I found out during my ultrasound that Aliens references are not appreciated.
And yet, with everyone looking to me to be ladylike, I felt more macho than ever.
There is this idea that pregnancy and motherhood are quintessentially feminine. Women get pregnant and settle down and come into their own inner Goddess or whatever. I did the opposite. I felt manly, like a returning warrior-king. I’m not settling down; I’m planning for my next line of conquest.
The way I see it, I just made use of my on-board 3D printer to build an entire living being. Think you could do it? To slightly paraphrase Warren Ellis, you try building a camera out of jelly. That a body is even capable of this stuff, the growing and lactation and kicking from the inside, blew me away. I didn’t feel feminine while I was pregnant. I felt like a man’s man. I felt the same thrill I get from gaining ranks in Mario Kart or watching someone rage-quit because I kicked their ass with an embarrassing character. Like toughing it out through a five-mile hike because I’m the one with bad knees and everybody else wanted to pack it in after two.
There was no growing inner peace, no Zen garden in my soul, nothing like that. There was a road free of signs or debris. I had no idea where it’s going, but I wanted to see it to its end.
Suddenly I was doing something none of the other guys at D&D night will ever do; I was permanently winning the unofficial “who has done the craziest thing” contest we seem to have going on. I was growing a human being.
Even the hormone-induced crying jags felt manly — I consume a lot of Japanese media, where hot-blooded male protagonists shed tears at the drop of a hat. Tears can be from pain, sadness, or angst, or there can be happy tears; we’re pretty comfortable with these concepts But there’s also the idea of someone shedding tears from the force of their passion, from anger or determination or whatever other variety of explosive intensity. That’s how I felt during my pregnancy, when I welled up just from hearing the right song on the radio. I was filled with this overwhelming will and drive, and it fell out of my eyes in stinging rivulets.
After all, getting pregnant means facing down a lot of fears. Nearly everyone who’s raised female is fed the terrifying narrative of the unprepared, young, or otherwise rebellious mother and how you do not ever want to be her. And there’s so much fearmongering about what kinds of things can go wrong in pregnancy, especially late-term. Don’t get me started on all the ideas people project on you about why you might be carrying a baby. I wouldn’t be experiencing this if I hadn’t been born with ovaries, but dealing with it takes balls.
A lot of younger people, even people my age, think of pregnancy as something that only suburbanites plan for. Hip, young, urban or country folk are tricked or accidentally face consequences after an unprotected bout between the sheets; they certainly don’t WANT kids. A frankly shocking number of my friends are childfree, and some are even fairly evangelical about it. It’s even more common among my transgender friends, who often feel like pregnancy is some affirmation about femininity that they’d rather not have.
I see their point, but you may have gathered that I don’t agree.
It’s a lonely point of view. A lonely place between women with Inner Goddesses and men whose involvement in pregnancy is passing out cigars. During my pregnancy, I wanted to get into discussion of the finer details and how they were affecting me. I wanted to talk about the way my body was interacting with itself and the littler body inside me. It’s the same reason a lot of guys like cars; there are so many tiny moving parts, mechanical and chemical, and I want to understand the nuts and bolts. But I don’t always have people who would listen.
What I do have now is the ultimate DIY project: a baby. And she’s going to grow up knowing that the fearlessness and passion I experienced while creating her made me feel as manly as I’ve ever been — but that fearlessness, passion, and the drive to build are available to her, too, even if she doesn’t grow up to be a man.
About the illustrator:
A.K. Summers is author and artist of the graphic memoir Pregnant Butch (2014, Soft Skull Press). Summers is also creator of the comic zineNegativa, and the animated shorts Topless Dickless Clueless and World Without Femmes. A graduate of Oberlin College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Summers lives with her son in Providence, Rhode Island. She is currently at work on a children’s graphic novel.