Media have recently revealed that a Spanish “trans man” has got pregnant and given birth to a child.
The news appears to be aimed at normalizing a supposed “scientific advance” by which men can finally conceive and give birth. We are greatly surprised by the silence that has accompanied the publication of the news, which has prompted us to try to clarify some concepts.
As several newspapers and television networks report, “Rubén Castro, the pregnant trans man, gave birth to his child Luar, and is the first pregnant man to do so publicly”.
Some examples of trans man pregnancy
Nevertheless, this is not the first time that an expected pregnancy by a “man” has been announced. The first pregnant man in human history was in 2008. Thomas Beatie, 34, gave birth to his daughter at St. Charles de Bend Medical Center in Oregon, USA. Hawaiian woman Tracy Lagondino underwent pharmacological treatments and gender transition surgery to become a trans man, Thomas Beatie, who publicly displayed his virilizing characteristics alongside his pregnant belly. He was able to give birth because, following sex-change operations performed when he was 24 years old, he kept the vagina, uterus, and female organs needed to procreate. He then requested semen from an anonymous donor to conceive. Thomas’s wife at the time, Nancy Roberts, was unable to have children, so Thomas decided to keep his sexual organs. Thanks to the technique of artificial insemination, Thomas — formerly Tracy — and Nancy are now parents.
Later, in 2012, another “trans man” would become the first Briton to give birth. Although born female, as in the previous case, she underwent hormonal treatment and female-to-male surgery, subsequently reactivating her fertility with other hormonal therapies, this time feminizing, since her uterus was not removed during the operation to become a man.
In Argentina, a new “pregnant man” gave birth to a girl named Genesis in 2013. According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, “the father is a man with a female body, but officially registered as a man after his sex change. Despite having rectified their gender [his partner is male-to-female transgender], they both retained the reproductive apparatus with which they were born”.
It is neither novel nor a “major scientific advance,” as has been stated in some media, that a female body, i.e., physiologically a woman, can conceive her child.
The enormous biological complexity by which a woman can bear her children, and ensure the survival of her species, has been achieved after a long and gradual evolutionary process. This process has endowed the females of species that have achieved sexual reproduction with specific genetic, proteomic, endocrine, neurological, anatomical, and physiological mechanisms — different from those of the males — that make them able to conceive and give birth to their offspring.
The genetic programming that will seek to develop proteins, biochemical processes, and structures linked to the biological sex remains unchanged during the life of the individual, despite gender transition treatments.
A man, i.e., an individual of the human species with XY sex chromosomes, more than 6,000 genes in his genome that are expressed according to his sex and differently than in a woman, and male anatomy and physiology, cannot conceive nor become a mother. After gender transition treatments, both pharmacological and surgical, the sexual phenotype can be partially modified, adopting some characteristics of the opposite sex, but little more. The genetic programming that will seek to develop proteins, biochemical processes, and structures linked to a given sex remains unchanged during the life of the individual, despite these treatments.
The unmistakable proof that a pregnant woman is female is precisely her ability to conceive. But it is not the only one: her genetic imprint and all the processes it regulates prevail during her life, promoting the development of her female sexed nature, even if aggressive interventions have been performed to modify her appearance to assimilate it to that of the opposite sex.
Men, biologically male, from birth to death, cannot conceive. Even with complicated surgical interventions that sought to provide them with anatomical structures and hormonal regulation needed for pregnancy, it would not be possible to achieve this today.
The news in question, repeated ad nauseam, would have been better formulated as “a woman, who underwent gender transition treatments to take on the appearance of a trans man, has given birth to her child”. Of course, worded in this way, it would have lost all its media interest, but it would help to show the reality much better, respecting scientific evidence and, therefore, providing truthful information to the reader, a prerequisite in order to create evidence-based states of opinion.
Julio Tudela and Justo Aznar
Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences
Catholic University of Valencia