Women have been giving birth to children since the beginning of the world. Men, however, have apparently figured out how to accomplish this feat only recently. In fact, it seems quite popular these days for media outlets to plaster across their pages a headline that includes some version of “Man Gives Birth.”
The latest account of this comes out of Germany via UK’s The Telegraph. The headline reads, “Transgender man gives birth in Germany.” Below the headline, the paper adds this description: “A transgender man has given birth to his first child in Germany and wants to be registered as the baby’s father.”
To the typical reader, such a headline and description sounds ludicrous. How can a man—even one who is described as a transgender man—give birth to a child? Isn’t childbirth a biological impossibility for a man?
Here is the rest of the story. The Telegraph reports:
Although the birth took place on March 18 of this year the news has only just come to light. The baby was born at home, in the Neukoellin district of Berlin, attended only by a midwife.
The father had insisted on a home birth to avoid being listed as the mother on hospital documents—a German legal requirement.
Although the father has been taking hormone replacement therapies for years he elected to retain the reproductive organs of a woman.
Because he physically gave birth to the child the unidentified man is seen as the mother, however by law he is recognised as a man.
The reality in this situation is that the person who gave birth to the child is physiologically a woman who happens to self-identify as a man. She has been taking hormone treatments (testosterone) in order to develop some traits of a man (e.g., facial hair, deeper voice, etc.), but she is still biologically female. In fact, she most likely had to stop the hormone treatments to get pregnant and give birth.
So what should we think of this?
This news report is evidence that our culture is attempting to strip words of meaning. The term “man” has always included biological and genetic markers distinguishing it from “woman.” One of the clearest markers is that men do not have the biological capacity to bear children. In this case, however, the mother wants to be officially recognized as the father.
In his book, On the Meaning of Sex, J. Budziszewski proposes definitions of womanhood and manhood with respect to identifying what makes each unique. Regarding the term “woman” he writes:
We can say that a woman is a human being of that sex whose members are potentially mothers. The broad category here is human beings; an essential characteristic that distinguishes some human beings from others is the potentiality for motherhood.
Budziszewski explains that potentiality for motherhood is more than the biological possibility of giving birth, but it certainly includes the biological. Even when a woman is physically incapable of bearing a child, it does not negate the potentiality of motherhood.
In addition, he offers a definition of manhood that is more than just a negation of the definition of woman. He states:
These few paragraphs about womanhood may have given the impression that men are to be defined negatively. Someone reading them might suppose that if a woman is a human being of that sex whose members have the potentiality for motherhood, then a man is simply a human being of the sex whose members lack the potentiality for motherhood—making the man a sort of incomplete woman. On the contrary! A man, like a woman, is correctly defined only when he is positively defined. He is a human being of the sex whose members have a different potentiality than women do: the potentiality for fatherhood.
In the same respect as before, Budziszewski considers fatherhood to be broader than merely the potential to sire children. It also includes the way a father relates to children, cares for and protects his family, and relates to women. Budziszewski laments that men have been taught not to be men by false and deluded teachers in the culture. He concludes his description of true manhood by noting:
Unlike the achievement of biological maturity, the achievement of manhood is hard work, labor that requires a firm hand with the desires and devices of the heart. Alas that the carving and shaping of these impulses is so unfashionable. . . . The truth is that not to endure being carved and shaped well is unnatural, and a source of numberless miseries. The best instance of an oak is not a gaudily decorated acorn, but a tree; in the same way, the best instance of a human male is not a glorified, walking packet of urges, but a man who, for the sake of the highest and greatest goods, commands himself, strengthens his brothers, and defends his sisters, regarding even the meanest of women as a lady.
According to biological descriptions and on the basis of a fuller vision of manhood, this “man” in Germany who gave birth is not really a man. She is a woman who sees manhood as a self-identified packet of urges as desires.
Words have meaning. Manhood means something, and this woman in Germany is attempting to remove that meaning.
God established the differences between man and woman at creation. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:17). God intended differences between male and female from the beginning. These include biological, genetic, emotional, and other differences. The terms “man” and “woman,” or “male” and female,” are not interchangeable because someone feels like he or she wants to be the other.
In the face of stories like this one, we need to stand up for the real meaning of manhood.
Jocelyn Spottiswoode, “Transgender man gives birth in Germany,” The Telegraph, September 11, 2013.
J. Budziszewski, On the Meaning of Sex (Wilmington: ISI, 2012).
*Evan Lenow is Assistant Professor of Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Read more from him at evanlenow.com.