April 14, 2008 12:00 PM

The man of the house is sprawled on his sofa, sneakers off, with his hands—as men’s hands tend to be—resting on his belly. But just as he’s getting comfortable, the kicking starts. “The baby hates it when I lie on my back,” says Thomas Beatie, 34, trying to take some pressure off his aching feet and hips. “She’ll wake me up at night with some pretty good kicks. Like now—wow, she’s really being feisty. She’s like, ‘Get me out of here already.'”

Thomas is a black belt in karate who can bench 255 lbs. At work, he runs a two-ton T-shirt press, and he drives a Ford truck. He is 5’10” with a trimmed beard, and people say he looks like Mario Lopez.

Thomas is also six months pregnant and expecting a daughter in July.

Together with his wife, Nancy, 45, a former bodybuilder and the mother of two grown children, Thomas is doing something that challenges the most basic definition of sexual identity—that it is the woman, the wife, the mother, who carries a child and brings life into the world. “We know that this is a hard thing for some people to understand,” says Nancy, sitting beside Thomas and stroking his forehead in the cozy, five-bedroom home they share with a couple of squawky parrots in Bend, Ore. “But to us we’re just a husband and wife who are having a baby.”

Their story is not a medical mystery, the pregnancy no physical fluke. Thomas was born a female and lived his first two decades as Tracy; he was a Girl Scout, wore dresses to modeling shoots and was a finalist in a Miss Hawaii Teen USA beauty pageant. But in his 20s he began the process of transitioning to a male, the gender he felt was truly his since childhood. He took testosterone, had his breasts surgically removed and switched his passport, driver’s license and birth certificate from “F” to “M.” Entitled at last to marry Nancy, his longtime girlfriend, legally in Hawaii, he did just that in 2003. In almost every aspect of daily life he was a man, with one key exception—he still had his female reproductive organs.

And because Nancy had had a hysterectomy due to endometriosis and couldn’t get pregnant, they agreed that Thomas, not a surrogate, would be inseminated with donor sperm and carry the baby they both wanted. “If Nancy could get pregnant, I wouldn’t be doing this,” says Thomas. “But who hires a surrogate if they are perfectly capable of carrying their own child? Why would I trust someone else when I know I’ll do a better job of taking care of my body than anyone?”

There have been a few reports of transgender men having babies, but Thomas sees himself as a pioneer. “I want to make it easier for the next couple like us,” he says. Still, he adds, “I’m afraid. Afraid of how people will react, afraid for our safety. I don’t want to lose the life we have.”

In the last few decades America has certainly become “far less gender innocent,” says Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, an advocacy group that believes as many as 3 million people, or 1 percent of the population, may have either surgically, or through changes in appearance, switched gender. (Other estimates are lower, but there are no reliable statistics.) Even so, the Beaties are pushing the bounds of what many feel is acceptable. “Kids need a mom and a dad, they don’t need a dad who’s a mom,” says Tim Wildmon of the conservative American Family Association. (For other reactions to Thomas’s pregnancy, see box.)

Going in, Thomas understood that the sight of a pregnant man might be unnerving. There were nurses who refused to refer to him as a he and a doctor who warned “that people would try to kill my baby because it is an abomination.” His own brother, says Thomas, told him his baby would be a monster. When they told neighbors they were expecting, everyone naturally assumed it was Nancy who is pregnant. (“Some of them even tell me I have that pregnant glow,” she says.) Thomas says he asks one thing of the world: respect. “We don’t need everyone to love us, but just because you’re not like everyone else doesn’t make you a freak.”

In fact, the Beaties have lots in common with the average married couple: They run a successful business, Define Normal, that makes custom T-shirts; they go camping and kayaking; they shop at Costco and Home Depot; they spend most evenings at home watching TV (Thomas, the quiet, sensible one, likes Heroes, while Nancy, chatty and playful, is hooked on Cold Case). So far, Thomas’s pregnancy “is absolutely normal,” says Kimberly James, his Oregon ob-gyn. Thomas stopped taking testosterone a year before insemination, and while some of its effects remain—like his beard—his use of hormones has not complicated the pregnancy. “All his levels are normal, and everything looks great,” says James. “I’d say they are more diligent about prenatal care than most couples I see.”

But there are complications. Will Thomas be the mother? Or father? “I’ll be the father, and Nancy will be the mother,” he insists. “Having this baby doesn’t make me less of a man.” Yet his insurance company hasn’t yet agreed to cover all the costs. “They said men don’t have fallopian tubes. They said I might have to list myself as female to be covered. But I can’t; that’s fraud. Legally, I’m a man.”

Growing up in Honolulu, Thomas—then Tracy Lagondino—”was a total tomboy,” he says. “I got pushed into modeling, but I never felt comfortable in women’s clothes.” As a teen he dressed as a boy, and “security guards would throw me out of women’s bathrooms,” he says. His mother, Susan, a special education teacher, was loving and supportive, but Thomas says his father, Abraham, an architectural contractor, was less accepting. When Thomas was 12, his mother, severely depressed by an illness, committed suicide. “After that,” he says, “I withdrew completely.”

He met Nancy—who was coming out of a difficult marriage—at a health club where she was a fitness trainer. “Tracy was the best thing that ever happened to my mom and to our family,” says Nancy’s daughter Jennifer, 25. As a lesbian couple, they became active in gay issues and lobbied to get Hawaii’s first hate crimes law passed in 2001. By then Thomas had already begun taking 200 milligram doses of testosterone every two weeks to make his appearance more masculine. After surgery to remove his breasts, he began the process of changing his gender on official documents. In 2003, now legally a man, he took Nancy to a spot on the coast near Hanauma Bay; with whales breaching in the distance, he got down on one knee and proposed. They were married at City Hall later that year.

It wasn’t until the couple moved to Oregon for a fresh start in 2005 that they began talking about having a child. Thomas had opted not to remove his reproductive organs (or have surgery to create male genitalia) during his female-to-male transition, because “I figured I could freeze an egg and get a surrogate so we could have a child.” But the more they discussed it, the more sense it made to have Thomas carry the child, they say. Getting a doctor’s consent to obtain donor sperm from a sperm bank wasn’t easy. When they finally did, the couple’s first attempt at pregnancy failed after the embryo became implanted in Thomas’s fallopian tube—an ectopic pregnancy. In 2007 they tried again, and this time things went well. At the first ultrasound, at six weeks, the baby was barely visible. Then Thomas noticed something blinking on the screen and asked the technician about it. “That,” she told him, “is your baby’s heart.”

Like most expectant parents, Thomas has cravings—soybeans and artichokes. So far, he has gained 12 lbs. “I always feel bloated,” he says. “Unfortunately there’s no such thing as ‘manternity’ clothes.'”

But the Beaties have bigger concerns. “We know this is confusing to people, and when people get confused, they get angry,” says Nancy. Not long ago, someone banged on their downstairs window in the middle of the night. “We didn’t know if it was a vagrant or someone who learned about us from a nurse at the clinic,” says Thomas, who grabbed a baseball bat and ran out into the backyard.

In quieter moments, all the fears and complications melt away, and that’s when Thomas and Nancy like to go into the upstairs nursery and play with their baby goodies: booties and mittens and a furry brown bear onesie with ears. They talk about how they’ve already bonded with their child: Thomas has “this tapping game where I tap on my stomach twice and she kicks back twice”; with Nancy, “it’s this silly thing I do where I pretend his bellybutton is a microphone and I say, ‘Hello, little baby, what’re you doing in there? Come out and play.'”

Once, a doctor asked them what they will tell their daughter about how she was born. “He kept saying, ‘How will you explain this to her? What will you say?'” remembers Nancy. This, says Thomas, is their answer: “When she’s old enough, we’ll sit her down and tell her everything. We will tell her how her parents love each other and love her very much.” They will talk to her about what it means to be a family, about how lucky they are to have this chance at happiness—and about how hard she used to kick her daddy whenever he laid on his back. “Our daughter is beating these incredible odds to get here—physical obstacles, social obstacles, everything,” says Thomas. “And in my dreams I dream the world will see her just the way we do. As this amazing gift to us. As a miracle.”

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