In a new video posted to her YouTube page, model and YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous cries while recounting a recent experience at a cryobank (which freezes eggs and sperm). When Gorgeous and her fiancé, Nats Getty, were visiting the doctor's office to discuss their options, the doctor immediately assumed that they were there to freeze eggs. But Gorgeous is transgender, and the couple planned to freeze both her sperm and Getty's eggs. "I felt like so much less of a woman than I'm used to feeling in my everyday life and in my fucking body and soul and brain and heart. It was such a yucky feeling," Gorgeous says in the video. When the doctor realized her mistake, she handed Gorgeous an information pamphlet meant for men. And that, to Gorgeous, felt like the doctor was saying she's not a real woman.
The message that being unable to get pregnant in the "typical" way makes someone less of a woman isn't isolated to doctor's offices, especially for transgender women who are trying to start families. In our culture, pregnancy is often seen as the epitome of femininity. But what about transgender women like Gorgeous, who weren't born with the biological equipment needed to grow a baby? Getting pregnant is never an option for them, and many feel that the world sees them as less feminine because of it. "In some ways [not being able to get pregnant] makes me feel inferior to [cisgender] women, and I'm sure a lot of trans women can relate," Gorgeous says. "It's like, 'Oh yeah, you're a woman. But you're a transgender woman."
Of course, transgender women aren't the only women who struggle with pregnancy. And cisgender women who can't get pregnant often feel a sense of failure in their womanhood, as well. "Women are socialized, often beginning at an early age, to assume we will become mothers at some point during adulthood (if we so choose). When this dream is disrupted by the newfound knowledge that we are infertile, an identity crisis often results — the 'self' that would become a mother, caregiver, and family member is suddenly in question," Elizabeth Merrill, PhD, a clinical psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote for the Huffington Post. Because society associates pregnancy with womanhood and femininity, not being able to conceive can make any woman feel less feminine or "real."
Gorgeous is well aware that not having a uterus and not being able to give birth doesn't make her a man, and it doesn't make her a fake woman. But still, she grapples with the feeling that if she and Getty aren't able to have biological children, her womanhood will be called into question. "I don't know why it's such a mental mind fuck to me," she says.
It's a mental mind fuck, theorizes plus-size model Shay Neary, because we still have strict and unnecessary definitions of what is feminine and what is masculine. "I hear a lot from [cisgender] women that [my] talking about wanting kids and wanting to adopt is like I'm stuffing my trans-ness in their face," Neary says. Talking about how she'd build a family reminds these women that Neary doesn't have a uterus, which they then interpret as her flaunting her transgender status. Often, these women will tell Neary that because she doesn't get a period and can't get pregnant, she's not really a woman. But thinking of pregnancy as the ultimate accomplishment of femininity leaves lots of people out, including trans women, cisgender women who can't get pregnant, and transgender men or non-binary people who do get pregnant. "Feminine is whatever you make it," Neary says. "It doesn't have a defined existence, and just because you can have children doesn't inherently make it feminine."
We need to be talking more about gender and deconstructing what we've defined as masculine and feminine, Neary says, especially in doctor's offices. The doctor who spoke to Gorgeous and Getty about what men need to do to freeze sperm and what women need to do to freeze eggs should never have discussed the options in such binary terms. And we shouldn't be thinking about pregnancy as something a "real" woman should be able to do, or as something that only women do. Transgender men get pregnant, and it doesn't make them any less masculine. And just because Gigi Gorgeous cannot get pregnant doesn't mean that she's any less of a woman.