A scene from 'Seahorse'
It’s not often lately that fans of common sense have much to celebrate. But a trans man in the United Kingdom has lost his bid to be deemed the father on his child’s birth certificate – even though he conceived it, gestated it, and gave birth to it.
Astonishingly, it appears to be the first time that English common law has defined the word “mother”.
The would-be father, a natal female multimedia journalist at The Guardian named Freddie McConnell, was deeply disappointed by the decision and said that he plans to appeal. He complained:
“It has serious implications for non-traditional family structures. It upholds the view that only the most traditional forms of family are properly recognised or treated equally. It’s just not fair.”
But “it’s just not fair” to let a child start life with a lie, either. The real victim in this narrative is Freddie McConnell’s son.
This story has been brewing in the British media for so long that it has become a circus.
In 2012, in his early 20s, Freddie McConnell began transitioning from female to male. In 2014 he had a double mastectomy, but retained his uterus, just in case. In 2016 he asked his chums at The Guardian whether they would be interested in filming his journey to fatherhood. They jumped at it.
In January 2017 he applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate confirming that he was male. Like everyone else he (or more precisely, as was the case at the time, she) had to sign a pro-forma declaration stating that the applicant “intends to continue to live in the acquired gender until death”. He did not disclose that he was undergoing fertility treatment – not that he was required to, of course.
In April 2017 he was inseminated and in January 2018 he gave birth.
If the child’s conception and birth had taken place in discreet privacy, the fulfilment of the yearning of a gender dysphoric woman, it would be sad enough. But Freddie McConnell staged his pregnancy as a battle for transgender rights.
The whole process took place under the whirr of cameras, with a very pregnant Freddie walking around saying banal stuff like, “If all men got pregnant, it'd be taken more seriously.” Now his story has been released as a BBC film, Seahorse (because male seahorses gestate their young, you see). “As a member of the transgender community I had a sense of how powerful it could be to share my story,” he says.
With The Guardian and the BBC behind him to promote the cause of transmale fatherhood, powerful is the right word. Seahorse scores 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. “A nuanced, tender look at the life of trans man Freddy McConnell and his struggle to conceive and deliver his own child,” says one critic. (It’s The Guardian’s critic, so he might be inclined to over-egg the pudding.)
With the trans juggernaut rolling through the media, it’s gratifying but surprising that the High Court took a very different view. In his judgement, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, declared that:
At common law a person whose egg is inseminated in their womb and who then becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child is that child’s ‘mother’ … The status of being a ‘mother’ arises from the role that a person has undertaken in the biological process of conception, pregnancy and birth.
Which has been true for something like 1.2 billion years, and certainly as long as codified legal systems have existed.
What could be more important for children’s identity than knowing who is their biological father and who is their biological mother? The pain of being “trapped in the wrong body” can hardly be greater than the pain of not knowing where you came from. Besides, the registration of mother and father on the birth certificate is a key unlocking children’s social and medical history. If that information is false, a part of them is missing.
Furthermore, whether or not Freddie McConnell is listed as either mother or father, only one parent will ever appear on the child’s birth certificate. The biological father is an anonymous sperm donor. So this child has been robbed twice, once of a biological father and once of a social mother.
What’s iniquitous about Freddie McConnell’s plan is that he knew that his child could suffer as a result of his plan to give birth as a trans man. As Justice McFarlane observes:
… if an event occurs where YY’s [the son] full birth certificate must be produced, this is very likely to be an occasion of exquisite embarrassment and confusion for both parent and child. More than that, even if such an occasion never arises, the fact that it might arise is a legitimate cause for significant anxiety and distress on the part of TT [Freddie McConnell], and probably YY when he is older…
A nuanced, tender look at a narcissistic dad might be a better description of Freddie McConnell’s career as a seahorse.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.