Você está na página 1de 16

Journal of Lesbian Studies

ISSN: 1089-4160 (Print) 1540-3548 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjls20

The Gender of Pregnancy: Masculine Lesbians Talk

about Reproduction
Maura Ryan
To cite this article: Maura Ryan (2013) The Gender of Pregnancy: Masculine
Lesbians Talk about Reproduction, Journal of Lesbian Studies, 17:2, 119-133, DOI:
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2012.653766

Published online: 20 Mar 2013.

Submit your article to this journal

Article views: 319

View related articles

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

Download by: [The UC Irvine Libraries]

Date: 02 July 2016, At: 18:45

Journal of Lesbian Studies, 17:119133, 2013

Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1089-4160 print / 1540-3548 online
DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2012.653766

The Gender of Pregnancy: Masculine Lesbians

Talk about Reproduction

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

Department of Sociology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Heterosexism and patriarchy collude to create an expectation of

pregnancy for all women. In addition, the bodily production of
pregnancy has been socially gendered as feminine because of its association with female-bodied people. These two ideological codes
that all women should become mothers through pregnancy and
that pregnancy is a femininely gendered endeavorsuggest conundrums for masculine lesbians. This study relies on interview data
with 14 childfree masculine-identified lesbians about the ways in
which they are able (or unable) to imagine themselves as pregnant
people in their future lives. Participants navigation of the concept
of pregnancy reveal the complexity of gendered bodies and gender

butch, female masculinity, genderqueer, lesbian

The 1990s proclaimed the era of the gayby boom (Salholz, 1990), a time
when lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals (LGBs) were entering into parent
roles in greater numbers than ever before. Unlike previous decades where
the pattern of LGB parenthood was situated within a context of prior heterosexual relationships that produced children, LGBs were utilizing changes in
medical technology and changes in the sociopolitical culture that afforded
them the opportunity to plan families (Lewin, 1993).
Part of the reason for the gayby boom is the solidification of gay rights.
LGBs are now navigating a social climate in which they are afforded some
legislative security, but are still subject to heterosexist norms in child-granting
bureaucracies and social interaction (Ryan & Berkowitz, 2009). Further, as
LGB mainstream discourse moves toward the ideologies of homonormativity
Address correspondence to Maura Ryan, Department of Sociology, Georgia State
University, P.O. Box 5020, Atlanta, GA 30302. E-mail: mryan@gsu.edu

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


M. Ryan

(Duggan, 2002), the limited inclusion of LGBs into societys institutions is

accessible only to normal gaysgays who are dedicated to the U.S. ideals
of success, family, and nation, and who are gender conforming (Seidman,
2004: 204).
Consequently, these new opportunities to create families through reproduction may not be available in the same ways for gender-nonconforming
lesbians. This article seeks to address this problem by focusing on a population whose expressions of masculinity diverge from the hegemonically
mandated feminine expression for their female sex. Specifically, I present
data on the ways in which masculine lesbian participants were able (or unable) to imagine the concept of pregnancy as it pertains to their bodies and
what that would mean in terms of how they attempt to construct masculine
gender expressions on their female bodies. These are narratives about how
marginalized people navigate hegemonic, or dominant, cultural constructs.


Motherhood is characterized by its existence under patriarchy (Rich, 1986;
Rothman, 1989), and womens bodies are routinely regulated by patriarchal expectations of femininity (Bordo, 1993). Hence, pregnant bodies are
highly scrutinized to ensure feminine compliance with patriarchy (Young,
1984). Under the guise of modern technology, the pregnant body has been
medicalized to ensure pregnant womens alienation from their bodily productions (Oakley, 1985; Rothman, 1989). For example, the quasi-requirement
that births should be performed in hospitals marks the event as an illness,
an anomaly of the body, and puts decision-making power about the trajectory of the labor in the hands of physicians rather than pregnant women
themselves; the control of pregnancies and births is another method of controlling womens bodies more generally (Oakley, 1985). Pregnant bodies are
also scrutinized to ensure adherence to feminine beauty mandates. Dworkin
and Wachs (2004) conducted a content and textual analysis of a fitness magazine for pregnant women and contend that in this post-industrial consumerist
age, pregnant women are held accountable for femininity in contradictory
ways: although their pregnancy grants them positive assessment for their
maternal success, their pregnant bodies are negatively sanctioned for being
unfit and therefore unfeminine.
According to Bailey (2001), because of dominant discourses focus on
the naturalness of sex and gender, feminists who support a social constructionist explanation of gender have been reluctant to theorize about
pregnancy because of the need to talk about the body and its biological
processes. However, like menarche (see Lee, 1994), pregnancy is both a biological and cultural production and is therefore in need of feminist attention
(Bailey, 2001).

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

The Gender of Pregnancy


There are several recent empirical examples of feminist attention to

pregnancy. Interested in how first-time mothers understand their pregnancy
and early mothering experiences, Miller (2007) found that women utilize
dominant discourses about motherhood and pregnancy to make sense of
their experiences. For example, many of her participants believed that their
bodies were made to reproduce and that they would instinctively know how
to mother.
Also, Martin (2003) argues that dominant femininity scripts dictate
womens behavior even during the birthing process. As Connell (1987)
claims, pregnancies made women feel more womanly. Rather than just
achieving femininity through adherence to beauty expectations, pregnancy
and motherhood became a new feminine achievement for them.
Although popular imagination sees gender difference as natural and
inevitable, West and Zimmerman (1987) suggest that gender is something
someone does, rather than something someone is or something someone has.
They expound that doing the expected gender expression for ones sex is an
accomplishment that is institutionally rewarded; conversely, when someone
fails to do gender correctly he or she is held accountable for his or her
social transgression(s). If not for our desire to be perceived positively for our
gender and avoid negative sanctions for non-conformity, the requirement of
male masculinity and female femininity would hold significantly less power.

Halberstam (1998) describes female masculinity as the truest demonstration
of masculinity in that it is a gender expression removed from the conflation
with men and male bodies. It is an alternative masculinity, a masculinity
that is culturally ignored or framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing (1).
Crawley (2002a) argues that butchness stands in opposition to the cultural
discourse that expects all female bodies to enact a specific form of passive
femininity. As such, some scholarship suggests that gender expression has
the potential to dismantle the binary of male and female and to defy the
supposed anatomical destiny of female bodies (Crawley, 2002a; Halberstam,
1998; Maltz, 1998).
Although the expression of masculinity by a female-bodied person is
not necessarily connected to her sexual object choice (Califia, 2000), there
is a rich cultural history of female masculinity, referred to as butchness, in
lesbian communities (Kennedy & Davis, 1993). Butch lesbians, as always
visible gender/sexual outlaws, are at the forefront of cultural disapproval of
sexual nonconformity. When they receive respect in lesbian communities, it
is for their courage to withstand harassment and their ability to make straight
people nervous (Queen, 1994: 23). Female masculinity is not recognized

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


M. Ryan

by mainstream gender discourse; people who present as such cannot be

commodified by or easily included in existing social institutions (Halberstam,
2005; Maltz, 1998). Accordingly, female masculinity has been difficult to
reconcile with the feminine mandate of motherhood (Epstein, 2002).
Epstein (2002) argues that while both heterosexuals and other lesbians
may find masculinity and motherhood incongruent, masculine women have
probably always biologically produced children. There is evidence that some
butches in the 1950s, marginalized from more mainstream work because of
their masculinity, engaged in sex work and sometimes became pregnant;
they would leave their cities and return childless after the birth (Kennedy &
Davis, 1993). More than this context-specific moment of butch pregnancy,
what Epstein means when she says that butch motherhood is a possibility
that already exists (2002: 43) is that the incongruence of a masculine pregnant body is more true in mainstream notions of gender than in lesbian subcultural practices. She emphasizes that butch lesbian motherhood expands
our understanding of butchness and motherhood by encouraging us to view
masculine gender expression in a context that it is undeniably associated
with women, illustrating the complexity of masculinity and femaleness.


Data from this study are from individual interviews with 14 masculineidentified lesbians who are not parents and who have never been pregnant.
They are relatively young, with an average age of 23.8. All of them want to
become parents later in life and all of them had thought about whether or
not they wanted to be pregnant at some point in their lives. Four of them
plan on becoming pregnant, six said they have not yet decided if they will
become pregnant, and four stated that they do not want to become pregnant. For all of them, the anticipated treatment of their masculinity during
pregnancy was a key factor in their decision-making process.
Participants for this study were recruited by word of mouth, flyers, and
e-mails to local gay and lesbian organizations. All of the participants lived in
a small city in the Southeastern United States where a large state university
has a major presence. This article is the result of coding for masculine lesbian
perceptions on a larger project about lesbian pregnancy. The broader project
is based on 18 interviews with lesbian birth mothers and 22 interviews with
childfree lesbians; interviews with birth mothers focused on their experiences with pregnancy while interviews with childfree lesbians focused on
their perceptions of pregnancy. There were two calls for participation: the
first asked for participation by lesbian mothers who had experienced pregnancy within the last ten years; the other asked for childfree lesbians who
planned on becoming parents by any means. In my initial interviews with
childfree masculine women I noted an overlap in their gendered narratives

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

The Gender of Pregnancy


of pregnancy. I employed theoretical sampling (Corbin & Strauss, 1998), a

sampling method that directs the researcher to over-recruit a particular kind
of participant, so I could focus on interviewing masculine lesbians.
I count participants as masculine if the words they used to describe their
gender expressions included androgynous, butch, trans-butch, genderqueer,
or simply, masculine. I do not include interviews with people who identify as transgender or as trans men; however, I do include interviews with
two people who identify as trans-butches and with one person who identifies as genderqueer (please see Table 1 for a list of self-described gender
identities). It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the complexity of
sex, gender, and sexuality in lesbian communities and my inclusion of transbutches and genderqueer persons reflects my understanding of this. I include
these people because they include themselves in the community discussed.
All participants were given pseudonyms based on the gendered nature of
their actual names (e.g., someone named Nicole might have become Marsha; someone named Alex might have become Terry; someone named Mike
might have become Derrick).
Interviews were co-constructed between the participants and the researcher (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995) and lasted from 45 minutes to two
hours. Two interviews were conducted over the telephone and 12 in person.
The original research questions for interviews with childfree lesbians were
guided by the research question: How do lesbians imagine the possibility of
parenthood in their future lives? I would ask participants to tell me the story
of their coming out as lesbian, the story of their current gender expression,
and the story of an imagined future pregnancy for themselves. All other questions were probes based on what they said during the interview. This analysis
focuses on the masculine respondents, this time asking two new general research questions in data analysis: (1) Due to gendered heteronormativity,
pregnancy is a mandated goal for all female-bodied people. How then does
the expectation of pregnancy affect lesbians, especially butch/masculine lesbians? (2) How do masculine lesbians navigate their understanding of themselves as masculine with the concept of future pregnancies?
Studying perceptions of pregnancy, rather than experiences with it,
helps provide insight as to why some people would choose not to become pregnant. Also, because these are stories of imagined pregnancy, the
narrative of whether or not one wants to become pregnant is more accurately understood as a story of masculinity and what participants believe it to
be. In order to most effectively analyze the interpretive work of participants
negotiations with gender expectations and pregnancy, my analysis utilized
a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Consistent with this
approach, interview conversations were unscripted and changeable, no a
priori theoretical approaches were established as a lens for the data, and a
constant comparison of interview transcripts allowed themes to emerge from
the data.



somewhere between
androgynous and

butch dyke trannyboi




















androgynous but more Lesbian
on the masculine
side of things
lesbian with








TABLE 1 Participant Demographic Information







African American





machine technician

line cook

massage therapist and

grocery cashier

graduate student

clerical worker

manager of a business

graduate student

massage therapist and

food service

office manager

manager of a business


High School
BA degree
High School

High School
some college

some college
BA degree

some college

some college

BA degree

some college

BA degree
some college

BA degree


Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016














Plan for


in a long-term
(>1 year)

in a long-term
(>1 year)






in a long-term
(>1 year)
in a long-term
(>1 year)
in a relationship maybe

in a relationship yes

in a relationship maybe



The Gender of Pregnancy


Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


People who diverge from normative expectations of female femininity and
male masculinity must confront the societal expectation that gender expression must linearly follow ones biological sex. Participants in this study have
dismantled the idea that female bodies mandate feminine behavior. Given
this, they were in agreement that the concept of pregnancy as feminine is
only a social mandate and not a biological reality. For example, Anne said,
The only reason we think [pregnancy is] feminine is because other people
think its feminine. Still, when they applied the concept of pregnancy to
themselves it was difficult for masculine participants to understand pregnancy as anything other than conventionally feminine. For example, Sam
told me, I know [pregnancy] doesnt have to be all girly, but . . . no, not
for me. Its too girly for me. In fact, all participants agreed that feminine
pregnancy is a cultural construction. Still, they talked about being pregnant
as becoming, feeling, and being perceived as more feminine than one might
have been before pregnancy.

The Concept of Pregnancy as Feminine

Although participants formally stated that pregnancy was socially constructed
to be feminine, many of their comments illustrated a distinctly essentialist
understanding of pregnancy necessitating femininity. For instance, all participants noted that pregnancy introduces bodily changes that highlight biological femaleness, which is conflated with femininity. Johnny understands
that pregnancy would make her stomach, breasts, and hips get bigger.
She says, I already have large hips, but [Id have] more of that goddessy,
curvy bodythat I love on feminine womenbut that makes me want to
die when I think of having it. Generally, just being softer and more female
looking. Notice the eliding of a womans body, which she love[s] on feminine women, and being more female looking: being female, a woman,
and feminine get confused as a single entity.
While participants currently have female bodies they expressed concern that they could have more of a female body than they do now. In
this context, looking more female is evaluated in terms of how much one
might embody the requirements of looking, as she says, womanlylarge
breasts, large hips, being curvynot simply being recognized as female.
Because Johnny understands that the societal expectations for masculinity
do not include accentuating female bodies, she achieves her masculine expression through muting her biological femaleness. Pregnancy makes this
project more difficult. In fact, the feminine understanding of an immutably
pregnant female body has the power to undo the careful construction of their


M. Ryan

This association of female bodies with femininity reached beyond physical characteristics and into psychological assumptions about femininity as
well. Bailey explained that she would feel vulnerable during pregnancy:
I think thats what femininity, to me, means. Being feminine to me . . .
thats what it is, is vulnerable. Its feeling weak; feeling like anyone can
step on you at any time; feeling like your emotions are on your shoulders;
feeling like you can be taken advantage of at any time.

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

Johnny mirrors this concern:

I would look less physically imposing, like somehow weak. Even though
I think theres so much strength in being able to give birth and everything,
I think other people would look at that and think of me as more womanly
and to them, more feminine and less strong.

Including Bailey and Johnny, nine participants brought up that pregnancy

would make them feel weak. Being pregnant highlights femaleness, which
for these participants is ultimately feminine vulnerability. It should also be
noted that although these participants are sanctioned for their choices to not
produce femininity, they also receive some rewards for aligning themselves
with highly valued masculine characteristics. These characteristics allow them
to feel less vulnerable, more physically imposing, and stronger.

The Gender of Pregnancys Audiences

As Crawley (2002b) suggests, Gender and sexuality are not just done; they
are done for particular audiences (13). Even though these groups are not
real (13) but perceived, we take those presumed audiences into account
when we construct our presentations of self. Gender audiences are diverse,
as are pregnancy audiences. Participants imagined how multiple groups
other masculine lesbians and heterosexual strangersmight perceive them
if they were pregnant.
Lesbian communities have worked to establish ways to think and talk
about female bodies expressing masculinity so that these things are not seen
as mutually exclusive (see Burana et al., 1994; Feinberg, 1997; Halberstam,
1998). Although narrators felt that they had community support to discuss
being masculine and female-bodied, 11 participants (78% of the sample) felt
they would not have community support if those female bodies became
pregnant. For instance, Bailey said:
I dont think that masculine women would approve just because I think
that masculine lesbian women really tend to adhere to heterosexual
values and roles of what masculine should be. So they dont think a

The Gender of Pregnancy


masculine woman should be a masculine woman, they think a masculine woman should be a man.

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

Similarly, Justin, who identifies as genderqueer, discussed her concerns about

how she would be read by her community members. Although she does not
identify as a female-to-male (FTM) transgender person, she described having
anxiety about how trans men would view a female person who does not
identify as a woman getting pregnant. She said:
Theres a lot of pressure, even in trans communities, especially with FTMs
who have a specific idea of what it means to be masculine and they push
those ideas on other FTMs. It would really freak out a lot of FTMs to see
someone who called themselves FTM, or genderqueer, pregnant.

From Baileys perspective, masculine lesbians hold other masculine lesbians

to a particular code of masculinity; the same is true of Justins description
of FTM transgender people. Neither of these masculine codes includes pregnancy. If Bailey and Justin were going to be held accountable for their
biological sex, pregnancy would be encouraged for them. However, they
both describe different subcultural communities of masculine-identified people holding them accountable for their masculinity by discouraging them
from pregnancy.
This policing of masculinity may not be as unified as it is perceived by
participants. For example, a pregnant trans man has become major news
and trans communities are having public discussions about the meaning of
parenthood and pregnancy (Ryan, 2009). Although discussion about biological female capabilities and masculinity continues to be a contested terrain
in queer communities, what is significant is that these participants perceived
pregnancy to be a proscription for them.
Participants explained that in their daily non-pregnant lives, strangers
are often confused by their gender presentations. When strangers read their
mixed-message presentations of masculinity on female bodies they either
choose to see them as male (wherein they deny visible and audible hints
of their femaleness) or as lesbian (wherein they attach sexual orientation
assumptions to them because of their gender presentation). In a followup e-mail conversation after our interview, Justin explained how pregnancy
would change how she is read:
Being visibly pregnant, I think, would satisfy questions [about my sex].
They would thinkoh, theres a big pregnant belly . . . IT must be a
woman. Then I think I would certainly still be subject to homophobia for
looking masculine, but it would be less about transphobia [than it used
to be].

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


M. Ryan

Whereas gender audiences often look for secondary sex characteristics in

order to decide if a masculine woman is female or male, pregnancy would
provide immediate visible proof that one is female. But if they are read
as female, they believed they would be read as lesbians. Anne told me, I
especiallyI wouldnt like looking like a lesbian and being pregnant. . . . Its
about hard enough looking like a lesbian, and then looking like a pregnant
While fear of negative assessments of their pregnancies permeated all
of the interviews with masculine women, six of them (43%) had concerns
about strangers inflicting bodily harm on them because of their disapproval.
Patrick told me that she would be more fearful of being attacked and of
invoking negative reactions if she were pregnant because pregnancy would
invoke harsher reactions to her gender and sexual nonconformity. Johnny
said that the potential of being attacked for being a pregnant butch was
the first thing [she] thought about when thinking about pregnancy:
When people are looking at me as a genderqueer person, or as a dyke,
its already a little intimidating and then someone seeing that and seeing
that this person is going to be raising a childI mean, that infuriates
people and that youre in this state where youre really . . . I dont want to
say weakened, but there are certain things you cant doand if someone
attacked you it has so much more potential for serious damageyou
could miscarry, you know?

This expected harassment is unique to masculine pregnant people. They

expect that their pregnancies would make them more readable as female,
that their masculinity would make them read as lesbian, and their pregnant
bodies would suggest that they plan on being a (lesbian) parent. As such,
the anticipated retribution they describe would be a sanction for multiple
transgressions: their perceived sexuality, their gender expression, and their
plan to become a lesbian parent.


In what follows, I describe participants different solutions for keeping their
masculinity intact: rejecting pregnancy by becoming a non-biological parent
or redefining pregnancy by asserting that masculine female-bodied people
can become pregnant. Four participants say they do not want to be pregnant,
four plan on being pregnant, and six participants have not yet made a
decision. Because these are future decisions to be made, some participants
are discussed in both sections as they expressed themes that both rejected
and redefined pregnancy. Even two of the participants who do not want to
be pregnantSam and Aaronexpressed notions of redefining pregnancy.

The Gender of Pregnancy


Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

Rejecting Pregnancy
All four participants who do not want to be pregnant articulated a desire
for their partneror a future partnerto become pregnant as their pathway
to parenthood. For example, Dan always wanted to raise children, but also
knew that she did not want to be pregnant. Before meeting Clair, her partner
with whom she is currently planning a family, she had researched logistical
methods and financial resources she would need to acquire in order for a
future partner to become pregnant. Bailey told me that a perfect situation
would be if she could find a woman to have kids for [her].
Sam explained that, as a mechanic, she wouldnt be able to lift things
or be upside down in a car if she were pregnant. This is why she has
always planned on a partner getting pregnant, support[ing] her, pay[ing] the
bills, and tak[ing] care of her. In what Crawley (2002a) refers to as the
discursive practice of butchness, masculine ableness would be disrupted
by a pregnancy. For Sam, performing activities associated with the partner
of a pregnant personproviding economic supportkeeps her masculinity
In imagining herself as a future partner of a pregnant person, Aaron
named the role she would like to fulfill as being a daddy. Pregnancy does
not seem like something she wants to partake in bodily, but she said, I
could have a paternal instinct if, you know, like say if I have a partner whos
with childI could be daddy. Although Aaron identifies as a trans-butch,
she does not identify as male and yet she sees her future parent role as a
daddy. Imagining a future fatherhood role in her family is a resourceful
way this participant utilized hegemonic heterosexual notions about parental
family formations to make sense of herself in a system that ignores her
existence as a gender non-conforming queer person.

Redefining Pregnancy
Many participants have redefined pregnancy as something they could do as
masculine people four of them plan on becoming pregnant and six of
them may decide to become pregnant. Many of them want to experience
pregnancy and birth; eight participants talked about wanting to be pregnant because they have the physiological ability to have a unique human
experience. Barbara told me, I want to have that experience. Its not something everyone gets to do. Expressing the same kind of feeling, DJ told me
why she might want to become pregnant because its something a womans
body can do. She went on to say, because I have the plumbing, its an
option. Bailey also explained, its a complete experience. I would like to
go through that experience, you know? Notice how Barbara, DJ, and Bailey
talk about experiencing pregnancy without narrating it as part of a feminine identity. For some participants who wanted to experience pregnancy as

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


M. Ryan

a human capability, they were able to remove it from the constraints of social
However, for many participants redefining pregnancy by their inclusion
in the practice meant conforming to the idea that they should feel feminine
during the process. For three participants being seen as feminine was something they were willing to sacrifice in order to produce a child. Although
Sam does not want to be pregnant, she said she could be: The end result
of pregnancy would be possible, but nothing about being pregnant [would
be something to look forward to]. Id be surviving until the child got there.
Justin also explained, it does freak me out that I would inevitably feel more
feminine. I kind of see that as a sacrifice that I would make for me to
be able to experience pregnancy because its certainly something I would
Sam and Justin utilized the community discourse that sees masculinity
as an unproblematic and positive extension of femaleness so that pregnancy
might be undertaken by them. They saw pregnancy as something they were
capable of because of their female anatomy. Pregnancy, therefore, would
not be a time to express masculinity for them, but to temporarily ignore their
desire to express masculinity in order to experience pregnancy.
Five participants argued that if they were to become pregnant that their
pregnancies should be seen as masculine. Johnny explained how she has
come to think of masculine pregnancies, I think that just like female bodies
can be masculine, pregnant bodies can be masculine. If Aaron were to
decide to be pregnant she would redefine it as Johnny has, Why cant
boys have boobs?. . . this boy does, so obviously they can. So its kinda like
the same thing. Why cant boys get pregnant? This boy is pregnant so . . .
obviously its a moot point. Patrick also illustrated this point. Although she
felt her masculinity prevented [her] from being pregnant at one time, she
feels differently now. She said, [I went through a] process, coming to terms
with my butchness and my womanness, [it] helped me imagine myself as an
appropriate body for pregnancy.
Although these stories reflect a spectrum of feelings about pregnancy,
these participants were able to redefine it as an act conceivably achieved by
masculine people.


Femininity, like motherhood through pregnancy, is a patriarchal mandate
for women. Accordingly, both femininity without motherhood and motherhood without femininity are condemned. This is perhaps most true during
pregnancy when culturally idealized versions of motherhood1 and femininity
become uniquely embodied. Masculine lesbian participants in this study described their negotiation with the ideology that pregnancy cannot be masculine, highlighting the extent to which they are held accountable for femininity

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

The Gender of Pregnancy


in a culture that conflates femaleness, womanhood, motherhood, pregnancy,

and femininity. They resolved the conflict between pregnancy and a masculine self concept by either rejecting pregnancy or redefining it as something
a masculine person could conceivably do. Each choice revealed how deeply
they had been affected by hegemonic scripts about female bodies, pregnancy, and gender noncompliance.
Lesbians must negotiate dominant scripts differently than heterosexual
women because dominant scripts are not meant to include them and because
lesbian subcultural norms drastically diverge from the expectations of dominant culture. In response to rationales against their mothering, Hequembourg
(2007) explains that some lesbian mothers adopt a politics of normality
(84) in which they attempt to mold their experiences into dominant cultures
expectation of heterosexual motherhood. A politics of normality approach
necessitates motherhoods salience over lesbianism (Hequembourg, 2007),
which disallows masculine lesbians from participating in this approach. Unlike lesbians who may pass as heterosexual, masculine lesbians motherhood
options are more limited because they are held accountable for their masculinity and their lesbianism on a daily basis.
Doing gender is often read as the presentation of sexual orientation.
Gender audiences read female masculinity displays as bodily evidence of
lesbianism. Because heterosexuality is a constitutive element of femininity,
all lesbians are held accountable for the gender transgression of their nonheterosexual sexuality. However, being visibly read as lesbian means that
masculine lesbians are always held accountable for their transgression of
femininity and heterosexuality. Although masculine childfree lesbians would
certainly be held accountable for not being feminine, not being heterosexual,
and not being mothers, participants felt that masculine pregnant lesbians
would be held accountable for being the wrong kind of mother, one who is
unfeminine and non-heterosexual.
Pregnancy is a uniquely instructive process for dealing with the concept
of doing gender. It allows us to think about how we do gender while
managing our bodies, and it highlights dominant cultures ability to make us
feel accountable for experiencing our sex in a gendered fashion.

1. Although motherhood and pregnancy should not be conflated, hetero-patriarchal ideals situate
pregnancy as a pathway to motherhood.

Bailey, L. 2001. Gender Shows: First-Time Mothers and Embodied Selves, Gender
& Society, 15(1): 11029.
Bordo, S. 1993. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Los,
Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016


M. Ryan

Burana, L. Roxxie, and L. Due. 1994. Dagger: On Butch Women. San Francisco, CA:
Cleis Press.
Califia, P. 2000. Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism. San Francisco, CA:
Cleis Press.
Connell, R.W. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, The Person and Sexual Politics. Palo
Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Corbin, J. M. and A. Strauss. 1998. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and
Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. London, UK: Sage Publications.
Crawley, S. L. 2002a. They Still Dont Understand Why I Hate Wearing Dresses: An
Authoethnographic Rant on Dresses, Boats, and Butchness, Cultural Studies,
Critical Methodologies, 2(1): 6992.
Crawley, S. L. 2002b. Prioritizing Audiences: Exploring the Differences between Stone Butch and Transgender Selves. In Michelle Gibson & Deborah
Meem (Eds.), Femme/Butch: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go
(pp. 1124), New York, NY: Harrington Park Press.
Duggan, L. 2002. The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism. In R. Castronovo and D. D. Nelson (Eds.), Materializing Democracy
(pp. 17394). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Dworkin, S. L. and F. L. Wachs. 2004. Getting Your Body Back: Postindustrial
Fit Motherhood In shape Fit Pregnancy Magazine, Gender & Society, 18(5):
Epstein, R. 2002. Butches with Babies: Reconfiguring Gender and Motherhood. In
M. Gibson & D. Meem (Eds.), Femme/Butch: New Considerations of the Way
We Want to Go (pp. 4158). New York, NY: Harrington Park Press.
Feinberg, L. 1997. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis
Rodman. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Glaser, B. and A. Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for
Qualitative Research. New York, NY: Aldine De Gruyter.
Halberstam, J. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
. 2005. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Hequembourg, A. L. 2007. Lesbian Motherhood: Stories of Becoming. New York, NY:
Harrington Park Press.
Holstein, J. and J. Gubrium. 1995. The Active Interview. New York, NY: Sage Publications.
Kennedy, E. L. and M. Davis. 1993. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of
a Lesbian Community. New York, NY: Penguin.
Lee, J. 1994. Menarche and the (Hetero)Sexualization of the Female Body, Gender
& Society, 8(3): 343362.
Lewin, E. 1993. Lesbian Mothers: Accounts of Gender in American Culture. New
York, NY: Cornell University Press.
Maltz, R. 1998. Real Butch: The Performance/Performativity of Male Impersonation,
Drag Kings, Passing as Male, and Stone Butch Realness, Journal of Gender
Studies, 7(3): 27386.
Martin, K. A. 2003. Giving Birth Like a Girl, Gender & Society, 17(1): 5472.
Miller, T. 2007. Is This What Motherhood is All About?: Weaving Experiences
and Discourse through Transition to First-Time Motherhood, Gender & Society,
21(3): 337358.

Downloaded by [The UC Irvine Libraries] at 18:45 02 July 2016

The Gender of Pregnancy


Oakley, A. 1985. The Captured Womb: A History of the Medical Care of Pregnant
Women. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.
Queen, C. 1994. Why I Love Butch Women. In Roxxie Lily Burana and Linnea Due
(Eds.), Dagger: On Butch Women (pp. 1523). San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.
Rich, A. 1986. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New
York, NY: Norton & Company.
Rothman, B. K. 1989. Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal World. New York, NY: Norton & Company.
Ryan, M. 2009. Beyond Thomas Beatie: Transmen and the New Parenthood. In
Rachel Epstein (Ed.), Whos Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting (pp. 139150). Toronto, Canada: Sumach Press.
Ryan, M. and D. Berkowitz. 2009. Constructing Gay and Lesbian Families Beyond
the Closet, Qualitative Sociology, 32(2): 153172.
Salholz, E. 1990, March 12. The Future of Gay America, Newsweek, 23.
Seidman, S. 2004. Beyond the Closet: The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life.
New York, NY: Routledge.
West, C. and D. H. Zimmerman. 1987. Doing Gender, Gender and Society, 1(2):
Young, I. M. 1984. Pregnant Embodiment: Subjectivity and Alienation, Journal of
Medical Philosophy, 9(1): 4562.

Maura Ryan, Ph.D., specializes in the study of gender identity and activism
in LGBTQ communities; she is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at
Georgia State University.