Earlier this month, BBC Two showed a documentary called Seahorse: The Dad who Gave Birth, which was made in Deal, Kent, where I dwell (the documentary is available via the internet). I am acquainted with Fred McConnell, “the dad who gave birth”, as a neighbour, and as a daughter of very nice folks locally. I knew Fred as a young woman, when she was called Jess, but there was a gender transition, and Fred finds it repugnant even to remember that her/his name was once Jess.
Seahorse (so named because male seahorses carry babies) followed the narrative of Fred’s unusual, indeed unique, journey. In the middle of Fred’s gender transition, she/he chose to halt hormone treatment to become pregnant. Fred yearned to have a child, and while female equipment such as womb and ovaries were still available, Fred chose to use them. Sperm was obtained via the internet.
And it was certainly a touching moment when a pregnancy test showed positive, and Fred, along with his mother Esmé, celebrated.
The pregnancy progressed normally and the birth scene, in a birthing pool, was shown, and a cute, blond baby boy emerged. Subsequently, Fred returned to the gender transition of female-to-male, and now regards himself as the child’s father.
From what I can gather, reactions to Fred’s story are mixed. I heard some people say “woman becomes man, then stops becoming man to give birth to a baby, then becomes man again – I can’t get my head around it.” But Fred’s stepfather, Will, probably expressed the thought that many people today may share: “It’s what Fred wants to do.” “Choice” is the ruling mantra of our time, and justifies all options.
Others will have felt, in fairness, that Fred was brave to make such a public statement which could lead to hurtful commentary – if I know anything about social media and Twitter.
It is not for me to judge Fred McConnell’s mindset, and I wouldn’t wish to be hurtful. The compulsion to shed the female identity came over as extremely strong. And my general view of natality is “the child is always welcome”, in the old Jewish saying. But for me, biology remains biology. The father is the male who provides sperm; the mother is the female with ovaries and a womb. Change all the laws in the world but that biological fact is undeniable.
I was also surprised by Fred’s reflections, during the pregnancy, that “if men became pregnant, pregnancy would be a much more important event”. Doesn’t Fred – a clever graduate who speaks Arabic – know about the history of Christianity? Or art? Pregnancy is the central event in Christianity: every day, Catholics all over the world say “Hail Mary, full of grace … blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
The Incarnation begins with the Annunciation – a pregnancy – and is the most frequently depicted subject in European art. Important? Very.
Speaking of which, two stunning art exhibitions dedicated to the Virgin Mary have just opened in Paris: one is La Collection Alana, a remarkable collection of Madonna paintings since the 1420s, at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Boulevard Haussmann, until January 20.
The second is La Madone, Femme éternelle at the Galerie G Sarti, Rue du Faubourg St Honoré, until December 20. The philosopher André Comte-Sponville, though an atheist, has described Our Lady as “the most beautiful subject, the most moving” in the history of art. I’m booking my Eurostar tickets pronto.
The new film of Downton Abbey is now showing nationwide, and to judge by a well-attended local cinema there’s an enthusiastic audience for this flight of escapism into 1927 grandee England.
For some, the star is the dowager Countess of Downton, played by Dame Maggie Smith, who is the kind of shrewd, wise-cracking old matriarch we would all like to become. For others, it’s the Russian “Vladimir tiara”, once worn by Queen Mary (George V’s wife), and displayed to advantage by Geraldine James, who plays her. The locations are exquisite and the frocks great, but the movie is rather a load of tosh. The storylines seem contrived, and the deference shown to the upper class really is excessive, even by Downton Abbey standards. And I do wish screenwriters would be aware that words such as “cover-up” and even “pregnant” are those of today, not of 1927.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4
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