Thomas Beatie has been, at various times, a Miss Teen America contestant, a lesbian bodybuilder, just another clean-cut man in polar fleece in Bend, Oregon, and, most recently, that pregnant guy on Oprah. You remember. It was one of the most viewed episodes in the show's history, and Oprah asked Beatie if he had testicles, which made your reader wonder if she'd ever asked any other guest that before, and also if Oprah was aware that might be considered an impolite question in most circles. Beatie just smiled adorably and said no.
It was an interesting moment. The act of becoming something other than what you were is the underpinning of American identity and literature. It's the sinew that binds The Great Gatsby to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to, well... Oprah. And someone who's crossed so many social boundaries, you would think, might have some interesting things to say about class and gender, in the way that Pagan Kennedy's excellent The First Man-Made Man was as much about the way men and women treated each other as it was about the man who was possibly the first female to male transsexual. But Labor of Love is interesting largely in its supreme non-interestingness. It's stubbornly determined to be treacle. It's as sentimental as any glitter-encrusted card at the local drugstore, and about as believable.
Do people really feel this way? Do people really refer to their child as "an angel sent straight from heaven?" They must, but your reader is jaded, and drawn more to moments in the narrative when Beatie is mocked by his wife for laying around the house while pregnant, or to Beatie's description of a former lover, a karate champion who compulsively ate mini Chips Ahoy with chopsticks and then used liposuction to cover up the results. They're details that break through the smooth, unvariegated surface of the story and hint at something sharper and more complicated beneath.
Mostly, though, Labor of Love is a schmaltzy and surprisingly Oprah-esque tale of a traumatic childhood overcome and transformed into a stable, self-actualized, and (above all) normal life through the crucibles of love and family. It's difficult to tell how much of this is Beatie and how much of it is his co-writer, Alex Tresniowski, a senior writer for People magazine and the author of, among others, Boy Next Door: The James Van Der Beek Story.
What is undoubtably Beatie is his mysterious insistence on being referred to as the "first" pregnant man, despite the glaring evidence that he isn't. Eight years ago Patrick Califa wrote an article in the Village Voice about how his FTM partner, Matt Rice, carried and delivered their child in 1999. Other, anecdotal evidence suggests the existence of several other female-to-male transsexuals out there making the decision to discreetly go off of testosterone, get pregnant, and do their best to not be interviewed by Barbara Walters.
Beatie's claim to firstness is entirely a function of paperwork: he was legally a male in the state of Oregon at the time his daughter was born, and his medical bracelet read "M" instead of "F." But Matt Rice was taking testosterone, living full-time as a guy and working at a Bear Bar in SOMA before he got knocked up. That's some serious man credential, paperwork or no paperwork. And when Beatie grouses about how The Advocate changed the subtitle of an op-ed that he wrote from "Is Society Ready for the First Pregnant Man?" to "Is Society Ready for This Pregnant Man?" or complains at length about people who claim that he was paid for his appearance on Oprah or his interview with People, he comes across as less of a selfless, family-minded guy and more like a jock with an ax to grind against a particular referee.
And, dude, why not get paid? It's not like People or Oprah are charitable enterprises. And Beatie mentions at the end of the book that his insurance company wiggled out of covering his pregnancy, despite his going to the trouble of working out a "special policy" that would cover maternity if he decided to get pregnant. Forgive your reader her working-class preoccupations, but for all of the emotional sturm und drang of the book -- the abusive childhood, the jerk boyfriends, the mean dad -- nothing compares to the stories of Beatie trying to finesse the healthcare system. This will probably be the only time in your reader's life when she closes the covers of a book to find that the burning questions remaining in her heart have to do not with art, truth, and beauty, but with medical billing. Labor of Love may be the first pregnant man bildungsroman, but the definitive one has yet to be written.