A man of mythical proportions, Thomas Beatie has undergone extreme bodily transformation.
Sculptor Marc Quinn, who has immortalized such famous figures as Kate Moss and Batman, is interested in public fascination—even obsession—with “public” bodies and with “extreme” bodily transformation. Quinn’s 2010 London show, of which his sculpture of a pregnant Thomas Beatie was a part, examines extreme body transformations.
The Guardian writes, “The huge white marble sculpture of him is astonishing: George Michael meets Michelangelo’s David. The David reference is deliberate—it’s not simply the scale, but the sense of innocence and purity.”
The marble is the same as that from which David was carved, says Beatie. It is larger than life size, and magnificently carved, down to his boxers, which are draped in the realistic and masterful style which Michelangelo and his contemporaries rebirthed in the European Renaissance. Beatie represents a pinnacle of heroic man, achieving myth by performing what was previously considered impossible. David slaying the giant. Thomas slaying biological destiny.
“I believe Marc Quinn was interested in capturing and preserving a moment in history when the first image of a pregnant man became reality,” Beatie told me by email. Beatie posed for Quinn at his home in Bend, Oregon, while pregnant with his first child, Susan, who is now four.
Currently, Beatie lives in Arizona with his three children: Susan, Austin, now three, and Jensen, two, We spoke by phone about his current life, including his difficulties in procuring a divorce from Nancy, who is their children’s mother. As remarkable as Beatie’s life has been, his daily life today is that of a typical single father of three. He teaches tae kwon do, and is at work on a second book. He continues to be an activist for transgender issues, particularly those affecting marital and reproductive rights. Earlier this year, Thomas Beatie traveled to Sweden and spoke to doctors and politicians there, and was the keynote speaker at Stockholm Pride. After his visit, laws were struck down in Sweden that had required the sterilization of transgender people for them to obtain corrected documentation. “I am hoping what I did made a difference,” says Beatie.
Thomas was unable to visit London for the exhibit in 2010, and on a subsequent visit the sculpture was unavailable for viewing, so he has only seen photos of the larger-than-life-size, marble depiction of his pregnant self. When I asked Beatie for his response to the sculpture, he initially demonstrated an athlete and former bodybuilder and model’s attention to the details of his body, citing differences in the sculpture’s chest and nipples from his own, and of the material permanence of the enormous marble likeness. “And I thought taking a bad DMV picture, expiring in 2034, was too permanent,” he quipped. But the joking belies Thomas’ feelings of awe and gratitude. ”I felt honored to be able to contribute to Marc’s artistic message,” he says.
Marc Quinn originally contacted Thomas via email and “expressed interest in looking at people such as myself who have changed the biological destiny of the bodies they were born into, and explore the link between the dichotomy of their inside and outside appearances,” Beatie wrote me in an email conversation about Quinn’s work. “He said by looking in a positive light at the full range of human possibility rather than just a tiny slice of the norm, he wanted to make an emotional and intellectual connection with people who view his art. I thought is was a fascinating and thought-provoking way to get people to open their minds to diversity and to reassess their preconceived notions of gender expectations and expression.”
Beatie is keenly attuned to the changes his body undergoes throughout training—he competes as a martial artist against other men by weight class—and through each of his pregnancies. In a telephone interview, we talked about body dysphoria, which he says was not a problem for him through his pregnancies. He related to them in a manner one might expect a bodybuilder to discuss the routines he followed to succeed in a competition, discussing his weight and its fluctuation through each pregnancy.
Asked why he considered becoming pregnant when his wife was unable to do so, he said, “I’ve heard so many guys say that if they could they would carry pregnancies. Some guys actively say they want to. I like to think any man would do what it took for his family. I would do anything for my family, include carry a child.”
Image courtesy of TrésSugar