Pregnancy of India’s first transman: Looking into unaddressed structural issues

Inclusivity, sensitivity needed to overcome socio-structural challenges of parenthood for gender-diverse people

By Catherine Elisa John, Indhusmathi G
Published: Thursday 18 May 2023
The Indian society, through its patriarchal, male-centered gaze, tends to confine everything into heteronormative binaries. Photo: iStock
The Indian society, through its patriarchal, male-centered gaze, tends to confine everything into heteronormative binaries. Photo: iStock The Indian society, through its patriarchal, male-centered gaze, tends to confine everything into heteronormative binaries. Photo: iStock

A transgender man made the news in February this year as reportedly the first in India to get pregnant through conception by his companion, a transgender woman. It was largely viewed as a bold step challenging cis-heteronormativity. 

While this moment is certainly a cause for celebration, we need to question if the current depictions are normalising the trans couple’s struggles and failing to address the socio-structural issues at play.

The transman, Zahhad, gave birth to the child on February 8, 2023 in Kozhikode medical college. The news about his pregnancy hit the headlines after his partner Ziya, a transwoman from Kerala, announced through an Instagram post that the couple is expecting their first child. 

Read more: This Pride month, the LGBTQIA+ community wants to talk about healthcare, pandemic crisis

The couple tried different options in their three-year-long relationship, including adoption, to be a parent. However, they faced many social and institutional barriers. This led Zahhad to halt his gender reaffirmation procedures to conceive a child through natural conception. 

Ziya and Zahhad’s bold life decisions challenge the age-old gender stereotypes deeply rooted in the cisnormative, patriarchal Indian society. The Indian society, through its patriarchal, male-centered gaze, tends to confine everything into heteronormative binaries. 

Any individuals or groups moving beyond the binary are labelled ‘abnormal’ and ‘unnatural’ and are often subjected to life-threatening moral policing and abuses. Increasing hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in India is an example of the growing intolerance towards diversity in our society. 

Globally, Trans Murder Monitoring report marked 2021 as the ‘deadliest year’ of violence against gender-diverse people. Despite all this queerphobia and transphobia, Ziya and Zahhad decided to smash all the reductionist notions and stereotypes around gender roles, partnership, parenthood and family. 

The couple also chose not to specify the gender of their newborn as “they do not want to assign gender at birth” and they envisage raising their child beyond the reductionist boundaries of gender, caste, and religion. 

Many media outlets nationwide reported Zahhad’s pregnancy with much awe. However, except for a few reports, many overlooked the structural issues, mainly the legal barriers to adoption for trans couples. 

Read more: Non-binary genders need more visibility in India’s Census 2021

Aside from the significant cost involved in legal adoption, the ambiguity in current regulations make it difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community to adopt children legally.

Here, Zahhad had to suspend his gender transition process and became pregnant as the legal proceedings for them, being a transgender couple, have proven to be difficult. 

Further, the politicisation of Zahhad’s pregnancy by a few political parties in Kerala has also been a cause for concern. M K Muneer and K M Shaji, Indian Union Muslim League politicians, recently made extremely transphobic comments, even questioning and invalidating the couple’s gender identities and their pregnancy. 

Overshadowing the important social and ethical considerations, these politicians use the lives of the already marginalised LGBTQ+ community to pursue political gain.  

Cisnormativity is not just embedded within cultural stereotypes and legal frameworks but also within economic and medical norms and practices. The categorisation and promotion of pregnancy-related goods and products in the market and media are often based on the traditional understanding of normative sexual dualism. 

Almost all the products are centred around the concept of femininity, particularly ‘motherhood’, rather than the emphasis on the process that is, carrying (birthing) a child. 

It deeply alienates the gender-diverse population, including transmen who ‘choose’ to conceive children, as it would be difficult for them to identify with this ‘feminised’ pregnancy experience. 

Further, institutionalised reproductive health care norms and practices also give short shrift to the inclusive and sensitive care towards gender-diverse persons in pregnancy and parenthood. 

Read more: Centre’s ban on blood donation for transgender people, gay men and sex workers symptomatic of systemic failure

In the case of Ziya and Zahhad, on a positive note, the couple reported they received support from the doctors of Kozhikode Government Medical College Hospital.

The couple also assisted in educating the healthcare providers about their situation as there is limited institutional learning on transmen pregnancy and Zahhad was the first pregnant transman being treated at this Medical College. 

However, the transgender population, in general, often encounters significant stigma and discrimination in healthcare facilities.

It includes deliberate use of incorrect pronouns, placing them in wards that do not align with their gender identity and insensitivity, harassment and rough treatment from healthcare providers who lack training in transgender-specific medical needs. 

There is a dire need for the institutionalisation of more ‘person-centered’ practices that offer gender-sensitive interventions for transmen and all other gender-diverse persons who ‘choose’ to conceive children.

Inclusivity and sensitivity also involve being mindful of an individual’s preferred pronouns and using language that is sensitive to their identity. Media outlets have a significant reach and influence, as they have the power to not only decide what events become news but also how it is narrativised. 

media outlet reported on Zahhad’s pregnancy using incorrect pronouns, referring to Zahhad as “she/her” (also as “mother”) and Ziya as “he” and statements such as “Paval (Ziya) who will soon become a transwoman”. 

Read more: Trans people twice as likely to die as cis men, women: Lancet study over 5 decades

These misrepresentations, without any regard for their meaning, end up misleading the readers, reinforcing stereotypes, and perpetuating heterosexual hegemony. 

The above deconstruction of transman pregnancy depicts the existing gap between romanticisation and confronting realities. It is crucial to address these realities to foster an environment where pregnancy becomes a ‘choice’ rather than a ‘push’ factor to embrace parenthood.

We also need to ensure that everyone, irrespective of their gender identities or sexual orientation, can access the rights to safe pregnancy and parenthood.    

Catherine Elisa John is a PhD research scholar in Mental Health and Wellbeing at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, UK. Indhusmathi G is a PhD research scholar in Sociology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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