Guest post by Sarah Knott.
On a warm July evening, I was in London for the premiere of Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth. There was a sense of historical moment. The documentary can claim to be some kind of first: a filmic representation, where there had been none before, of a trans man’s story of pregnancy and birth.
The film explores Freddy McConnell’s distinctive story of wanting to have a child. Against a backdrop of rising transphobia, he pursues conceiving, being pregnant and giving birth to his son, Jack. For seahorses, of course, the male carries the young.
In an interview with The Guardian, McConnell observed that film and TV documentaries about trans people have tended to be sensationalized, and that their subjects have invariably felt betrayed. “Production companies will say, ‘It’s going to called something sensitive,’” he remarked to journalist Simon Hattenstone, “and it ends up being called something like Trapped Bodies Get Sliced Up!’”
So McConnell assembled his own team to work with acclaimed director Jeanie Finlay. They collaborated for over three years: at medical appointments, along beaches, around the tables of cafes and living rooms, and in a hospital delivery suite.
The resulting film is a series of love stories. At the outset, there is McConnell and his best friend CJ, who is non-binary and uses the pronoun “they.”
Then there is McConnell and his mother Esme, an acute observer of people and a remarkable ally to her son. “My mum noticed that men’s bellies sit very similarly to the way pregnant bellies sit,” McConnell has remarked. “So nobody’s going to think you’re pregnant. People read gender in less than a second – so if I had a beard, it would not matter what the rest of my body looked like, they would read me as male.”
The final love story is that of McConnell and his child, in one of the most tender birth scenes to have reached the screen.
The Q&A that followed the London premiere ranged widely, from gender dysphoria to gender convention, from the warmth of midwives to the chill of medical bills, and from interviewing recalcitrant family members and friends to putting cameras at the scene of birth itself.
Birthing always blends the universal and the particular, and perhaps in no case more effectively than in this innovative, lyrical and intimate film. Seahorse offers us a new story for our third decade of the twenty-first century, an account to be put alongside new trans parenting memoirs such as Trevor MacDonald’s Where’s the Mother: Stories from a Transgender Dad (2016).
Sarah Knott is a writer, feminist and historian. She is the author most recently of Mother Is A Verb: An Unconventional History, a memoir and a history of pregnancy, birth and the encounter with an infant. At Indiana University, she is an associate professor in History and a research fellow of the Kinsey Institute.