I’ve heard this accusation bandied about before: mpreg is inherently transphobic. And, of course, my knee-jerk reaction is to want to defend it. Of course it’s not!
But is it?
At surface level, it might seem like it’s an easy question to answer. A deeper look might show us a different answer.
Mpreg Ignores Trans Men
The first case for the argument that mpreg is transphobic is that it often ignores the existence of trans men. This is often evidenced by the fact most people are surprised by the idea a man can give birth. They often feel it’s “unrealistic.”
As a result, we end up with magical and pseudo-scientific explanations for how mpreg might be possible.
Shifters, a/b/o mating systems, and even magic spells all make it “possible” for men to conceive and bear children. Yet all this magic and scientific theorizing shows we’re at pains to avoid the simplest explanation available. The character doing the childbearing is a trans man.
We can see transphobia in how quickly people want to write those stories off as “not mpreg.”
It’s as though a man having “female plumbing” automatically invalidates the story as mpreg. That’s just regular old preg, according to some people.
The Curious Case of the Omega Male
So why is a story with an omega male not just “regular old preg”? Most stories tell us that omegas, even if they’re ostensibly male, have at least some of the “female plumbing.”
That means they have uteri, ovaries, and even, in some cases, vaginas. (The exact configuration of the omega’s genitalia varies from story to story, writer to writer.)
The omega suddenly isn’t male either, even if he’s sporting a penis (or a micro-penis or an enlarged clitoris). Yet most writers will treat the omega male as “a man.”
If we look at the biological definition here, though, he’s probably closer to “female.”
At the very least, we should consider that the character is intersex or even trans. Yet so very often, we don’t.
So why do a/b/o stories get a pass on effectually presenting trans characters as cis? Why do they get a pass on presenting what’s actually “regular old preg” as mpreg?
The answer usually lies in the fact that the character isn’t explicitly trans. The omega occupies an “in-between” space. The audience is often able to continue pretending the character is a cisgender male. (And some stories even want us to assume that.)
Questioning Gender and Sex
One reason I’ve argued that mpreg isn’t transphobic is that it naturally forces us to question gender and sex. If a man can give birth, then is his identity as “a man” limited by biological function?
No, it’s not. Mpreg stories often see cisgender male characters undergoing a primarily “female” biological function, but they don’t stop being men. Very rarely do we see a character in one of these stories question his own masculine identity. We often see characters vigorously defending their masculine identities, even as they confront the stance that “men don’t have babies.”
From there, we can see that mpreg messes with our sense of gender as linked to reproductive roles. Within the context of these stories, if a character says he’s a man, we tend to accept that. We accept it even when we’re faced with evidence that would seemingly be contrary to that.
We’ll also likely disagree when other characters intrude on his sense of self. We’re likely to disagree with them that he’s in any sense feminine. We’re inclined to agree when he argues he’s still “a guy” or “a man” or what have you.
If You Follow That Logic …
What should be a natural extension of this, then, is support for trans men. If someone can fulfill the “female” reproductive role while maintaining a masculine identity, then this must be true for trans folks as well. A man is a man is a man, so long as that’s how he identifies, even if he’s pregnant.
After all, that’s the logic so many mpreg stories follow. They are thus inherently supportive, to some degree.
Any transphobia actually lies with the audience. Audiences fail to translate their support of a pregnant male character to real support of trans men. That’s transphobia. It’s a failure of imagination.
Of course, writers are often guilty of supporting that failure of imagination. They fail to point out the parallels or critique society’s transphobic streak at large. They may even believe their own work not to be supportive of trans folks, because they’re only writing “cisgender” men, who somehow become pregnant and give birth.
But that, as I’ve said, is inherently tangled up in the issue. It forces a decoupling of reproductive role and gender identity. That happens even if writers and audiences fail to recognize it and interrogate it properly.
Mpreg Fails Trans Women
Mpreg should naturally translate into an understanding of how sex and reproductive roles are decoupled from gender identity. Yet it still has a transphobic streak a mile wide.
We can argue that it supports trans men, even implicitly. But mpreg, more often than not, fails to imagine the existence of trans women.
And I’ll go back to the issue of “regular old preg” here. Mpreg fails to imagine trans women because it’s hyperfocused on the m.
It’s rare for an mpreg fic to present a character who questions gender after learning he can get knocked up. Most often, we see a (presumably) cisgender male fiercely defending his masculine identity. He’s a man, thank you very much.
And this is a larger part of transmisogyny that exists within our culture. Trans women are invisible, erased.
Confronting My Own Erasure of Trans Women
I say this as someone who only recently looked to the blatant erasure of trans women in my own work. I’ve bounced around countless fandoms over the years, reading and writing mlm and mpreg. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a trans woman character in these spaces.
There’s a paradox here, because writers in these spaces tend to love gussying up characters in drag. (I’ll blame my own fascination with it on Cloud Strife and the infamous cross-dressing segment in Final Fantasy VII.) Anime is rife with pretty boys. It’s almost a rite of passage for a writer to drop one of them into drag.
Here’s the issue, though. Even if the characters enjoy the experience, it’s almost always a “kink.”
In my dive back into FF7, I pulled several fics in which a male character had a proclivity for drag. Not once was the question of his gender identity explored.
And I’m as guilty of this myself. I was working on a fic in which one of the male leads dressed in drag for an extended time. Not once did it cross his mind or (anyone else’s) that he might not be cisgender. The idea that “he” might be “she,” if only the character were given the chance, never arose.
Leaving Stones Unturned
This issue crosses over into mpreg. We have an ostensibly male character who is often thrown into what’s constructed as the “female” reproductive role. Yet, somehow, he never questions his identity as a cisgender male. Dude might look like a lady, but dude is still a dude, thank you very much.
I don’t know. I feel like, if that happened, someone might begin to wonder if, perhaps, they were indeed “a man.”
Of course, we can suggest the consistency of the masculine identity is how mpreg is supportive of trans men. In that light, reproductive role is completely separated from gender identity.
Yet it still seems strange that we have a bunch of cisgender male characters who do something that’s pretty much the epitome of “feminine” in our society. Despite that, they never wrestle with the idea that they might not be men. There’s no angst over it, no question at all. Ever.
It’s one thing for someone to ask the question, then come to the conclusion they are indeed still a man. It’s another for them to never ask the question in the first place.
The Conventions of the Genre
Now, of course, we run into a tension here. If I’m writing mlm and one of my characters is ultimately a trans woman, I am no longer writing mlm. One of my characters is not a man. This is now m/f (even if it’s still queer as fuck).
The same is true of mpreg. If the character who becomes pregnant adopts a feminine identity, we have now left the realm of mpreg and moved back into “regular old preg.”
So even if we want to recognize trans women, to raise this possibility, our hands are tied by convention. If we write trans women, we’re no longer writing mlm—so we stop short of bringing trans women in. The end result is that trans women are erased, invisible, even if they should be much more prevalent based on how often drag and cross-dressing come up in fics.
A Line in the Sand Upholds Transphobia
And even if we want to play with this aspect, we end up stopping up just short, toeing the line. I’ve done this before, in several places. Viridian in A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale is a prime example. Viridian stops short of adopting the identity of a woman. Instead, Viridian ends up in a genderfluid or more “gender neutral” space. Viridian is nonbinary, at best, despite dressing in feminine-coded clothing and behaving in feminine-coded ways. This is explained as Viridian’s species having a differential understanding of sex and gender and a more fluid concept of it.
But it keeps the character two steps shy of being a trans woman. Taking that extra step, crossing that line, would invalidate it as mlm or m/m (even if it’s not technically that anyway).
And that’s as close as we get. It’s transphobia, because we’re afraid to include those characters, afraid that including them takes us out of our “genres.”
And we’re afraid of the reaction, the backlash from audience for daring to give them those characters. “It’s not mlm” or “it’s not mpreg” (and it’s not, but it does make for logical character development). We’re afraid audiences will be upset with us for forcing them to confront the existence of trans women instead of allowing us to erase them.
What Can We Do?
It’s a difficult question, as I pointed out. When we label something “mlm,” readers expect romance and sex between two men. If we include a trans woman, then “mlm” is harmful to our character, our audience, and the trans community. It’s much more accurate to call this m/f or mlw or what have you. Trans women remain on the periphery of these stories—drag and mpreg. But it only makes sense that some character, some time, would embrace a feminine identity. Yet we erase that in order to stay within the confines of mlm or mpreg, despite the fact the issue is right there.
So, yes, mpreg is transphobic! It never allows the pregnant characters to explore beyond the bounds of their masculinity. In doing that, we render trans women invisible and erase their existence from our work. We ask our characters to cleave to the gender binary, even as the trope forces us to question it.
There’s not a good solution for it, aside from allowing space for discussion of characters who do question this, who do play with their identity, and who have moved outside the gender binary. It may not be our main characters—as we struggle to stay within the boundaries carved out in the category. But even acknowledging the existence of trans identities—men and women alike—within the bounds of the story is a step in the right direction.