The UK Insists: If You Give Birth You're a Mother, Even If You're a Man

After Freddy McConnell, a trans man, gave birth, the U.K. government insisted that even though he is legally a man, he must be listed as the child's mother. Do we need to explain why that's dumb?
September 30, 2019, 5:04pm
Photo by Cameron Whitman, via Stocksy.

A U.K. court ruled last week that Freddy McConnell must be legally registered as the mother of his child, despite being a man. Like the stories of other trans men who have given birth, McConnell having a child while in transition became a media spectacle against his will. McConnell has stopped giving interviews, and is planning to appeal the ruling.

McConnell began his battle with the U.K. government earlier this year, after the hospital in which he gave birth refused to identify him as his child’s father. McConnell requested a judicial review of the decision, making him the first trans man to seek to be named his child’s father through legal means. His case was reported on as a landmark for trans rights—if successful, his child would become the first person born with “no legal mother,” but, instead, two legal fathers.


McConnell’s identity was initially protected by an anonymity order, but as news broke of his private lawsuit, several tabloids insisted his story was of public interest, and so the subjects’ identity should be released for publication. McConnell warned “that he and his child could be victimised and bullied as a result,” but the court agreed with the tabloids, disregarded McConnell’s concerns, and outed him to the world.

Legal struggles to obtain basic rights for transgender people in the 21st century virtually all stem from individuals, social institutions, and governing bodies that fundamentally oppose the notion that trans men are men, trans women are women, and non-binary people are neither. Profound legal efforts are underway to ban trans people from restrooms, homeless shelters, and competitive sports—and all of these institutional attacks argue that biological sex supersedes the medical reality of transgender identity, discarding trans people’s right to free will and autonomy over their bodies and lives. To the U.K. government, McConnell is “female,” and therefore cannot legally be a father.

Odd, since McConnell is also legally identified as male in the U.K. As in the U.S., there is a standardized process by which trans people can alter their legal gender in transition. As reported by the Guardian, the media organization for which McConnell works, his court case marks “the first legal definition of a mother in English common law.” The State’s high court ruling says that “motherhood [is] about being pregnant and giving birth regardless of whether the person who does so was considered a man or a woman in law.” That is an outrageous opinion that both negates the State’s own existing legal recognition of McConnell’s male identity and terrifyingly imposes one judge’s arbitrary and irrational opinion about what constitutes parenthood on a citizen. The power of the government to make determinations like this have implications for anyone who doesn’t appear identical to this narrow imagining of what it means to have a child. If we take away a trans person’s parental rights, what about adoptive parents, or in vitro pregnancies?


The ruling is unjustifiable. There is simply no reason that a man should be legally classified as a mother by the State due to a perspective on the meaning of biological sex. Well, maybe there is a reason: contempt and fear for the potential loss of power that would be brought through a shifting of classical social norms. Such a shift would displace male dominance by disintegrating archaic ideas about what makes someone a man or a woman. Those ideas aren’t necessary to spell out—we all grew up within them.

In addition to revoking McConnell’s liberty, this case is abhorrent because it insists that there is an authority over you that lies somewhere within your body. Anti-transgender players, whether they’re activists or judges, are masters of magical thinking. Whatever you think about biological sex, there is no evidence to support the idea that the body has meaning apart from the meaning we apply to it. Human beings decided what sex means once; now we're ready to do it again.

By forcing McConnell to be identified as his child’s mother, the government continues to enforce a false belief of gender dependent upon sexist social structures that have long played a primary role in implementing violent and oppressive social structures such as male superiority. At its end, this act against McConnell is a defensive assault to maintain patriarchal power and the privileging of cisgender men at the expense of all others, at all costs.

How unsurprising. Of course the State does not want to declare that McConnell could possibly be a father. If that concession were made, then the government would have to admit that biological sex does not, in itself, mean anything—that instead, the will of the individual is the only credible source to turn to.

We should all be in protest at this breach of governmental authority. By setting this precedent, the high court judge who decided this man must be a mother did exactly what men have been doing to those they perceive to be women throughout history: putting them in their place.

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