A British man who gave birth after his transition must be registered as a "mother" on the child's birth certificate, a family court has ruled.
Though Freddy McConnell is legally recognized as a man, having started his transition in 2013, a new court ruling says that motherhood is defined by biological reproductive processes, rather than a person's gender. What's more, the court says, men can be mothers and women can be fathers, and their ability to procreate determines which parental role will appear on birth records.
The ruling is seen as a setback for the rights of trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals, locking a person's gender to whatever is assigned at birth, rather than self-identity.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, who presided over the case, claimed "there's a material difference between a person's gender and their status as a parent." He wrote, "Being a 'mother,' whilst hitherto always associated with being female, is the status afforded to a person who undergoes the physical and biological process of carrying a pregnancy and giving birth."
"It is now medically and legally possible for an individual, whose gender is recognised in law as male, to become pregnant and give birth to their child," McFarlane added. "Whilst that person's gender is 'male,' their parental status, which derives from their biological role in giving birth, is that of 'mother.'"
This leaves McConnell, 32, in a strange legal situation: While the law agrees that he is a man, his child's birth certificate disagrees.
"I am really worried about what that this means not just for me but other trans people who are parents or who want to become parents," he told the Guardian, where he works as a multimedia journalist. "It upholds the view that only the most traditional forms of family are properly recognised or treated equally. It's just not fair."
"It's another example of how current legislation contradicts the fragile equality trans people currently have," said Laura Russell, the director of the LGBTQ+ nonprofit Stonewall.
A feature-length documentary entitled Seahorse captured McConnell's process for stopping hormone treatment, becoming pregnant, and giving birth.
But McFarlane also hinted that reforms to the family law might be needed to resolve cases like this. In his ruling, he
noted that U.K. and European law doesn't address the central question of the case and wrote that Parliament should "address square-on the question of the status of a trans male who has become pregnant and given birth to a child."
Currently, England has a tangle of laws that could apply to cases like these. There's the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 2008, the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, and the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1953. All have slightly different wording and were written without anticipating that transgender men might have the biological ability to give birth.
Other countries have less difficulty recognizing the reality of families like McConnell's. For example, the Netherlands recognizes men who give birth as fathers.