“Seahorse : The Dad Who Gave Birth”

A Pregnant Male

Amos. Lassen

The seahorse, a marine fish, is the only vertebrate species on earth where the male becomes pregnant. Because of this it becomes the perfect metaphor for the rare (at least for now) phenomenon among humans where a trans man decides to carry and give birth to his own child. Even though such men still have ovaries and other biologically female organs, the process of fertilization and pregnancy is not as easy as one might think because of the hormone treatments (including testosterone injections) that they undergo, which suppress the body’s original estrogen. Yet it is not impossible, as we see in director Jeanie Finlay’s moving portrait of Freddy McConnell, following him throughout his lengthy, emotionally and physically grueling journey to become a parent. The documentary has a lot to say about profound truths about sex, gender identity, empathy and love.

When we first meet McConnell  when he faces a decision and is hesitant, but eager, feeling that his fast-approaching thirties will only complicate matters.  He will have to stop testosterone treatments and this is sure to affect his body and self-image. His close friend CJ is also trans meaning that he will not go through the pregnancy alone. As prepared as Freddy may be, however, situations inevitably become more fraught, but he never seesaws in his commitment. He is very lucky to have Esme Esme, an extraordinarily supportive partner and she is his mother and stays by his side the whole time. She is a model to all parents on how to champion one’s child. At the end, when we are in the hospital at the moment of birth We have come to know Freddy and Esme so this is a perfect ending.

The narrative is structured around interviews – some staged, some coincidental with Freddy’s families and friends.  Phone conversations woven in as voiceover, observational footage, self-shot confessionals by Freddy, and archival material show us Freddy as a young girl. She also cuts in sequences of actual seahorses which, with their ethereal movements and striking texture, and a lyrical touch making for an evocative mix and a look at a reconstruction of a life fully lived. To avoid the story becoming the slightest bit sensationalized McConnell had assembled his own crew to be able to tell his story and then entrusted Finlay to take over.  It turned out to be the perfect call.

McConnell had just finally become comfortable in his own skin after he transitioned and although he had an overwhelming desire to be a parent, he was extremely apprehensive of now stopping his testosterone and how that would affect him both physically and emotionally.  He had originally planned to include his best friend CJ, as a co-parent and they even went as far to seek out sperm for a black donor so that the child would look like CJ too..  However that relationship ended and McConnell moved out of London and back to his mother’s house in the small seaside town of Deal.

On his second attempt, McConnell became pregnant and his mother became his biggest support and protector.  Throughout his pregnancy which was playing hell with his hormones, he spoke a great deal about his mood swings and his concerns about how his body was taking on more of its old feminine aspects. However no matter what worries he raised about the whole journey, he was determined to be a parent. He had to think long and hard about how he shared the news of his pregnancy so that he could avoid the unusual aspect of this scenario being used for sensationalism. McConnell’s relationship with his own father who had left the family home when he was just 8 years old was very unpredictable, so he broke the news in an email because he  feared that  a face-to-face meeting would not end very well. Asides from that his mother and he only told a handful of very close friends but even so one of them simply could not let her prejudices upset the McConnells and the rest of the family one sunny afternoon in the garden.

Any doubts that McConnell (and anyone else) were beginning to have about the whole concept of a trans man giving birth completely dissipated when Jack was born.  The sheer joy on McConnell’s face said it all, as had the very close bond son and father quickly formed. It takes an enormous amount of courage for people like McConnell to the system and its status quo that is totally geared around cis woman. He did so unapologetically and with charm and charisma. At the end of the journey McConnell expresses concern about his own naivete about the full physical and emotional extent of reactions. but he professed that regardless he had not one single regret.

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