From the time that Zeus gave birth to his brainchild Athena, the trope of male pregnancy has traditionally functioned as a metaphor for men’s creative generativity. In the realm of science fiction, the trope took on a bent towards exploring horrific and comedic storylines—Alien (1979) and Rabbit Test (1978) offering respective examples—often, as with the 1994 film Junior, vacillating between the two through the figure of the zany (in reference to Sianne Ngai's work).
The trope skews viewers’ understanding of “natural” biology and reproductive processes, and in this, I would posit that it has always operated queerly. This queerness, however, takes a more prominent role in contemporary media that works to portray more sincere depictions of queer family-making onscreen. Take, for example, “The Tsuranga Conundrum”—a 2018 episode of the long-running BBC science fiction television show Doctor Who. In this episode, the cast encounters a pregnant extraterrestrial man. Although the show still plays to a few laughs, its focus is not on the humor, horror, or metaphorical creativity created by the man’s state. Instead, the pregnant man discusses the idea of putting the child up for adoption because of his fears that he will make a poor parent.
In this clip, the difficult experience of childbirth is amplified by the chaos enacted by an alien invasion on the spaceship where the pregnant man is in labor. Yet, the focus is not on this horrific experience, but the continued birthing efforts and familial concerns of the pregnant man, who is aided by Doctor Who and her companions.
His concerns highlight a shift that views the queering of pregnancy as queer, a welcome inclusion as same-sex and transgender parents move out of the tabloids and into more mainstream representation, perhaps reflecting the fact that more and more LGBTQ-identifying adults are creating families of their own. According to a 2013 survey, for instance, 35% of LGBTQ adults are parents currently and another 16% of respondents expressed that they hope to have kids in the future (Pew Research Center). And while “The Tsuranga Conundrum” continues to operate in the realm of science fiction, it acknowledges the real experiences of a growing number of its LGBTQ viewers.
Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Harvard University Press, 2012.
Pew Research Center. “A Survey of LGBT Americans.” Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends, 13 June 2013. www.pewsocialtrends.org, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/chapter-4-marriage-and-parenting/.
“The Tsuranga Conundrum.” Doctor Who, season 11, episode 5, 4 Nov. 2018. BBC One HD.