First performed in 1968 following the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the overturning of strict theatre censorship laws, Spitting Image was the UK's first openly gay play. Seizing the opportunity, writer Colin Spencer centred his anti-authoritarian comedy on a gay male couple, one of whom discovers he is pregnant.
While a 1968 audience had yet to encounter the Family Planning Association's famous male pregnancy image created for a 1969 poster encouraging contraception use, a 2016 audience may recall the real life male pregnancies that have got the internet excited in the past decade. Thomas Beatie made headlines in 2007 as the world's first pregnant man, while Scott Moore showed his pregnancy bump for press photos with his husband Thomas in 2010. That these men are transgender shows that general public understanding of what it means to be a pregnant man has enlarged somewhat over the decades.
It is not necessary now to look up scientific words such as parthenogenesis (virgin birth) and ectogenesis (birth in an artificial womb) when wondering about the possibilities of male pregnancy. Nor need memories of a pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1994 comedy Junior resurface, although it is worth noting that the science behind this kind of embryonic implantation is technically possible (if at present fatally dangerous).
Because our increasing understanding of what it means to be male is shifting away from biological circumstances of birth to later cognitive processes of self-realisation and self-affirmation, we are now in a position to reflect that men must surely have been carrying children and giving birth throughout history and that bodies understood to be female because of their capability for pregnancy may indeed be male or non-binary. What hasn't changed is the existence of public curiosity and disapproval to pregnancies that defy the norm - a theme the play Spitting Image takes to conclusions that are at once fantastical and believable. (RO)
Spitting Image ran at the King's Head Theatre, London, from 5th to the 28th August 2016
King's Head Theatre: http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/
1969 FPA poster in V&A collection: http://tinyurl.com/ho6s6ec
More on pregnancy outside the womb: http://tinyurl.com/38pc4yp
New Scientist on virgin births: http://tinyurl.com/hmsl9es
More on artificial wombs: http://tinyurl.com/zkyv7ww
More on Scott and Thomas Moore: http://www.advocate.com/news/news-features/2010/02/01/theyre-having-baby
First produced a year after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales, and now revived for the first time in the UK, Spitting Image has plenty of sharp rejoinders to offer the pervasive homophobia of its time of writing, and retains some teeth in spite of the legal and social advances that have been made in the intervening decades.
On finding out that his expanding waistline is, in fact, a pregnancy, Gary’s life and that of his partner Tom are irrevocably changed, as they navigate the challenges of parenthood and persecution - by a government determined to experiment on their child, and a society unwilling to accept it.
Colin Spencer’s satire undoubtedly made waves in the 1960s, a decade in which an NHS survey found that 93% of people considered homosexuality to be an illness, yet a Stonewall study published in 2012 revealed that gay and bisexual men are still affected by discrimination within healthcare, and a poor understanding of the wider aspects of health and wellbeing surrounding their sexuality.
Although the piece depicts the pregnancy of a cis man for the purposes of satire, trans people experience record barriers to healthcare, and the experience can be particularly difficult for trans men who go through pregnancy and birth while living as male. Pregnancy can increase feelings of gender dysphoria (the sense that their physical body is not aligned with their identity) that are also problematic for those who are genderfluid, gender-neutral or women who define as butch.
Though the past 50 years have brought many changes for the better, there is still room to question whether our healthcare best serves those who differ from the perceived norm, or makes them vulnerable. (MH)
Spitting Image ran at the King’s Head Theatre from 2-27th August 2016 - https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/#/shows/873555320
Stonewall survey of gay & bisexual men’s access to healthcare - http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/04april/Pages/stonewall-gay-bisexual-men-health-report.aspx
Social & health challenges for transgender men who become pregnant - http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/11/07/362269036/transgender-men-who-become-pregnant-face-health-challenges
American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on healthcare for transgender individuals - http://tinyurl.com/38pc4yp
The Longest Shortest Time (how to be a pregnant butch) - http://longestshortesttime.com/podcast-41-how-to-be-a-pregnant-butch/