In July of 2018, the m/m romance author Leta Blake wrote a Facebook post discussing her reaction to the criticisms received on her Heat of Love novel series. The criticism itself came from a gay cis male reader who claimed that the novels were highly offensive as they depicted mpreg (male pregnancy). I intended to write a blog about the subject for a while and have unfortunately only just got around to it.
This blog is not actually about Blake’s books, the reaction from her reader, and the ensuing debate. That has long passed, and also I don’t feel qualified to discuss it further. This is partly due to my bias, as Blake is a friend of mine, and partly due to the fact that I haven’t actually read the books. What the debate led to me considering, and what I want to discuss, is why the concept of mpreg may be considered horrific to some audiences.
As Blake said in the comments of her post, ‘Some cis gay men are hurt by the existence of mpreg. Discussions of why it causes them pain include a feeling of objectification due to the male bodies behaving in ways that they consider to be “feminized”. It sucks that this gives them pain and I hate seeing them in pain. I do wonder, though, whether or not the source of their pain is misogyny and not the people writing mpreg. For example, the issue seems to be a rage at male bodies filling a role that has previously only been filled by female bodies. That having a man or a male body do something that a woman or woman’s body does is somehow cheapening the “manhood” of the man.’
I find this to be the crux of the argument against mpreg, from the perspective of a Gothicist. The trope of the “monstrous feminine” is one that recurs again and again in the horror genre (see Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis for the definitive work on the subject. Very often in the horror genre, the feminine body (by this, I mean the female biological body, reproductive organs and processes, which does not necessarily belong to a person with a female gender identity) is depicted as abject. This is Carrie’s first period triggering her telekinetic powers, or the start of Ginger’s menstruation in Ginger Snaps being tied to her lycanthropy. It is Rosemary’s demonic pregnancy, Alice Lowe’s incredible movie Prevenge, Ripley’s Xenomorph newborn, and a whole host of other horrific pregnancies. Audiences, and in particular cisgender men, have been conditioned by these texts to view the biology of the female body as monstrous.
Therefore, when the completely natural processes of the female body is transplanted to the cisgender male body, the horror is amplified. The most well-known example would probably be John Hurt’s character in Alien. He is orally raped by a “facehugger”, who implants his eggs, resulting in the famous “chest-burster” birth of a xenomorph. The xenomorphs of Alien have a physically androgynous design, combining horrors of both masculine and feminine biology. As Ximena Gallardo notes, the creature’s physical and behavioural presentation creates “a nightmare vision of sex and death. It subdues and opens the male body to make it pregnant, and then explodes it in birth. In its adult form, the alien strikes its victims with a rigid phallic tongue that breaks through skin and bone. More than a phallus, however, the retractable tongue has its own set of snapping, metallic teeth that connects it to the castrating vagina dentata.”
In Alien, the male body is emasculated by the concept of pregnancy, and that is, I believe, the main cause for opposition to mpreg being treated in a positive, romantic light by authors such as Leta Blake. Internalised misogyny has encouraged us as audiences to view pregnancy as monstrous, even if it is on a subconscious level. While pregnancy itself may be celebrated, the changes that occur in a pregnant body are still othered, and still cause discomfort, especially in a cisgender male audience that will never experience the reality of pregnancy. As a result, transplanting this horror onto a male form amplifies the horror of that otherness, and reinforces the fragile masculinity that allows these attitudes to continue.
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