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Lee Mingwei
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Lee Mingwei

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As an artist who has had solo exhibitions at The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Cleveland Museum of Art, Lee Mingwei explores the evanescent and diurnal cycles of living. His work is based on such basic human activities as cooking, letterwriting, and now child-bearing.

A few weeks ago, writer Janice Versalius of PaperVeins magazine had a long and intimate conversation with Mr. Lee in his Manhattan apartment. An excerpt of the interview appears below. Additional interviews with Mr. Lee will also be included in the upcoming film documentary.

Janice
Mr. Lee, as we just discussed, male pregnancy may prove to be an extremely dangerous medical procedure at this point – particularly when your doctors perform your Cesarian operation. Why have you chosen to do this?

Mr. Lee
A lot of people have cast this endeavor as something terribly monstrous – a startling example of how science and medicine have simply gone too far. From my perspective, however, I am simply bringing a child into this world. There is nothing more natural and beautiful on this earth than that. This is something that I've always wanted to do.

Janice
But surely you understand why some people find the idea of a pregnant man disturbing?

Mr. Lee
Well, I understand how it may be a shocking concept at first. Biologically, women have always given birth to children, and men have not. Despite the dramatic results of the sexual revolution in the latter half of this century, there are still very distinct and concrete social roles determined by this... until now... undeniable biological fact. Now, it seems, we have several important questions to consider. Why shouldn't men carry children and care for a fetus the same way a women does? Why shouldn't a man bear a burden that women have always carried? On the other hand, why shouldn't a man be able to experience the same joy and excitement that a pregnant woman feels nurturing a child within her own body? Now I think men, as well as women, have more choices, more possibilities, more roles they can assume in their lives.

Janice
I can tell you that my father for one would have donated all his internal organs before even entertaining the idea of getting pregnant.

Mr. Lee
Yes, it's interesting that many men feel very threatened by this idea. Men getting pregnant used to be a big joke – a point of ridicule. Someone was telling me about this popular American film where Arnold Schwarzenegger's character became pregnant. The humor was based on the sheer absurdity of such a distinct feminine condition being imposed on someone who represented the ultimate paradigm of Western masculinity. It seems like something rooted in a preoccupation with very traditional gender role assumptions. There was also an episode of The Cosby Show, apparently, where the male characters dreamed they were all pregnant. Now that pregnant men are a reality, no one is laughing anymore!

Janice
I was thinking about how a lot of sitcoms, particularly in the 70's and 80's, were always filled with men dressing up women to get laughs. But when men in real life actually wanted to dress up as women, they were usually harassed or beaten up.

Mr. Lee
That's a good analogy. Drag was once considered something provocative, bizarre, and unnatural. Now we even have the mayor of New York dressing up as a woman on live television. Did you hear about that?

Janice
I remember seeing it last year on Saturday Night Live. I thought I was hallucinating.

Mr. Lee
But, he still did it for laughs. I think many drag queens who were drawn to the subversion of drag – the shock value of it – are somewhat disappointed at how mainstream it has become. And at the same time, I see many transvestites who are still marginalized by both gay and straight people. If you're a man who actually wants to become a woman, without the intent of performing or putting on a show, then you're still considered weird.

Janice
How would you respond to people who would consider you a pregnant transvestite and not a pregnant man?

Mr. Lee
Well, it's not really accurate. I'm still male afterall – biologically and anatomically. It's interesting that some people believe the definition of being a man is so precarious! And unlike the men who feel this strong desire to physically become women, I've never wished for that ... and I haven't done that. I have, however, always wanted to have a much stronger empathy with women. I love my mother and sister very much, and I'm very happy to share in something they have both experienced. Being pregnant is a wonderful feeling. It's something that all human beings – both men and women – should experience before they die. This process has been a spiritual rebirth for me.

Janice
I was just reading about one of your art projects – A Hundred Days With Lily. You have also described it as spiritually renewing experience.

Mr. Lee
Yes. I carried a handful of white lilies for three months with me wherever I went. It was in honor of my grandmother who had passed away, to pay respect to her in some small way.

Janice
I read that this was something rooted in Ch'an Buddhism. Is that correct?

Mr. Lee
The idea is rooted in Ch'an Buddhism. I had spent many years growing up in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. We learned to appreciate the simple, transient, and everyday moments in life.

Janice
Well, I must say, a pregnant man isn't something you see everyday.

Mr. Lee
Actually, I see this pregnancy as being very much in keeping with Buddhist philosophical thought. There is a strong connection I feel between myself, the child within my body, and the world around us both. And I think there is a greater awareness and empathy I now share with my mother and sister as a result of my pregnancy. Most of all, there is a level of insight and understanding about being alive – of sharing your life – in ways that I've never realized before.

Janice
I've talked with other pregnant people who have also described this sensation. I felt it strongly myself when I had my own daughter a few years ago... One last question, Mr. Lee. Do you have a name for your baby yet?

Mr. Lee
I think I'll only know the name when the child is born. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

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