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
(see Mr. Lee's artist's
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.
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?
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
But surely you understand why some people find the idea of a pregnant
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.
I can tell you that my father for one would have donated all his
internal organs before even entertaining the idea of getting pregnant.
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!
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.
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?
I remember seeing it last year on Saturday Night Live. I
thought I was hallucinating.
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.
How would you respond to people who would consider you a pregnant
transvestite and not a pregnant man?
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.
I was just reading about one of your art projects A Hundred
Days With Lily. You have also described it as spiritually renewing
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.
I read that this was something rooted in Ch'an Buddhism. Is that
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.
Well, I must say, a pregnant man isn't something you see everyday.
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
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?
(smiles) No, I believe I'll only know the name when the child is
born. I guess we'll have to wait and see!