“If all men got pregnant, it’d be taken more seriously” – behind the scenes of Seahorse
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“If all men got pregnant, it’d be taken more seriously” – behind the scenes of Seahorse

This is a film about me having a baby. But what I feel like I’m going through isn’t
me having a baby or pregnancy, it’s like a much more fundamental,
total loss of myself. So I’m Freddy McConnell and
Seahorse is a film about how I became a dad and how as a trans man I chose
pregnancy and birth in order to do that. Male seahorses give birth
and carry their babies. Trans dads who give birth
call themselves seahorse dads. It’s a word that we use for ourselves so it felt like a sort of continuation of the idea
that this film was told with my consent and is meant to reflect
the truth of my experience. That’s the baby’s heart, just here. Just a film about starting a family
and I happen to be trans. That’s the order in which
things should fall. Since beginning my
transition, I’d spent many years thinking about how I would one day start a family. Once I got used to that idea, thinking about documenting it, I wanted to make
this film because I’m a journalist and I thought I understood
the pitfalls to avoid. I’m painfully aware of how some people really struggle to understand and
empathise with trans people and I just thought, well maybe that can be
really powerful. So, here at the Guardian, obviously
we’ve been reporting trans stories in lots of different ways for quite a while and it seemed to me that we hadn’t done
a really major trans story on video in a way that we could get
people really excited about. So, right from the start of the process
when Freddy came to me, we talked a lot about just
having to find the right people to do this, people who are going to be
sensitive but also collaborative. I came up with a shortlist of directors that we should meet up with, one of whom
was Jeanie, of course. As soon as I met him,
he just raised so many questions for me about what being pregnant meant for me
when I had my child 15 years ago and also I just had lots of questions
and I wondered what the effects of pregnancy would be on a man having a baby,
on a trans man. I sort of described my idea to
her and she immediately described it back to me better or in a more filmic
way I suppose than I’d said it to her in the first place. Grain were a really great company who treat everyone involved in their films with respect. It seemed like
that would be a great fit. It was pretty brutal crossing out her
and she, wish I didn’t have to do it. I knew from the outset that I was very
different to Freddy and I just sort of felt that I didn’t need to be trans to
understand Freddy’s story but I needed to understand the ways in which trans
stories have been told in the past, that were hurtful to the community, so you’re
never gonna hear Freddy’s dead name in the film, you’re never gonna see cheesy
before and after transition photos because transition is not a magic trick. Sometimes having that third party is the
problem in trans storytelling and it takes all the agency away
from the subject and results in manipulation and
betrayal and simplification and sensation and that sort of thing, but
thinking Seahorse, it makes it the film that it is because
it is so universal and that’s what surprises people when they see it. What are they going to put in this
other details box? My partner and I … … both have ovaries. It’s true! It’s true. This is like our version of having sex. Another reason for working with other
people was to avoid the situation where when things got hard I just put the
camera down. I knew that at those moments it would be really tempting to give up. I wanted to know that when it got hard, it wouldn’t be the end of the story. I love knowing that I’m incubating
my own baby. I wish I could just be a pregnant man. I think this is a film that’s
challenged me perhaps more than any other film I’ve made, it was like an
emotional marathon. I think it was really hard for everyone. You know, there’s real
moments of joy in the film but it’s also extraordinarily difficult. Once I start,
it just doesn’t … It just doesn’t stop. I don’t think anyone realised
the dysphoria that Freddy felt would be quite so difficult and so you put someone in a situation that’s enormously
personally challenging and then you add a film … we add me into the mix. That’s really tough and I don’t think
any of us realised it was gonna be as hard as it was but I’m so happy now that we persevered
because I feel like the film really evokes emotion in audiences and that’s been
really powerful. I think I totally underestimated the difficulty of
actually being on camera and being filmed a lot. I remember thinking to myself,
well this feels really odd but I’ll get used to it. And I never got used to it. Learning from Jeanie, as we went along,
that was OK and making that part of the process, rather than, now there’s something
wrong because it’s uncomfortable, that was a hard lesson to learn. I think if all men got pregnant,
then like my God pregnancy would be taken so much
more seriously and talked about. Fuck! This is fucking awful. If men had to go through this all the time
you’d just never hear the end of it. Well done, Freddy, well done! Right way back years ago
when I was thinking about, wow, wouldn’t it be amazing
to share my own experience of becoming a dad. You know, I sort of stopped myself
almost and was like, yeah, but you know it would have
to include the birth, in order to be the kind of
powerful film you want it to be and also, you know, why shouldn’t it? But, you know, it still scared me
and it scared me right up until the day it happened and I
knew I always had the freedom to say no but I didn’t want to say no, I really
wanted that to be in there because that would be beautiful. I’d never seen someone give birth before, so the experience of filming
it was very intense. I had the conflicting emotions
of, am I getting the shot? Is this in focus? While, you know,
managing my own tears. It seemed liked a fitting end to the emotional experience
of making Seahorse to end up with the birth of this lovely baby. So this is the first feature documentary that we’ve made at the Guardian. It’s been so exciting
showing the film to people and that’s what you do this for,
you make films for audiences and in particular with a film like this, because
it can be such an agenda-setting film and it can get people to think about
parenthood in a slightly different way. It’s just really exciting to get
people’s reactions to it. I remember very vividly watching
the almost finished film for the first time. I was anxious and despite having gone through it,
it just had no idea really what to expect and thought how could you make a
film that feels whole and then we watched it and it did. It did, it was like magic. I really want you to watch Seahorse
because it’s a film about love and family and, just spend
90 minutes of your time and find some empathy for Freddy
and his extraordinary yet ordinary story. I think you will take something from it,
no matter what you’re bringing to it. It’s a trans story told in a totally
different way. In telling the bigger story,
you end up with a dad and a baby. and that’s just not something
that’s as enticing to the tabloids. I felt like if we could sort
of get past that like danger zone of me being vulnerable
to exploitation, the story could be told on our terms
rather than it being lost in a sort of hysterical conversation
about a pregnant man. I’m really glad that people
are going to see this. I wanted it to have a
positive impact for my community and to build empathy and I think it’s going to
achieve what I wanted it to achieve which is extraordinary.

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