In Virginia Woolf's novel 1928 Orlando, her hero-heroine had the rare privilege (and curse) of living for 100 years as a man, then for 100 years as a woman. Orlando's soul remains the same, but his body inexplicably changes overnight. He/she is able to experience the world from two vastly different realms, with all their unique delights and hindrances.
The novel was based on Woolf's dear friend and sometime lover, Vita Sackville-West, a happily married woman who in middle age went out of her way to look masculine. (Even Woolf grew appalled by her unplucked brows and bristly moustache.) Like Orlando, Sackville-West was denied ownership of her family's ancestral estate in Kent because she was not a man.
In 1937, one of Vita Sackville-West's servants gave birth to the illegitimate son of the chauffeur at Sissinghurst Castle. The boy was named Gordon Langley Hall, and raised by his grandmother. As an adult, he emigrated to the United States, became a noted author of biographies, and became a woman.
Gordon had begun to menstruate in 1968, and doctors were shocked to discover that the man was actually more woman - he had underdeveloped ovaries and only a rudimentary penis. So Gordon underwent one of the nation's first sexual reassignment surgeries to become Dawn Pepita Hall ("Pepita", interestingly, being the name of the ballet-dancer grandmother of Vita Sackville-West). Once she became a full woman, it seemed the flamboyant writer had never been anything other than a Southern belle.
One year later, however, she deeply offended her South Carolina community by marrying a black mechanic; it was the state's first mixed marriage, and violent acts followed the nuptials: Someone firebombed a crate bearing their wedding gifts, poisoned their dogs, and fired on them in the street.
In 1970, Dawn Langley Simmons did the seemingly impossible by giving birth to a daughter, Natasha. A local promptly broke into the Simmons home, tried to murder the infant, and raped Dawn before throwing her from a third-floor window. The family finally fled South Carolina for New York. The brutal racism that Dawn Langley Simmons faced for a large part of her life is far more shocking than her sex change.
Today, an Oregon man born as a woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl, after sensationalized appearances on Oprah and Larry King Live. He was called the world's first pregnant man. Thomas Beattie's wasn't the first intersex pregnancy, though. In 1999 Matt Rice, born a woman, had a son via artificial insemination. He and his male partner - also born a woman - have raised their son Blake together.
This all raises the question: If you have a uterus, are you really a man? In the cases of Beattie and Rice, the answer is an unequivocal yes. They identify themselves as men and live as men. They are not women. They are not the Third Sex revered in Hinduism. But they are a new kind of man, willing to embrace both aspects of their sexuality and use them for all they have to offer. They are the true Orlandos among us.