The Manly Art of Breastfeeding (or, hey, LLLC, I think maybe you need to be less transphobic)

20 Aug

Full disclosure: for the first year following my son’s birth, I was a member of the La Leche League Canada, and I still occasionally attend meetings. Back in the dark ages when Theo was an itty-bitty newborn, we had a hell of a time breastfeeding, and without the help of an awesome support system which included LLLC, I doubt we would have been able to persevere. So first off, thanks LLLC, for all the amazing work you do. My personal experience with you has mostly been nothing but positive.

Given the fact that I owe the LLLC a huge debt of thanks for my (still ongoing) breastfeeding relationship, it was with a great deal of surprise and dismay that I read about their rejection of Trevor MacDonald’s application to become a leader.

Trevor is a transgender father who gave birth to a son 13 months ago and has been breastfeeding him ever since. Due to past chest-reduction surgery, Trevor has issues with milk production, and uses what sounds like an SNS to supplement with donated milk. Because of this, Trevor initially struggled with breastfeeding, and credits the LLL with providing him with the help and resources he needed. Like me, Trevor would likely have been unable to breastfeed without the help of LLLC. Unlike me, the LLLC will not consider him as a potential leader. Why? Because he self-identifies as a man.

So, let’s break this down: here we have someone who brings a wealth of breastfeeding knowledge, has personal experience with milk production problems and supplementation systems, has navigated the tricky world of milk donation, and wants to share all of this with others who are in need. So what is LLLC’s problem? Well, according to a spokesperson for LLLC:

“[T]he roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Since an LLLC Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC Leader.”

and

[Trevor] acknowledge[s] that some women may not be comfortable working with a male Leader. A Leader needs to be able to help all women interested in breastfeeding.”

Er, what? So because of some outdated wording in LLLC policy that doesn’t reflect the current gender landscape we inhabit, Trevor can’t be a leader because he doesn’t identify as a mother. Oh, okay. That makes sense. No wait, it doesn’t. Why can’t they just change the wording to say that an LLLC leader must be a parent who has breastfed? Surely it’s the breastfeeding experience that’s the most important qualification?

Next, what’s up with that thing about the roles of mothers and fathers not being interchangeable? What does that even mean? Hey, LLLC, if you’re listening, I’d really like some clarification about that! Do you mean that biologically, fathers are far less likely to become pregnant, give birth and then breastfeed a child? Because less likely does not equal totally never happens. Or do you mean there’s something inherently different about the way that mothers and fathers parent, and therefore a father could never dispense parenting advice to a mother? If so, I, and a lot of people, have a bone to pick with you.

And then there’s that second quote, about the fact that Trevor, as a transgender male leader, would women uncomfortable – that quote actually makes my skin crawl. Know why? Re-read it, but substitute something about race or religion or sexual orientation in place of male. Now do you see it? Transphobia is just as awful as racism, or religious intolerance or homophobia, but because society is really only just starting to deal with the idea of trans men and women, it is tolerated way, way more frequently.

And finally, Fiona Audy, chair of the organization’s board of directors, said the following:

“La Leche League is about supporting parents who wish to breastfeed their babies, and we don’t want to get drawn into a discussion about gender issues, which is not our focus.”

I hate to tell you this, Fiona, but your organization’s ignorance and intolerance has already drawn you into this discussion. It’s what your organization chooses to do now that will define how you will be seen by me and millions of other people.

Image

Trevor MacDonald with breastfeeding guru Dr. Jack Newman

Trevor has a blog, Milk Junkies, in case you’re interested in checking it out. He has also started a Facebook group called Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies.

2 Responses to “The Manly Art of Breastfeeding (or, hey, LLLC, I think maybe you need to be less transphobic)”

  1. empressnasigoreng August 21, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    How interesting! I was a member of Australian Breastfeeding Association when my kids were little. I wonder what their position would be on something like this.

    • bellejarblog August 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      I know, now I’m so curious as to how other breastfeeding leagues would react! It’s interesting to watch our society change and try to adapt as our understanding of gender changes.

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