Friday, 24 August 2012

Why I Can Support Breastfeeding Women

In the past few days, some have mentioned they are concerned that women would not feel comfortable seeking breastfeeding advice from a man, or even attending a meeting when a man is present. Fortunately, I have not personally encountered anything like this at my local La Leche League meetings. I have attended a number of meetings together with brand-new, first-time moms, and these moms have shared openly at meetings and returned to meetings. I believe that a man who breastfeeds is perceived very differently from a man who does not.

What those of us who attend meetings have in common is that we want to breastfeed our kids. Early in my pregnancy, I did tons of reading about breastfeeding, and one thing that came up over and over again was this: a huge predictor of whether or not you will succeed in breastfeeding as long as you want to is if you have good community, peer support. I used to read that and say to myself, "Except for me. I don't count." When I did in fact get to go to an LLL meeting before my baby was born, I was incredibly grateful. I walked into the meeting shaking with nerves. I could barely speak when it was my turn to introduce myself and I explained my unique situation. I was terrified of what people would think of me and how they would react. I looked up at a certain point and realized that the women there were smiling at me and nodding their heads as they listened to me.

When we talk about experiences of oppression and fear, I feel that I have those in common with breastfeeding women. I was yelled at by a WOMAN for breastfeeding my baby in public – she said I was ruining my child. I spoke calmly to her at the time but cried for quite a while after it was over, feeling terrible. I get stared at when I breastfeed. There are some places where I don't breastfeed because it simply isn't safe. As a transgender guy nursing in public, I am not exactly in a position of power over others. I believe that any woman who learns in 30 seconds or so that I breastfeed my baby (and of course, having breastfed is a requirement for being a volunteer leader) will know that I have been through the same grief as any other breastfeeding person.

Men who have never breastfed have not experienced firsthand what breastfeeding parents have. Similarly, if a bunch of judgemental female OB's showed up at an LLL meeting, the breastfeeding women would probably not feel comfortable. In our chapter, when a non-breastfeeding medical professional wants to attend a meeting, she must gain special permission and she is asked not to contribute to discussion. I believe this whole issue is not simply about sex or gender, but about the common experience of breastfeeding, which in our society seems unfortunately to have a lot to do with oppression.

I try to keep my attitude in life, as well as my writing, positive. On the whole, our family has received FAR more support and well-wishes than any other kind of comment (I'm talking about personal emails, Facebook messages, and blog comments – I never read comments on news articles). However, I don't think that anyone breastfeeding in public in North America today can do so without at least a hint of fear or doubt, and I am certainly no exception. This is why we need La Leche League – a safe space to share accurate, science-based information about breastfeeding without judgement.

17 comments:

  1. I just want to applaud you in your efforts to do everything you can for your little boy. You're a very brave individual and I completely relate to how you think when it comes to taking care of your #1 priority. That's exactly how I feel about my 26 month old. I would do anything I had to for him... regardless of how others treated me. I wish the LLL could be a little more open minded... Best of luck! I will enjoy following your blog.

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  2. Trevor - I was a LLL leader years ago. My youngest is 11 now (no longer at the breast). A pregnant friend sent me an article and asked for my thoughts. Like so many others I have many. Honestly I think the more people we have breastfeeding babies in whatever shape that comes in the better. I wish you could become a leader and respect you so much for keeping a good attitude and not dragging this into the gutter. It's obvious you have so much to offer. Think of the Founders. They formed LLL because there was nothing like it, nowhere for them to get parent to parent support for breastfeeding. You are a trailblazer! Be a founder! Start an organization using your LLL knowledge for changing families and unique circumstances. Good luck!!!

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    1. This is a brilliant response. I agree. You are kind of a unicorn among men, and it's just not reasonable to expect an organization to change such an important policy, especially when they have the rest of their membs to consider. Though you haven't experienced the discomfort some nursing mothers might endure by the presence of a man, that doesn't mean there aren't tons of them who would. I would love to see a new organization branch out for stronger breast feeders like you. I would support it with everything in me!

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    2. LOVE this idea!!! A transgender or otherwise nursing group!!! Your OWN LLL!!! That doesn't discriminate based on gender alignment :)

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  3. Hi Trevor! I served as an LLL leader for a brief period and left for personal reasons (I found local leadership a bit conservative for my taste.) That said I fully support you and your efforts to nurse your child. Keep it up! YOu are setting a good example for dads, and parents everywhere!

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    1. Dear Metju,
      I asked to apply because several of my local leaders suggested that I do so. They said that we don't have enough volunteers here. Couldn't I ADD a meeting to my area as a new leader, rather than replace an existing one? Also, if the organization deems it truly essential, wouldn't there be a way to let members know that my meeting would be led by a transgender dad? I would think there would be a relatively simple way to include me as a leader that satisfies everyone's needs. I believe it would send a wonderful message to queer folks everywhere if LLLI changed its policy to accept leaders like myself. LLLI aims to support all breastfeeding parents regardless of any other issues. I am enthusiastic about volunteering with LLL because it is... AMAZING.

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  5. Trevor you are amazing. I was a LLL leader years ago and have had the privilege of knowing several women whose breastfeeding journeys were inspirational to me. Your story is just powerful and just as moving as any of theirs. Your son is so incredibly lucky to have you for a parent. I'm sure it just seems like you are doing what's right for him, but there are lots of people who wouldn't or couldn't find the courage to make the choices you've made for your baby. Please don't let LLL's rejection stop you. Follow your dream of helping other LGBT parents - you have a lot to offer. Even if you help only one person breastfeed for one day you will have made an important difference in the world.

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  6. Trevor you would be a great leader. You are a special kind of father who is amazing. My husband was not supportive of breastfeeding so when I failed at it we didn't seek help. Maybe LLL could allow you to offer classes to other LGBT parents who would like to breastfeed. Not to discriminate or say that you have to be a different group, everyone would still go to the regular meetings. I wish you the best of luck.

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  7. Thank you so much, Trevor, for writing about your experiences and for pursuing this matter for other transgender parents. I also absolutely agree with you that you could be a fabulous support for breastfeeding cis-women mothers, like myself, were you to be successful in becoming an LLL leader.

    I have written a post in support of you and your efforts which is up at both my own blog, blue milk, and the Feministe blog: http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/this-is-wrong-breastfeeding-support-groups-should-not-exclude-transgendered-breastfeeding-dads/
    and
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/08/24/this-is-wrong-breastfeeding-support-groups-should-not-exclude-transgendered-breastfeeding-dads/

    I'm so glad we're now Facebook friends and I will be keen to hear how this is resolved for you.

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  8. I never went to any LLL meetups, but am a breast feeding mom who understand how necessary those meetups can be for some. I really hope they change their policy and allow you to help other moms who are trying to breast feed whether they are transgender or not! You are an inspiration to all of us, thank you for having the courage to share!

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  9. You are SUCH an inspiration!! Keep being you and fighting for the rights to be treated as the special individual you are :) Sending love to you and the family!!!

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  10. Delete or report, you are a sick person. So let me understand GOD made you a woman and you decided that what GOD did was not right so you changed yourself into a man, then you decided that you want to use your body for what GOD intended. You are a confused soul. You are going to confuse that poor child. People like you are the ones causing all these confusions and problems with these children around the world. I am a woman by GOD's design with 6 beautiful girls and all breastfed. You have made me very sad to know what is going on in this world. GOD created a perfect creation why did you chose to miss with what he created. Now you can't even do what was suppose to come natural to you. You are not an inspiration you are desperately SAD and INSANE. I'm sorry if you believe this is mean but you have deeply offended me, as a natural woman, mother and breastfeeder.

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    1. You are embarassing your G_D. Love, compassion, courage: these are things that bring glory to your G_D, not hatred, derision, and willful ignorance. Please rethink your whitewashed tomb mentality.

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  11. Trevor after reading many post from your blog and so on I think you would make a wonderful leader and as a former LLLC leader I would have been proud to lead at your side. To me LLL has always been about parenting with loving guidance and threw nursing your child until your child outgrows this need (I use the term nursing as I don't like the word breastfeeding as not every nursing parent identifies themselves as having breast) During my application I brought up many concerns regarding wording in LLLI publications and philosophies however I was reassured that these were only words and as long as I could overcome that there would be no issue and that LLLC is all inclusive. Your situation makes me wonder who else would be refused as an applicants. Would a trans-mother be approved? how about a mother in a poly-amours marriage? What if an existing leader decided to begging the process transitioning to a man? I really hope that LLLI steps up and changes as times as changed. A family is no longer defined by a mother and a father, roles are very interchangeable even in "traditional" families. I could keep on going forever however i will stop here.

    keep up the great work and remember you have supporters all over Canada and the world I am certain of it.

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