Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Resolution: Tackle Inner Transphobia


The hardest part about nursing my child as a trans person is that doing so forces me to come out to anyone who sees it happening.  If I nurse in public, people come up to me and ask what I’m doing. I guess they think that because I’m doing it where they can see it, this means that I am willing and available for questioning. It doesn’t occur to them that Jacob and I are nursing because we need to, because he has hurt himself or is very tired and I need to calm him down. If I nurse in front of a guest in my home, I feel obligated to explain a bit of our backstory.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook might have noticed that I’m rather dog-obsessed these days. We have a rowdy ten-month-old puppy that was having major behavior problems until he recently was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. I hired a professional trainer to come to our home and work with us. Of course, she could only come during Jacob’s usual nap-time, when he nurses a fair bit.

The trainer began her evaluation and then Jacob woke up crying. I brought him into the living room, and as I sat down to nurse him, I said something horribly awkward like, “Uh, we’re a bit of an unusual family. Ummm… I’m transgender. I was born female but took testosterone. Anyway, so I birthed him myself and I still nurse him.”

The trainer was wonderful about it. She said, “Oh, that’s fine. Now I want to show you how to teach Tadoo to accept a muzzle.”

Unfortunately, I found this trainer difficult for unrelated reasons, and located another one who was a better match for us in terms of our doggy issues. She, too, was only able to work with us at a time when Jacob was exhausted and badly needed to nurse. I could choose to either nurse him, or not hear a word the trainer was saying to us due to continuous crying. I said another explanatory spiel and started to nurse him in front of her.

The trainer said, “Oh, I’ve seen everything, don’t worry. I used to work as a nurse. A guy [sic] I used to work with was trans [a trans woman].  He [sic] and I got along really well.”

Then came the questions.

“How much milk do you make?”

Fairly innocuous. I didn’t mind to answer that. I explained that since I had chest surgery, I don’t have a full supply.

“Oh! I thought you’d gone the other way. I don’t know as much about female to male.”

Then she said something like, “When are you going to go all the way?” or maybe it was, “when are you going to complete your transition?”

Ian, my partner, told her that bottom surgery wouldn’t be very good for our hopes of having another child. I mumbled something about the risks of such a major surgery and then tried to get her back onto the topic of dog training.

There was so much in what she’d said that made me uncomfortable. I personally knew the woman that she had worked with, and I knew she would be horrified at the trainer’s use of male pronouns for her. Further, I don’t think of my transition as incomplete, but there would be no way to explain that in brief to someone who believes that gender is firmly binary.

There was something eerily familiar to me about her questioning. After her visit I remembered that medical professionals have asked me those sorts of questions, and she was indeed a retired nurse. In a clinical setting such questions are difficult because I can’t tell whether the practitioner needs to know the answers to take care of my health concerns, or if they are simply being curious (and inappropriate).  I feel like I am supposed to respond fully.

Why did I feel that I had to tell my dog trainer I am trans before nursing my child in front of her? It certainly doesn’t help normalize what I’m doing. If it is normal, then why do I need to explain it?

Coming out to her started a conversation that I didn’t want to have and led to her asking questions that made me uncomfortable. My intention was to share this as one piece of information and to get it out of the way, but that was not what happened. That said, I don’t believe that coming out to someone should give that person a right to ask intrusive questions. If a new acquaintance tells me, for instance, that she is a single mother, I do not respond by asking her, “What happened to your husband? Did he pass away, or did he leave you, or did you split up?”

My New Year’s Resolution: I am going to stop doing preemptive explaining in this sort of situation. I am going to do what I need to do, what is best for my child, and if someone is curious or confused about it, I will hand them a card with my blog on it, where I have laid everything out. I want to be an advocate and an educator, but I don’t need to continually open myself up to personal questioning in my day-to-day life. I will be brave and strong, and I will let go of my inner transphobia, embracing my own normalcy.

The trainer was excellent with our dog, by the way, and we have been making great progress.

11 comments:

  1. You're awesome.
    Sorry. I've been a silent stalker for a while (from ICBB), and felt the need to pipe up.

    People will always ask inappropriate questions. Answer what you will, and deflect what you don't want to answer.
    Your life. Your business. Your prerogative.

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  2. Beautiful resolution Trevor - the card is a great idea. Thanks for your post, I will reflect on what you said and I hope we can make this a year of not needing to come out.

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  3. You're amazing and an inspiration, Trevor. Thanks for everything you do.

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  4. That's a great resolution. What you are doing is normal and beautiful, so no explanation necessary! I found that when I am nursing my almost 6 year old, that if I do it without comment, most people won't say anything (tho they often look horrified or look away), but if I embarrassingly say something about it, I get the weird questions and sometimes even get told that what I am doing is wrong. Doing what you are doing with confidence is hard sometimes, but it works out so much better! I love your blog!

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  5. What a great plan! You are not responsible to explain yourself to everyone who enters your life.

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  6. You are an amazing parent and your son is lucky to be able to nurse for so long. I admire you.

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  7. It's interesting, and ties into your post title, that you think you have to use your trans status to justify the breastfeeding- even though cis men can breastfeed as well. I'm sure that if your husband had wanted to also breastfeed your son and was the one doing it while guests were around, he wouldn't be explaining that he was assigned female! ;)

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  8. You are an inspiration and I thank you for taking the time to share your experiences so that I can learn how to be a compassionate ally. I recently heard about the discrimination you faced from LLL and wanted to take a moment to reach out. I am Carol-Anne Brockington, The Breastfeeding Doula and am starting a certification and referral group called "Breastfeeding Doulas". My goal is to be inclusive and this means basing my certification requirements on training, skill, and experience - not gender, race, religion, age or any other reason people use to discriminate. Feel free to connect with me, you can find me on facebook and I think I'm a member of your facebook group although I haven't had much time to read through the posts just yet :) BTW, I trained with Dr. Jack Newman and was happy to see a picture of you with him today while searching for something else (not that I was surprised he would support you, he's a wonderful person :)

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  9. New here...just read your article at Offbeat Families and was impressed, so wandered to your blog. I have to admit, I am *always* afraid to say the wrong thing, despite good intentions. I know it is so very different, but I remember my mom being upset that people DIDN'T acknowledge the well-known fact that her husband left her...that the silence made it the elephant in the room. But I see a profound and insulting assumption in the comments made to you (the way you write it, it reads like she was not trying to be rude...but was). This is my fear. I want to express my caring, interest, even own my own ignorance (which would be the source of my mis-speakings)...but not at the expense of someone else's comfort, patience or dignity. I think the more we learn about people with different experiences (of any kind) -and we can only learn by communicating in person, reading blogs like yours, somehow connecting- the better we are all going to be and do. THANK YOU for your brave voice (and hopefully some patience with those of us ignorantly "stepping in it" but still caring!)...

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  10. I wish new mothers had half of the determination that you do to breastfeed. So often we see them choose formula on account of a low supply....which usually translates to a low desire or commitment. Your story is beautiful. I really admire your journey.

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  11. Hi Trevor, I am doing some research as a trainee breastfeeding counsellor. I noticed in our web article that it mentions trans women who want to breastfeed. ( should that read trans person as I could mention that it needs amendment) Anyway firstly I must admit I was surprised, I like to think I am broad minded, but I must admit curiosity got the better of me.. and as far as google goes you are the Guru. What an awesome story of determination, you are an inspiration. You have some really thoughtful comments above I agree with all. I've learned something profound today.

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