17 Sep 2015

What is Really Behind the “Woman-Centred Midwifery” Letter

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post attempting to claim a middle ground between gender inclusivity and feminism in the midwifery community. I am a gay, transgender man, and I am a feminist. A vicious response by a lead midwife from the group Woman-Centred Midwifery was posted and then deleted later in the day. Have no fear, I obtained a screen capture of it so we can all read it and discuss.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the issue: The Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) formerly referred to clients as "women" and "mothers," but in 2014 changed some (but not all) language in its core competencies document to refer to "pregnant people" and "birthing individuals." On August 20th, a dissenting group of midwives calling themselves "Woman-Centred Midwifery" wrote a letter to MANA protesting the “erasure” of the word “woman” from the documents.

I proposed that organizations like MANA can and should continue to use the words “woman” and “mother” in addition to gender neutral terms like “all birthing people” or “people of all genders.” There can be respect for women’s struggles against patriarchy and inclusivity of transgender, genderqueer and intersex individuals at the same time.

In response, Mary Lou Singleton, the first signatory on the Open Letter to MANA, wrote a comment on my blog post that is the most bizarre and hostile piece of misinformation I’ve ever seen. Her opinion about transgender people is made abundantly clear by her use of terms such as "medical mutilation" and "gender industrial complex."

But there's still more. Ms. Singleton asserts, "Male-to-trans billionaires pour millions and millions of dollars into promoting transgenderism, while simultaneously funding horrific anti-woman politicians and initiatives." Yes, it is true that there is one trans billionaire in the world. She doesn’t represent all trans people, who in general face high rates of poverty and are frequently victims of violence. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but painting one of our society’s most oppressed groups as the oppressors is not only far-fetched, it contributes further to the transphobia and discrimination we already encounter.

Ms. Singleton continues: “transgenderism reinforces the patriarchal caste system but being gay challenges it... The erasure of biological sex and the legal codification of sex-role stereotypes as the sole definition of male and female is the patriarchy's wet dream. ” What about individuals like myself who are both transgender AND gay? What about transgender women who are lesbians? And, let’s remember the topic at hand – midwifery care during pregnancy, birth and post partum. I can say from personal experience that being a guy with a beard, a low voice and a pregnant belly does not constitute conforming to sex-role stereotypes in our society. Nursing a baby while sporting facial hair does not constitute conforming to sex-role stereotypes in our society.

As the first signatory on the Open Letter to MANA, I assume that Ms. Singleton must have a good deal to do with the motivation behind it. I fear that we have now seen the true colours of this particular “woman-centred midwifery” group – hateful yet utterly confused.  I hope that others who signed will carefully consider the implications and will withdraw their support of such a brutal ideology.

Many thanks to Sion Jesse for providing this screen capture:


  1. Honestly, these TERF's need to evolve their gender philosophy. I understand the criticism of gender as perpetuating sexist social norms but the ACTUAL oppression is not from masculinity and femininity but the ENFORCEMENT of masculinity and femininity. If we de-coupling biological sex from social gender and allow people the freedom to be the gender they feel is right, or to be no gender at all or to pick and choose whichever feminine or masculine traits they identify with then that means freedom for ALL OF US.

  2. This whole thing is so confusing. I never expected there to be people in the midwifery community who have thoughts on transpeople like this. It shows how much real education is needed. It's complicated-- I see how there are some old school feminists who see transmen as men, therefore part of patriarchy, and yet they also see transmen who have babies as inherently women. so strange. in my opinion to see a trans person as coat tailing on privilege is absurd, as trans people are often under so many layers of oppression and challenge. thanks for all your writing on this. when i posted the series of pieces on this as it was unfolding, alot happened comment wise on my feed. good to have discussion. i found it most helpful to hear the story behind the response. one woman needed to share how much she had struggled to accept and love and fight for herself being a woman. i totally respect that. i wonder what the story is behind this signatory midwife, why the charge, what's behind it.

  3. At risk of sounding like a flag waving patriot. I am so proud you are a Canadian. You story is really beautiful. I think that what you are doing for your child is very loving. It is also really good for you and you deserve that. I believe that if a parent benefits from their bond with their child it in turn contributes to a child's sense of self worth. It is a beneficial loop and self-perpetuates. I think you should be proud of yourself. You are a smart man. Kudos to you. I would wish you luck as a Dad but I don't think you need it.

  4. This is pervert central.

  5. Good luck to you women this year trying to get in. I am thinking of you every day, really. I hope the interview goes well. I know it is tough to wait and anticipate. I know that things work themselves out too.writing a cover letter for a midwifery position read here