What does it mean to be a butch midwife? I personally know a few lesbian midwives (and know of many more), but none of the lesbian midwives I’ve spoken with are openly and outwardly butch in appearance currently even if they are out to their clients as queer. I know transmasculine midwives and student midwives who dress masculinely, but no cisgender butches. Granted, I’m still pretty green in the midwifery world and I certainly don’t know everyone, but I’m guessing if there are other butch midwives, we are a pretty rare breed.
Note: I focus in this post on midwifery because, well, that’s where my brain is these days. However, I know there are many butch and gender non-comforming birth workers out there. One great example is Miriam Zoila Perez who continues to do the birth work world proud as a butch/genderqueer doula.
I identify (most days) as a soft butch and as a dyke. It’s an identity I have taken years to come to and one that is still evolving. I have figured out what that identity looks like in most of my life, but when it comes to midwifery it’s all still a bit of a mystery to me.
I have spoken to most of the queer midwives I know about what it is like to be practicing as a queer midwife, their particular challenges and joys in the process, and sought advice for myself when I finally begin to practice as a bona fide midwife with my own clients. What I haven’t been able to suss, though, is how do you dress and present as a butch midwife? More importantly, how do I want to dress and present as a butch midwife?
Just in time for this post, dapperQ has begun a series on fashion in the workplace. Seems like this issue has been on other people’s minds recently as well. Jody Mousseau kicks off the series with her own story of coming into her butch identity and what that meant for her in the workplace:
As an adult tomboy/soft butch, changing my fashion in my private (i.e. non-work) life to one incorporating the men’s clothes that I feel comfortable in was no problem. However, I initially had my reservations about taking this mode of changing fashion into the workplace. My primary concern was, “how will people react?” I had been dressing a certain way for years, and although I was uncomfortable dressing in somewhat feminine clothing almost the entire time, this very public transition in the workplace was difficult. But the process began.
However, dressing for midwifery is a bit more nuanced than business casual in an office. I more or less get how to dress butchly in an office setting (if I may be so bold as to invent words here). With midwifery, though, people wear everything from flowing purple caftans to mini skirts to just plain jeans and a (often birth/midwifery-related) t-shirt. Most midwives I know dress less formally than business casual. This is for some a calculated move to help put clients at ease mixed with the knowledge that practical clothing is important when you can get called to a birth at any moment.
Another challenge, perhaps the main challenge for me, is the history of midwifery as (straight, gender-conforming) women’s profession. It’s hard enough being out as queer as a midwife and how that affects your client base and who is willing to hire you, but try being masculine of center midwife and the game just got that much harder. (And don’t even get me started on how difficult it is to be trans and doing birth work, that’s a whole different story for another day.) Clients who might be able to stomach a lesbian midwife may not be willing to embrace one who dresses in men’s clothing. Or maybe not, I don’t know yet. Maybe any client who is comfortable with a queer midwife doesn’t mind if she is also butch. Maybe all of this worry is for nothing. Who knows? That’s part of the point – I can’t know until I actually try, in part because I don’t know any other butch midwives who could share their experience.
It’s nice and lovely to tell someone to be yourself and dress how you feel, but what about when it affects your bottom line, your ability to feed yourself and your family, even your ability to work in your chosen profession? For me personally, it means thinking very carefully about where I choose to move to join or set up a practice (and thank goodness I have that flexibility of geographical location, many midwives are not so lucky). It also means doing some more soul searching about my identity and presentation and how that fits into midwifery for me personally, making sure that however I choose to present feels genuine to me and helps me feel confident and professional.
Stay tuned for my upcoming post trying to suss out what one actually wears as a butch midwife.