Trans-Inclusive Language and Midwifery

Right. So we’re going to try a radical (and radically simple) act here. From here on out, Bloody Show will only use trans and genderqueer inclusive language to talk about pregnancy and birth.

Yes, the majority of people who are pregnant or who have given birth identify as women. But really that’s no excuse for not using trans-inclusive language when writing/talking about pregnancy and birth. Once upon a time I read a birth book and the author wrote a disclaimer in the beginning recognizing that although there are queer women with female partners who give birth, she was just going to use “he” and “father” to refer to the partner of the pregnant person since most partners were male. It made me outrageously mad to read that as a queer woman and to see my reality and life erased and made lesser than simply because I was not in the majority. So in that way, I’ve decided it’s outrageous for me not to be actively inclusive when I write and talk about pregnancy and birth.

I’ve been seeing more and more discussion about this in birth blogs through the interwebs, and it makes me excited. Like Mom’s Tin Foil Hat in her post Collaboration Can be Cool:

Being an ally can be a good thing, and can be really gratifying and worth it. I know it can be potentially irritating for members of these groups to point out obvious things to people like me (e.g. If you don’t have to mention gender, don’t mention it! When in doubt, leave it out. It’s easier than it seems. Pregnant woman Pregnant patient. See how simple?

I’ve just gotten to the point where I recognize that I can’t call myself a trans-ally or say that I’m interested in intersections of sex and gender and birth unless I am actively conscious about using inclusive language. So that’s what I’ve decided to do an I hope you’ll join me. Like I said, it’s a surprisingly radical act (What? Men can give birth?) and incredibly simple and easy to do. Just switch a pronoun here and, drop a reference to gender there, and you’re all set.

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8 responses to “Trans-Inclusive Language and Midwifery

  1. I stumbled across this post, and I have to say, I’m disappointed.

    You might want to think about what you’re saying: Your aim is to be trans-inclusive. However, it’s not “trans-inclusive language” you’ll be using, it is, in fact, gender neutral. And while it’s great that you’re trying to be an ally, you can talk about birth and midwifery in a way that identifies the biological characteristics present in the individual you are referring to, and then include their gender as needed, thereby doing away with the invisibility that often occurs. Though someone may identify as a man, a uterus is still required to give birth (characteristic of most people born female, regardless of anything else). Using “trans-inclusive language” for all your writing may not be the most productive thing to do. Simply using gender neutral language will only contribute to the erasure of trans existence. Think about it: If you don’t use any distinctions, you render births by trans men (of which there are quite few) indistinguishable from those by cisgender females.

    Also, your tone comes off as patronizing when you say “I’ve just gotten to the point where I recognize that I just can’t call myself a trans-ally…” yet you fail to recognize that what you’re saying will belabor (pun totally intended) your points henceforth, and likely make you sound as if don’t know what you’re talking about as a midwife.

    And as someone who identifies as trans and genderqueer, I can say that at least I’d appreciate it if the divisions made between those “two” areas of expression were left behind. It’s pointless, and only furthers existing rifts between people who could really benefit from at least a little unity.

    “Just switch a pronoun here and, drop a reference to gender there, and you’re all set.”
    You make trans-inclusion sound so easy! If only. You’ve got a lot more learning to do.

    Shape up or ship out. Fuck.

    • I am not proposing to drop all references to gender when talking about pregnancy and birth, just when talking about birth generally. I don’t think it’s appropriate to use “she” and “her” as the accepted labels to use when talking about birth in general but no one in particular. It is of course important to talk about people’s chosen gender (and their organs and body parts when discussing someone’s uterus, cervix, etc.) when talking about specific people. However, I do think it’s counterproductive in midwifery circles that we automatically assume that all of our clients will identify as women.

      I also am not so naive as to think that changing language is going to make midwifery trans-inclusive. But it’s certainly a necessary starting point, and one that will hopefully help some birth-workers who have not thought about trans folks giving birth give it some thought. Trans men giving birth is something that is often seen as a matter of course in queer and trans circles but I assure you that there are many straight and cisgender birth workers who, were it not for Thomas Beatie’s appearance on Oprah, would never have given it a passing thought.

      I am not trying to change the world or even pretend that I have it all together when it comes to creating inclusive spaces and using inclusive language. I don’t, and like a lot (most? all?) of cis folks I have a lot to learn. I see this as a small start in the right direction, not a definitive solution.

      And finally, rereading my post, I agree that the tone was flippant. It’s the end of the semester, finals are looming around the corner, and perhaps I would have made a better choice waiting to post my thoughts on this when I had the wherewithal to write a more thoughtful post. Certainly not an excuse by any means, but it is the reality for me right now.

  2. Shape up or ship out. Fuck.

    Cosigned. Of course, I don’t see this sanctimonious, self aggrandizing fool as salvageable, so you’re a lot more charitable than I would be.

    I have made a note of this site as an example of cis women’s arrogance and cissupremacy. At least she can serve as a example of the shit trans people have to put up with from cis people everyday.

  3. I have to say, I really think the comments on here were needlessly hostile. There’s a tone argument, and then there’s outright hostility.

    Look, I understand that it can get really frustrating dealing with lots of trans hatred, but when someone is trying to be an ally, it is really discouraging to see such outright hostility. This is not a trolly post. She is not making 101 mistakes here. I don’t see how gender neutral language when talking IN GENERAL, not about an individual, is erasing trans men only. There is a large spectrum of gender, as far as I am concerned, and I think gender neutral (not binary!) language is preferable in some discussions, not all.

    I am so appreciative that I had some cooperative trans activists who helped me with the project of mine that is mentioned in the post above. Ironically, I was working with them on medically oriented material, and they had a problem with the term “born as female” and even “gender assigned at birth” unless absolutely relevant, and I agree. What is wrong with “born with a uterus”? When I used the term “born biologically female” when discussing this project originally, I offended another non-trans activist group so much that they refused to work with me at all. Luckily for me, one of their members decided to independently collaborate with me. With her help, and the help of the other trans activists, I think I helped make a major piece of literature much more inclusive. That is my goal as an ally. If that’s not the kind of ally you want to work with, that is totally your call.

    I understand frustration, and I am not telling you to let us define you or asking you to educate us. I am asking you to cut allies some slack when they are obviously sharing goals (I think!) on murky issues. She is going to sound like she doesn’t know what she is talking about as a midwife if she drops a few unnecessary references to gender? How is this productive conversation? I am not being a concern troll here. Neither the OP nor my post it links to are missing 101 trans language issues. Obviously, people can get furious, and say they won’t cooperate with allies. But, when I read one trans activist use the same language another got furious at me over, while they are getting furious at another ally, I feel like there is a huge moving anger target here. I am not seeing the arrogance or shit in the original post. I am seeing an attempt to include.

    It is incredibly frustrating to see responses like this. I am a big fan of self righteous anger, I am. I am just not getting it here. You don’t have to educate me, and you get to define your genderqueer niche. I just don’t see the point of going on someone else’s blog who is making a fairly decent attempt to be inclusive and being this aggressive. I think there is a time when tone, which I believe should be allow a lot of leeway by marginalized groups, does cross a line into bullying, and I think it is not fair to hide behind a social justice veneer and be this aggressive.

  4. wow. i’m also a midwifery student. and i happen to be transgender too. as far as i know, i’m one of two or three trans midwifery students in the country right now, and i don’t know of any trans midwives (though i’d love too!)

    anyway, i give this topic of language around gender and birth a lot of thought. i am immersed in it and i have to say i am stumped. i have considered how awkward and perhaps unprofessional it sounds to drop references to gender, but i’m also uncomfortable using mother and mama as the default term to refer to all of my clients. i don’t have answers.

    i’ve been out as trans for nearly a decade, and i still don’t think i know the answers about language. it changes all the time. for example- the term cisgendered. that’s newer. it didn’t exist, or at least wasn’t frequently in use, when i first came out and was constantly immersed in the fascinating world of trans culture. we just said non-trans. i still do. partly out of habit and also because i have been living rurally, and the only other trans person i hang out with regularly is my partner, so i don’t always stay current on trends in language. my point is about how being righteous about specific words alone doesn’t really help us create a shift in culture or understanding about gender. we need to focus on what is beneath the language too.

    anyway, i was frustrated reading the above posts from other trans folks in response to bloody show’s attempts to be more thoughtful in the way she talks about birth- i was wishing for more constructive suggestions and also some understanding of how out-there and strange (in the context of midwifery culture) it is to speak about birth in ways that include trans folks… i really value her intention behind the attempts.

    i need allies in the midwifery community, who can help with the work of educating all of my peers and teachers about trans stuff. i need folks willing to dialog with me about how to walk the line with language and find ways to speak, especially about birth and pregnancy, that include me and other transfolks. so i am glad bloodyshow is here, and thinking about it, even if what she comes up with doesn’t work for everyone right away. it is still radical work to introduce the gender transgression paradigm to areas where gender is pretty fixed, and i am grateful for everyone who participates.

    i am hoping that the focus of this dialog can shift to what language could or would work, rather than what doesn’t. i want to invite allies in and break open barriers, not build them. the more folks who participate, the more chance we have of coming up with language and models of care that really work.

    and bloodyshow- i’m especially looking forward to more dialog with you! yay, queers in midwifery school!

    • Jaqxun, let’s start a revolution this fall, mkay? I think in midwifery, it’s going to take some serious sit-down, put your heads together type of dialog to really figure this out. And then the gumption to keep having these types of conversations everywhere you go.

  5. Thanks so much, jaqxun.

    Good luck in midwifery. Look me up in about 3 years. I would love to back up a conscientious trans midwife. The CNM at the obstetrics practice where I will be doing my first ob/gyn rotation is a trans woman, and I have heard she is wonderful. I am really looking forward to working with her.

  6. Pingback: More Thoughts on Expanding Midwifery: Action Steps | Notes From a Student Midwife

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