Butch Midwife

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.

8 responses to “Butch Midwife

  1. Very interesting. I know a local midwife who has been asked whether or not she is a Christian and lost clients because she isn’t. It’s funny, it seems that the type of woman who uses a midwife for an out of hospital birth seems to be split down the middle between very conservative Christians and very liberal hippie types. As I am very much on the left, I don’t think it would bother me at all to have a butch midwife. The only thing that mattered to me was having someone who was highly skilled and had a warm demeanor. I did really want to find a woman of color but was unable to so I am guessing that there are lesbian couples who would love to have a lesbian midwife and might actually seek you out because of it.

    • Elita, thanks for sharing that insight. I do know I am a whole lotta things conservative folks in general don’t like – queer, butch, Pagan, liberal, etc. etc. etc. I’ve in part reconciled with that fact for my own practice although I’d of course love to be able to serve everyone. I know some queer midwives who don’t present (like me) as so visibly queer and they sometimes choose not to come out to conservative clients. I know another midwife who lost a lot of very conservative Christian clients when she came out. After those clients went on to have their next baby in the hospital, she’s finding many of them returning to her again with their subsequent babies for care because despite their views on queerness, they really appreciated the care she gave. So clearly part of it is relationship building and location in general.

      You know, I do a lot of talking and thinking about how we can have more midwives of color and I think it’s one of the most important things the midwifery movement can focus on now. But writing these two latest posts and reading replies like yours is helping me to remember that my own particular identities and experiences really fills a niche out there for the queer community. So maybe I can’t practice in a rural area, but I can live with that.

  2. Not so good at sartorial advice, but just wanted to say YAY. Butch midwife… when it came up on my reader I did a double take. Am I dreaming? Two things I love.. butches and midwives.. IN ONE?! What a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    My best advice: rock on with your bad self. Make no apologies for who you are. I recently moved to the south and had many fears about being here with my (WOC) partner, especially since I am a health care worker and birth worker and do very intimate work with folks. But what I’ve found is that as long as you’re giving excellent care, neither my colleagues nor my patients have seemed to care about my queerness. And if they do… that’s their problem!

    I do have moments where I fret about coming out to patients — especially when they ask me personal questions. But my feeling is that I’m there to care for my patients, and it’s not about me. They don’t need to know about my personal life and it would interrupt my focus on them to bring my concerns, insecurities, fears about being judged, etc into their care. I don’t hide who I am, but I also go about with the attitude that it’s not my problem if people make false assumptions about me. And I know that no one can question that I do my job with professionalism, compassion, and genuine care.

    Keep moving forward. Do your thing. Don’t worry about the homophobes who can’t “stomach” you (!!). You’ll have plenty of clients who will respect and love their awesome butch midwife.

    • I don’t hide who I am, but I also go about with the attitude that it’s not my problem if people make false assumptions about me.

      I love this! I have long said that if people can’t tell I’m queer by looking at me, they probably just don’t need to know.

      Thank you so much for your kind words as well. It’s good to know there are other folks going through similar experiences. I’m going to keep feeling it out as I go, being as true to myself as I can be.

  3. This is an interesting line to walk regarding clothing, I’m sure. I know my preceptor (and her fellow midwives in her Dallas birth center) all wear scrubs. It is comfortable and can be quite informal. And the great thing is that there is such variety in scrubs these days. I am sure you could find something that worked for you and your clients.

  4. I would like to invite you to join a discussion group I am facilitating. Details are below. Please feel free to pass this along to others.
    All the best,

    Gender and the Childbirth Professional
    Facilitated by Kristin Kali, LM CPM

    A discussion group for birth professionals–midwives, student midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, and those aspiring–to connect with one another and form community. Through facilitated discussions, participants will be invited to self-examine, identify and articulate how their gender affects their work. The group will actively engage in separating fears from reality. Through personal reflection, birth professionals will enhance their ability to engage clients in understanding how gender informs their pregnancies, births and parenting experiences. Together, group members will examine ways to educate and support their own birth communities toward greater acceptance of all genders.

    This 6 week, online, real time discussion group will connect birth professionals from across the country. Participants can call in or join online. Those with video capability may join the group on screen, allowing participants to see one another. Join us for this lively and inspiring conversation. Open to people of all genders and orientations.

    Meetings are held weekly on Thursday evenings at the following times, according to your time zone:

    3:00 Alaska/Hawaii
    6:00 Pacific
    7:00 Mountain
    8:00 Central
    9:00 Eastern

    The group starts Thursday, September 22, and the last meeting will be Thursday, October 27.

    RSVP: info@maiamidwifery.com

  5. Pingback: On the Road Again | Bloody Show

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