Yesterday morning I scrolled down my newsfeed in Facebook and got caught up in a discussion about the importance for inclusive language when discussing lactation. The discussion was taking place in a group for lactation professionals (note: I am not a lactation professional, I’m probably not supposed to be in that group, oops!).
I often feel a little gagged when it comes to these types of discussions. I feel like I’m not knowledgeable enough of gender issues to talk about it without saying the wrong thing or offending someone, but I want to make a commitment to do better. I trust that anyone reading this who is more knowledgeable than me on such issues, understands that my learning process may include some mistakes. I am always happy to receive constructive criticism.
Two main messages were reinforced in this discussion:
- A person that calls himself a man may not have the chromosomes that would slot him neatly into our society’s conventional image of a man. Vice versa for a woman.
- I do myself no justice when I make assumptions about whether someone is a man or woman (or otherwise), what organs they may have beneath their skin and clothes, what roles they may play in their family and anything else they do in their life and who they do it with.
I know that LGBTQ people exist, and now that I’ve had the benefit of being involved in a discussion with a very broad group of people about the issue of inclusive language in lactation, I feel humbled and spurred to make some changes.
I know men breastfeed. I know some Pygmy men allow their babies to comfort suckle, but I have also followed Trevor MacDonald’s story with interest. Have you heard of him before? He identifies as a man, but gave birth to a son and chestfed. But more than that, the more he learned about breastfeeding, the more passionate he became. He went on to become the first male to be accredited as a La Leche Leader and is now a health researcher and author in the field of LGBTQ lactation. You can read his story and follow his blog here.
The thing about Trevor is that I see more similarities between he and I, than I do differences. He learned about the amazing qualities of human milk and what it could do for his baby, and became a passionate advocate. He’s a lactivist! Basically if Trevor and I met, I’d hope we could become best friends. That alone is a damn fine reason to change my vocabulary when I’m talking about lactation, infant feeding, human milk and parenting.
While I had read stories about a few men who breastfed, it was only upon being involved in this particular thread about inclusive language that I realised what I say can actually have the potential to include or exclude people, especially those who don’t fall in the societal womanly norm. That bothers me. People who overcome huge hurdles to give their children human milk blow me away, whether they are breastfeeding, chest feeding or supplementing with human milk. I’m disappointed to think that there may be something about the words I choose to use that has not made this clear to everyone, especially those in the LGBTQI community.
I never really thought about how using words like breasts, breastfeeding, motherhood, mama and breastmilk might be potentially excluding people who wanted to lactate. Men make milk too, and I feel like I’ve been experiencing female privilege!
If it was hard for me, a cisgender woman, to find the information and support I needed in order to reach my breastfeeding goals, I can’t even imagine what it would have been for someone who is not a cisgender woman. The idea that I’ve been accidentally excluding people who are already short on support doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m committed to changing this however I can.
How I will change is an idea that’s still evolving in my mind. I will still talk about breasts and breastfeeding, because most of my posts are about my journey and I am a woman. But I will be more mindful of my words going forward, and will probably start talking about human milk more than breastmilk going forward (which is logical – we talk about cows milk, not udder milk). I will think more carefully when addressing posts to my followers, because even LGBTQ people aside, the parents following me to support their lactating partners deserve to be acknowledged too. But I would like to make it known that I support and welcome men who want to feed their babies their own milk.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association are committed to providing non-judgemental breastfeeding support. If you identify as LGBTQI and require breastfeeding support, please speak to a trained breastfeeding counsellor on 1800 MUM 2 MUM