This is getting out of hand. I cannot believe the hoopla Trevor has created regarding his desire to be a LLL leader in Canada. For those who don’t even know who or what I’m talking about, I’ll start at the beginning, but I’m going to give the short version.
My own prejudice first. I was a LLL leader for ten years. I also happen to be lesbian married to a transman. I had three children I breastfed for years and my partner, then presenting as a woman, had a baby that he also breastfed for 2.5 years. This topic isn’t foreign to us.
Trevor came out as a man and had his breasts removed (Top Surgery… Bilateral Mastectomy). Then a few years later, with his genitals and female insides intact, decided to birth a baby. Once the son was born, he wanted to breastfeed. Trevor says he has milk, but it’s hard to say how much since he uses an enormous amount of donor milk (16 different donors by the time his son was 7 months old, so he says in his blog Milk Junkies) and from what I know of Top Surgery, most, if not all (female) breast tissue is removed and the nipple is (usually) completely removed and replaced (women’s nipples are very different than men’s, even if women are AA sized), making the milk ducts all but inaccessible. If he has any milk at all, it would almost be a miracle of science and possibly a malpractice of his plastic surgeon. To feed his son, he uses a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) to give the donated breast milk. Trevor started going to LLL meetings and eventually, a LLL leader friend thought it’d be good for him to lead support meetings which led to his wanting to be a LLL leader and his applying. Because he is a man, he was turned down. LLL is a mother to mother organization and Trevor identifies as a man.
Question: If Trevor was born a man and was “breastfeeding”, would he be as welcome at meetings as Trevor? Or is Trevor really being seen as a woman and that is why he is so accepted? I believe it’s the latter.
Trevor’s invading women-only space does an enormous disservice to both transmen and LLL alike. Why is it so important to have every. single. place. be both male and female? Why can’t there be male-only and female-only spaces? Is being politically correct really that important? Still?
You can read LLL’s requirements for becoming a leader here. It’s clear the roles of mother and father are delineated. Some might find this sexist and that it’s just not keeping up with the times of the science of possibilities, but can’t there be a place where mothers are permitted to just be mothers? Is it gender bias to request that women have a space where men aren’t looking at intimate areas of women’s bodies? While Trevor says he has had no problems at his group, I know there are plenty of women who would never attend meetings if he was a leader (or any other man for that matter). As it is, when guys hear that Zack and I got together at a LLL meeting they are not happy, thinking that they never had to worry about the meetings being pick up spots (not kidding; we’ve been told this on a number of occasions). Men can become Lactation Consultants or Peer Counselors and hired on a one-on-one basis, but can’t LLL just be a place for mothers to come in a group setting?
But, there are other issues that come into play that disqualify Trevor from being a LLL leader. LLL is extremely clear about not mixing causes and it doesn’t take two seconds on Trevor’s blog to see that two of his causes are milk sharing and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (LGBTQI) issues. LLL has very strict limits on milk sharing and wrote Trevor about it, which he published here. They say:
A Leader shall never initiate the suggestion of an informal milk-donation arrangement or act as an intermediary in such a situation. If a mother wishes to discuss these options – which may include donating expressed milk, wet-nursing or cross-nursing – the Leader’s role is to provide information about the benefits and risks, as mentioned above, including the limitations of home sterilization of expressed breast milk.
Regarding being a specialty leader such as an LGBTQI leader, they say:
I would also like to address your interest in leading an LGBT LLL meeting. I think that it is important for you to know that we do not accredit specialty Leaders. So for example Leaders often say that they need a working mother as a Leader for their Group because she can relate to the mothers in the population the Group serves - I would disagree - what qualifies a Leader to relate to those mothers is her experience of mothering, not her experience of separation. Similarly in this case it is the experience of mothering through breastfeeding which qualifies a Leader to help others. Any Leader can help anyone who is interested in breastfeeding. LLL has accredited a number of lesbian mothers as Leaders. They lead Groups for all mothers.
While LLL initially turned Trevor down (in the letter above, they have since written a statement saying they will look at the issue that has never been presented to them before. This is where I get testy.
A letter of “support” was written that could be cut & pasted or signed and sent to LLL and that letter began:
As the world's most important breastfeeding support organization, it is vital that you include all kinds of breastfeeding families. Regardless of any other issues, LLL should support breastfeeding relationships. I was very disappointed to hear that a transgender dad in Canada was told not to apply for leadership because of his gender identity.
Excuse me? LLL supports ALL families. LLL does not exclude any families from their support, knowledge or information. LLL also did NOT tell Trevor not to apply for leadership. It explained to Trevor why he was not a good fit for leadership, the same way they tell women every single day why they are also not a good fit, either. Some who apply are; most who apply are not. And this is just how the letter began! In this angry tone. What the heck?! This makes it sound like LLL is a vile organization that has unreasonable concerns about trans issues, namely transphobia when, by every bit of correspondence that Trevor shared (without LLL’s permission, I might add), you can see that LLL is extremely respectful and kind. Why Trevor and his spouse decided to write the letter in this tone is beyond me, but it has pissed me off more than any other aspects of the whole topic.
I’ve said in various threads around the Net that if Trevor wants to lead the specialty breastfeeding groups, he will be amazing at it! No, he doesn’t just need to limit himself to LGBTQI groups or milk sharing or SNS groups, but those can definitely be his focus and forte just as each of us midwives also tend to have specialties, too.
Trevor is definitely traversing new ground and it’s awesome that he is. It needs to be tread, but I don’t believe it needs to be tromped on through LLL’s land. I would love to see him start his own organization and I would be one of the greatest supporters. I am all for trans procreation and breast supplementation… fabulous! Zack and I are both on the same page with this issue.
Leave LLL alone, Trevor and others; find another avenue for your energies… something positive and joyful. We have enough fighting in our lives. I don’t believe we always have to shove ourselves into middle of the road organizations, especially ones that are single sex only spaces. Let’s create something for us… just for us… and show the world how great we are and how strong we can be. There’s more than enough to go around.
So, there’ve been a number of comments on my Facebook page, many that I wish were here in my blog… that I will cut and paste and put here in my blog because they are so important I think they should be here. While I disagree still with several of them, many make valid points and clear up incorrect points that I made in my original post. Trevor asks that I correct these points lest other transmen come by and think they won’t be able to nurse, so here I share what others say, both writing what their thoughts and beliefs are and correcting incorrect information.
Jay Simpson says:
To respond to the above comment re: qualifications to help a mom. Jack Newman certainly never breastfed a baby and I seriously doubt he EVER will. And there are plenty of female IBCLC's and breastfeeding helpers who have NEVER breastfed. So by the above comments they would be inappropriate helpers as they have no idea what this breastfeeding thing is all about. They have NO personal experience with Normal - they cannot relate to nor truly understand anything a woman with any kind of breastfeeding challenge (normal or not) would go through.
However, Trevor IS breastfeeding and doing so quite successfully. Trevor (I assume) likely had to work with latch issues - he has a male chest which is not generally easily conducive to nursing. He must make sure baby is latching properly or he will have sore nipples just like any human breastfeeding improperly. And baby must be in proper position (in infancy) in order to get a proper latch. So Trevor HAD to know and do ALL the normal things in order to ensure successful and comfortable breastfeeding. In fact - I'd hazard a guess that he had to be creative in his thinking in order to do so. And creative thinking is often required in helping women breastfeed as not all bodies are shaped the same and what works for one mom will NOT work for another.
Using an SNS has become more commonplace than I like (I am an IBCLC in the field for nearly 18 yrs). Insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) is becoming a more common problem women. This puts him alongside many normal women who choose to supplement at breast. And frankly using an SNS is a royal pain - it takes dedication to use one for every feeding or even some feedings. I have only known a handful of women who could tolerate using it for more than a month or so at most. I applaud Trevor for his success.
Any man can experience mastitis as can any woman who has never breastfed. This is fact. Also fact is that any human can deal with thrush of the breast tissue (or any other part of the body) without being a lactating human. Obese people deal with this regularly in fact.
So before one starts thinking that Trevor does not have a 'normal' experience, is not mainstream enough and is therefore not qualified to sit alongside of any woman who is trying to learn to breastfeed, or be qualified to take a leadership role, let me say that I strongly disagree with that and will state that in my professional opinion, Trevor is likely more qualified through personal experience and a desire to be well educated than many who are out there practicing and 'helping'. He has the ability to take a difficult (at best) situation and make it work phenomenally well. Trevor clearly understands what it takes to have some semblance of normal in an unusual situation. Something many moms I work with have to also deal with daily. Trevor is clearly a leader in this aspect and has the unique ability to be able to take his unique situation and help others because of it.
Trevor is welcome to come work with me any day - any time. I'd frankly be honored to have him work along side me as I believe he can offer insights to struggling parents that many 'trained' professionals cannot. It is time to stop judging people - period.
Trevor answers, in part:
You are right that latching was quite challenging for me. I had to really work to create a good "breast tissue sandwich", as they call it, so that my baby could latch properly. I did get extremely sore in the first few days before I had everything sorted out. I also experienced intense engorgement when my milk came in because some of my milk ducts were severed and milk got backed up. I used a trick told to me by a wonderful midwife: I applied raw, grated potatoe to the angry, hot, red areas of my chest. This helped immensely to take the heat and pain away until my body re-absorbed the milk.
Ian, Trevor’s partner says in part:
This week I've watched you say that Trevor's transition was malpractice (or that he is lying about his milk production) and that LLL is a private group that ought to be for women only.
These arguments make the world smaller for trans people. You're saying trans folks ought to accept limited function and sensation with transition, and that they must conform to gender-binary systems.
LLL currently accepts genderfluid members. You want LLL to define as women-only and bar non-gender-binary folk, so you're arguing for decreased services. LLL told Trevor the ONLY reason he couldn't apply for leadership was his gender identification. Where we live, that's not acceptable under our human rights code. You're arguing for decreased rights. LLL isn't private. They're a nonprofit. You invented that fact to argue in favour of segregation.
Let's make sure the next generation of genderfluid people get better outcomes than we have.
I respond: I said his milk supply must be miniscule considering the amount of milk he’s had donated and that he’s had Top Surgery. I’ve since read that the ducts can grow back together if enough time has passed since the surgery and the surgery wasn’t as dramatic as my partner’s. I apologize for assuming most Top Surgeries were as dramatic as his (he had 3 pounds removed from each breast and each nipple shaved down and moved 6 inches from where it originally was… not that every guy has that much breast tissue! I do know that!). When I told him which surgery Trevor had, he said that was one of the least dramatic and he could absolutely understand why he would, indeed, have milk afterall. So, I was incorrect there. I apologize.
I do have a question about the only reason LLL said Trevor couldn’t apply, though. When I read the letter on The Reject Letter page, it seemed clear the milk sharing and LGBTQI issues were also a part of why he was not being permitted in. Is this not true? Trevor says he doesn’t mix causes at meetings, but he is (by now) pretty darned famous and very well-known for milk sharing and the our alphabet soup issues, so mixing causes might very well disqualify him just on those two reasons alone.
Oh, I did want to address Trevor’s comment here on this site, too. I did minimize his nursing experience and that was unfortunate. The nursing (not breastfeeding… big difference) relationship has an importance all its own and should be acknowledged. Trevor, even if he had zero milk, has nursed his child all these months and that has been amazing and wonderful. Bringing your child to your breast many times a day, holding him, comforting him, loving him through skin-to-skin contact are unique opportunities for joyfulness.
Okay, I think I got it all. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it and will add more.
Interestingly, even with all the arguments and trying to convince me, I still stand by my original belief that LLL has a right to not have Trevor be a leader. I wonder if it’s because I’m stuck in my 1980’s mindset, though. Am I that old? I’m pretty progressive with trans issues, but being so new am still growing through those, too. Maybe this is an area where this is a growing pain. I’m working on a post for the (private) transZACK blog. This is definitely an amazing experience for me to explore. Thanks to everyone for helping me work through this. Little did you know what you were doing.