Aug. 29, 2012 - Issue #880: LP
Winnipeg trans father fights for equal treatment with La Leche League
Trevor MacDonald is a guy from Winnipeg who is shaking up our ideas about gender and parenting because Trevor is a father who happens to breastfeed his son. Trevor and his family have been in the news lately because of his rejected application to be a Leader with La Leche League Canada. The group has become famous worldwide for its peer-to-peer model where mothers provide advice, guidance, and support to other mothers about breastfeeding.
Here's the story: Trevor (a pseudonym) started transitioning a number of years ago. He and his husband wanted to start a family and, as they thought adoption would take too long, decided that Trevor would carry the child. In his third trimester, Trevor became interested in breastfeeding after learning about its beneficiary effects. Armed with his gender identity and round belly, Trevor went to a local La Leche League chapter meeting to find out whether he was still able to breastfeed in spite of his top surgery. To his surprise, Trevor was warmly welcomed and with some work was able to successfully breastfeed his son. Because Trevor had such an empowering experience with LLL, he applied to become a Group Leader with the hope that he could assist other queer and trans parents.
His application was denied because La Leche League Canada (LLLC) has a policy against male Leaders; as the rejection letter to Trevor states, "since an LLL Leader is a mother who has breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLL Leader."
On the one hand, good on LLLC for recognizing Trevor's gender without any qualms. On the other, the response seems like an easy way to sidestep the tough questions that Trevor's application represents. The letter goes on to note that there is a difference between who LLL can support and who can be a Leader; as Trevor does not have an experience of motherhood, he is ill-equipped to represent an organization about mothering and breastfeeding, but is still more than welcome to participate as a group member. The debate here centers around LLL's primary commitment: it is to motherhood, or breastfeeding? Seeing as how the organization is quite adamant that its scope is limited only to breastfeeding, LLL's adherence to the gender binary is detrimental to representing the full spectrum of breastfeeding experience
As frustrated as I am with LLLC's decision, I can't say I am entirely unsympathetic with their situation because the implications of Trevor's experience are astounding. To assist with breastfeeding, Trevor uses a Supported Nursing System: a bottle of milk is attached to a thin tube which is placed beside a nipple; the child sucks both. SNS have been used for years with adoptive parents, women who have had mastectomies or women who have low milk production.
I'm not an expert, but based on what I've read about SNS, one does not have to be able to produce milk to use it. This suggests that regardless of the existence (or not) of breast tissue and mammary glands, anyone can breastfeed; in Trevor's instance, this includes fathers. Here's the really crazy part—does this mean that cis-gender fathers could breastfeed too? As trail-blazers like Trevor normalize the idea of breastfeeding fathers, does this mean we can now ask whether cis-men should breastfeed? These questions will fundamentally change the way we think about families, gender roles, and parenting responsibilities. I can't even begin to imagine an answer to them, but I am excited to see where the conversation is going to take us.
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