Posts Tagged ‘womanism’

Trans Women, Lactation, and Exclusion

August 19, 2010

While I have discussed the obstacles faced by cis women who wish to breastfeed many times, I have neglected to delve into the reality of trans women and their experiences with breastfeeding. This is unacceptable, and a reflection of the cis privilege that I enjoy. Contrary to popular belief, almost every person regardless of gender has the necessary equipment to nurse a child. If you have a healthy breast, you can probably breastfeed.

Now, when a cis woman wants to breastfeed, she is in for an uphill battle. She will get so much misinformation from health care professionals, well-meaning relatives, friends, and advertisements. Her decisions on when and how frequently to nurse are going to be policed by total strangers. If she nurses for “too long,” people will accuse her of being selfish (as if there were no health benefits to full-term nursing or child-led weaning); if she doesn’t nurse “long enough,” then people will accuse her of being vain or lazy (as if there were no legitimate reasons to choose not to nurse or to choose mother-led weaning), which not only is disrespectful to a woman’s bodily autonomy, but also feeds the “rabid baby-fetishing mommy-guilting breastfeeding zealout” meme and turns more women off to even considering breastfeeding in the first place. If she wants to take breaks at work to pump, she will have to deal with coworkers and superiors who may be less than understanding.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for cis women. For a trans woman, take all of those issues and multiply them by a million.

Misinformation regarding, well, almost anything about trans women’s lives is regurgitated and unchallenged by the vast majority of the cis population (who, naturally, dominate the medical profession as well as every other discipline of our society). Trans women have to deal with discrimination from the medical community on a horrific level; things that cis women do without much thought, such as filling out medical forms, are not such a carefree task for trans folks. When I see a new doctor for the first time, I don’t have to wonder if she is going to be so bigoted against me that she will not even enter the room or touch me.

While I feel snug and protected by the laws in my state that guarantee my right to nurse publicly, trans women do not have the same luxury. They cannot take for granted that someone will not challenge them (or arrest them!) on the basis that they are “not really women.”

While many cis women can take for granted that their milk will come in without much effort on their part, there are many trans women who will not be able to afford the hormonal regimen that will allow them to simulate a pregnancy and induce lactation. Insurance companies already overwhelmingly fail to provide support and supplies for lactating cis women; trans women can expect to get exactly squat to even spur lactogenesis in the first place.

The books that I’ve been reading about breastfeeding are of course filled to the brim with cis-sexism. There is a complete black hole in regards to the needs and concerns of trans women who wish to nurse their children. This is something that needs to change. When the “pro woman” battle cry really means “pro cis woman” (and let’s be honest – it almost always certainly means just that), then we are failing. We are neglecting our duties as supporters of health care, as womanists, as decent damn people.

My silence about the needs of trans women in breastfeeding advocacy is a testament to my bigotry. I’ve been fucking up. And I need to do better.

Advertisements

Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!

July 29, 2010

Fuck Feminism.

Guest blogger Mai’a said a lot of things in her post entitled “ain’t i a mama?” on Feministe yesterday, but for some reason, “fuck feminism” seems to be the only thing that a lot of people heard. 

The notion that feminism might not be such a great and awesome force for ALL women (and not just middle class, cis, white, able-bodied ladies) seemed to blow many minds, to the point that they bounced from the site altogether, never to return (or so they claimed). The idea that feminism might actually be an OPPRESSIVE movement and a THREAT to many women (ESPECIALLY trans women! Exclusion of trans women from feminist and women-friendly safe spaces is actually super fuckin’ common! And do I have to start listing the radfems who have actively called for their genocide?) caused many a Well Intentioned White Liberal Feminist to literally shit themselves with rage!

The comments section of this post is absolutely golden. There is plenty of racefail, but there are many good and thought-provoking points (as well as some free education) that make it worth the ride. Here are some of my favorites:

From bfp:

I think it would be an *amazing* conversation to talk about why feminists will “reclaim” bitch and cunt, but find “mama” just too fucking goddamn offensive to even think about

IrishUp:

have we USians internalized some thing(s) about being a mama or mothering that might need unpacking? What about having internalized that mothering and mama = cis het female? The OP, and other commenters strongly identify with mami and mothering in the context of their social justice work and their sense of nurturing – myself included. That should be OK in a feminist space, and I think there is a lot to learn from the WHY’s w/r/t OP’s identification with mami over feminist.

Nanette:

My reasons may be different from that of others – to me, centering children means centering life. And it means centering *all* children – loving by any means necessary, as you say (I love that!). Imagine a world where the children were the center, and the parents/adults were the satellites – people would pull out all stops to make sure that no child went hungry, that they were not bombed, that no child was ostracized because they were gay, or trans, or gender queer, or not abled in any certain way, or poor, or of any particular color or ethnicity, or born to a certain group of people in a certain place, or… well, I could go on, but I think that’ll do. What a world it would be when they grew up – not perfect, because there is no such thing, but maybe… different.

And, by way of centering children, centering life, it naturally follows that women are centered. Whether they are biological parents or not – that is not really important (to my way of thinking) to the centering of life (not wombs, specifically, by the way).

Mamita Mala:

I chose and choose mami on purpose. I am not a mommy. I am not a mama. I am a mami : mami because it has been cooed at me by ancestros who have passed as a term of love even when I was a child and clearly not a mother. mami because as soon as decided to identify as a young woman of color it was hissed and yelled at me in the streets by men across racial/ethnic lines, mami because it has a sexual context attributed to women like me: poor single women who have had children and are struggling. Mami because my mentor helped me learn how to work in the streets with other mamis whose children had been murdered by police and racists (which usually have been one and the same). Mami porque yes, I have two hijas but oh so much more. Mami for all the white men who wanted to call me that as their way to trying to own my ass. Mami for all the men I give my ass to…

And for me mami is not gendered. I want to be clear on that. In my community mami is not gendered. Yes, I identify as a cis-mujer pero I can think of sooo many people whom I call mami with love and soo many people whom are called mami with love who are not.

One of the things that I learned from the post and the comments it sparked is that what I as a middle class American think of when I hear the word “mama” is not the same thing as what someone in another country or culture is going to think. The childfree discussion that is going on misses the point, in that for many cultures outside of the white American middle class demographic, “mama” is really not limited to who can or has borne or raised children.

I try to be aware of my privilege as much as I can, but my American privilege is one that I pretty consistently forget to check – the rest of the world does not revolve around me and my US-ness. It’s something I need to keep working on, and I’m grateful to Mai’a for giving me an opportunity to look at myself and my assumptions from a different viewpoint.

I also loved where Nanette was going: that if we stop oppressing children, we stop oppressing everyone. Having a goal of raising children in an environment that is free from transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism means eliminating those things entirely – in which case, everybody wins. Challenging the memes and myths that are the building blocks of rape culture and slut shaming means starting early; it means respecting the bodies and lives of all children with the hopes that they will grow to become adults who respect the bodies and lives of others. Bigotry is learned behavior and if we ever hope to fully eradicate it from our society (which I know will never happen, but it’s still a goal worth pursuing), then that requires not just unlearning that bigotry in ourselves, but actively refraining from teaching it to the generations that follow us.

The title of this post comes from the movie Ink, in which one character asks another how he plans to wake up a child that has fallen into a coma. His answer: “Shake the shit out of her!” Of course he doesn’t mean this literally (and I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film), but I love the idea of shaking the shit out of someone – of giving them a rude awakening, taking them out of their comfort zones, and just doing what you have to do to snap them out of the dream they were stuck in. Mai’a did exactly that in her post, and I do hope that despite all of the derailing and bickering, that at least a few people have woken up.

—-

Edited to add: Another fabulous quote from bfp (emphasis mine):

to be clear, when I say “reclaim” mama, I am talking in the white centric US centric sense of the word, I am NOT talking about mama in the way mai’a is using, the way I am using, the way mamita, etc are using. mama, mami, mamita, m/other, etc–all these call for a decentering of the US white heteropatriarchy dominant imposition of “mommy” on the entire world.

When I say “reclaim mama”–I am asking white dominant US centric feminists who think I am calling them a stupid lazy bitch or a mythical child eating cunt because I *do* organize around mami–to consider why “mama” is so infantilizing, offensive, horrific, etc to them. And if you can reclaim a word like cunt, when it is used to hurt you, why can’t you reclaim a word like mama when it is used to control you and hurt you? I am not saying “embrace your inner granola girl”–i’m saying, if sexist pricks don’t get to control “cunt” then why do they get to control “mama”? 

Breastfeeding Success Is A           Collective Responsibility

July 13, 2010

During class last week, the professor had us do an exercise in which we paired off with one another and had to learn about each other. We then had to address the class and tell them what we’d learned about our partner (if you’re wondering what exactly the point of the exercise was, I can assure you that it was indeed a waste of time). One of the things that I told my partner, a super shy 16-year-old who was literally quaking in her seat next to me (I know my afro has been kind of unruly, but am I really that scary?), was that I want to become a lactation consultant.

When it was our turn to share what we’d learned about each other, this is how it went:

Classmate: “She’s twenty-seven.”

Class: *eyes glaze over*

Classmate: “She’s a mother.”

Class: *eyes start to close sleepily*

Classmate: “And she wants to be a lactation consultant.”

Class: *GASP* SHOCK! HORROR!!

Honestly, you’d have thought that she’d just told them that I want to fly to the moon and open up a fucking Starbucks. The class erupted in confusion, and my professor just looked at me with her mouth hanging open and asked, “Is that what it sounds like?” I assured her that yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Cue more confused murmuring. One of my classmates piped up and said, “It’s true! I work with someone who saw a lactation consultant in the hospital.”

I started to say something about how breastfeeding is not always as straightforward as people assume it to be, and how the presence of an expert can help ensure a healthy nursing relationship, but another classmate interrupted me, saying, “Well, I guess you need someone to make sure that they don’t nurse the baby for too long.”

I looked at him and mother help me, I was about to start quite the lecture of my own, but Professor G decided that we’d wasted enough time and moved on to the next pair of students.

The whole encounter only reaffirmed the reasons that I want to go into lactation consultation in the first place: the myths surrounding the breastfeeding relationship between parent* and infant are harmful to that relationship and are by extension harmful to the communities that would benefit the most from higher rates of breastfeeding. I’m sure that my classmate – we’ll call him E – who expressed concern about parents “nursing too long” is the same guy who shames parents for nursing in public and breeds insecurity in new parents by telling them “your baby needs some ‘real’ food and you are selfish for not giving it to him.”

I wonder how long E thinks is ‘too long.’ Three months? Six months? What would he say if he knew that my 11-month-old daughter still nurses happily several times a day and once or twice overnight? The fact is that the nursing rates are entirely too short: while the World Health Organization recommends that infants be breastfed for at least two years, in 2003 only 5.7% of parents were nursing their children at 18 months old in the US.

I want to clarify that I do not believe that it is any one person’s obligation to breastfeed their child. Rather, it is our collective responsibility as a society, for the health of our children, to provide an environment in which breastfeeding is normalized, encouraged, and accommodated. We can’t keep saying “Breast is best!” and then nix legal protections for nursing in public, spread misinformation even in medical settings, fail to provide for parents who need help during the postpartum period, refuse to offer paid parental leave, deny medical coverage for pumping equipment, etc.

And we cannot shame parents who do not choose to breastfeed, whatever their reason – especially since we have set them up to fail. Even if parents were well-supported in deciding to nurse, there will always be those who choose not to or are unable to, and that is okay. Choosing to nurse or not to nurse does not make any parent better or worse than any other. We must be compassionate, supportive, and address the needs of those who will or can not nurse as well. The goal of breastfeeding advocacy is to ensure healthy nutrition for all infants, not to shame parents and tell them what to do with their bodies, when, where, and for how long.

The fact that I have been able to nurse Eve for this long is not an accomplishment on my part – it is a privilege. I was lucky to birth a baby with a good latch, lucky to have nipples and breasts that do not impede our nursing relationship, lucky to not need any medications that would have negatively affected my supply, lucky to have found the resources that I have in order to sort myth from truth, lucky to have a husband that supports my decision to breastfeed (the single most important factor in whether a parent chooses to nurse is whether they have the support of their partner), lucky to afford to take 3 full months off work in order to fully establish a nursing relationship, lucky to have a friend who was willing to give me her old breast pump… The list goes on.

My success in breastfeeding was a collective effort. I could not have done it on my own! It was the support I received from others and the privileges that I have that allowed me and Eve to start and continue our nursing relationship, in spite of the obstacles that society has placed in front of us. Our society cannot blithely say that parents have the right to choose to nurse when we have literally stacked the game against them socially, financially, and logistically. I want every parent to have the same support that I had – and more! – so that breastfeeding can be a proper choice.

—-

*There are trans men who choose to birth and nurse a child, so it would be cis-sexist for me to assume that every breastfeeding dyad consists of a woman and child.

Oscar Grant Lives Here

July 11, 2010

I can’t stop seeing his face.

I can’t stop thinking about him, or the child that he left behind, or the friends and strangers that watched him die. I hear his mother’s words – “My son was murdered” – over and over like a hymn, and I hear Tony Pirone screaming “Bitch ass nigger!” at him again and again before the bullet entered Oscar’s back, came out the front of his body, ricocheted against the platform that he had been restrained on, and re-entered his body only to lodge in his lung.

I hear the shocked split-second of silence in the train station, before the people watching and recording the execution on their cell phones start to scream.

Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a jury that did not include even a single black face, for shooting a prone unarmed 22-year-old man in the back. He may serve as little as two years.

The news itself was distressing enough, but I am sick with the discourse that has occurred in its aftermath. The hurt, the rage, and the fear that we feel over the killing of another one of our sons has been dismissed, minimized, ignored. I’m sick with the derailing and the strawmanning and the arrogance. I am sick of white people telling me that they understand why I’m frustrated when they can’t possibly fucking know what this feels like.

A black woman called Mehserle a murderer and a white man said, “I don’t think you can call it murder.” So she responded, “Fine, then. It’s not a murder, it’s a fucking genocide.”

And that is exactly what it feels like. Black men are dying in the streets and in execution chambers, black women are dying of AIDS, black children are dying in their homes, black babies are dying less than a year after their birth. We die and there is no justice served, no peace given to our families. We die and are told that we brought it upon ourselves. We die because too many people consider us subhuman, undeserving of compassion, unworthy of consideration, primitive, beastly. We die because too many whites still see our bodies as their property, to be used for their gain and profit without regard for our lives or the health of our communities. We die as Oscar Grant died, with hatred and contempt ringing in our ears.

Oscar Grant lives here with me.

Oscar Grant is my husband. I look at him and I see a nerd, a lover, an artist, a father. Others look at him and they see a threat, a hulking black mass just waiting to wreak havoc.

Oscar Grant is my brother. He may be a member of the police force but that is not enough to keep him safe. He carries his weapon on his person more often than not, even in plainclothes. When police see a white man with a gun, they think that he may be a perp, a cop, or a man exercising his rights and they act accordingly. When they see a black man with a gun, all they see a criminal. Black cops are killed by white cops because it doesn’t occur to white cops that a strange black man can be a just black man.

Oscar Grant is my father. Oscar Grant is my baby nephew. Oscar Grant is my childhood friend. Oscar Grant is my classmate. Oscar Grant is every black man and boy and baby, so vulnerable to persecution, prosecution, execution. Oscar Grant is food for the machine: the prison-industrial complex that profits off of his incarceration; the tv news anchor who gleefully reports on his deviance; the white father who warns his daughter that he is by nature a horny raping beast; the politician who cements his disenfranchisement into law by taking away his right to vote for the rest of his life.

 Johannes Mehserle gave Oscar Grant a public execution. It was Tony Pirone who made it a lynching.

What Happened to the Honey?

June 24, 2010

Years ago, when I first started talking to white folks about race, I used to tread lightly. I knew that the vast majority of white people can quickly get very defensive and shut down easily in discussions of race, so I bent over backwards to accommodate them. I would spend hours typing out huge responses that were as pleasant and non-accusatory and educational as I could possibly be.

And what happened whenever I did this? I was accused of calling people racists, even though I had specifically gone out of my way not to do any such thing and never even used the word. I was accused of playing the race card. I was accused of being racist myself, because I dared talk about race and my experiences with race and didn’t pretend that race is meaningless.

I can’t pretend that race is meaningless. Pretending that race is meaningless would mean pretending that racism is meaningless. And since racism costs actual lives (as in, racism MURDERS people of color), that’s not something that I can brush off of my shoulder.

I learned, over several years, that my tone did not matter. How many educational links I posted did not matter. How many statistics I referred to did not matter. How carefully I coddled the feelings of white folks who just couldn’t stand the thought that they might not be the shining beacons of tolerance (which, by the way, is a word that I hate) that they hoped they were did not matter. And I learned that my hurt, my exclusion, the deaths and demonization of my people, did not matter. Any time I dared speak about race, I was labeled a racemonger. I was considered an angry black bitch, no matter what I said or how I said it. I was dismissed, ignored, or actively antagonized.

And so over time, I tossed the honey to the side. I stopped making up nicer ways to frame the truth. I stopped hiding my anger. I stopped beating around the bush and started telling white people the things that they were and are doing to us, to me, and to my daughter. I stopped being afraid to use the phrase “white privilege” and stopped playing the role of friendly, non-threatening, smiling happy black girl (whose heart was secretly breaking with every racist attack).

I’m an angry black bitch and I agitate. I call out racefail. I use exclamation points, sarcasm, cuss words. And I’m not sorry, not one bit, for any of it. I’ve found that the most efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff, the true anti-racist white activists from the self-serving snivelers, is to be honest. And so that is what I do. I have no interest in white folks whose only concern about matters of race is how to make themselves look good; whites who do not want to destroy their racism but only want to hide it are of no use to me, and need not apply. We have work to do, and those people are only going to hold us back.

And I ain’t holdin back.

My Lorde!

May 6, 2010

[The image shows a book cover with the title Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde and additional subtext New Foreword by Cheryl Clarke. The design is of a pair of stylized faces with recognizably African features such as full lips and cornrowed hair over an olive-colored background.]

Last night I picked up a copy of Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, a poet and black activist with whom I am only just starting to acquaint myself. It’s only recently that I realized that if I’m going to convince Eve of just how amazing women of color can be (and if she’s like I was as a child, bombarded  by the anti-woman and anti-black messages that permeate this society, she WILL need to be convinced), I need to familiarize myself with amazing women of color. I know more about white celebrities, white history, white politics, white entertainment, white cultural norms, and white pop culture more than I do about people of color (or also, for that matter, about people with disabilities, or gay people, or trans women and trans men). This has to change. Amazing things have been said and done by people who are not white, cis, temporarily able-bodied, wealthy or middle class, or straight, and their histories deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. (And in fact, Audre Lorde was a lesbian of color and also legally blind – hooray for intersecting identities!)

Anyway, about Audre Lorde. So far I’ve only read two chapters out of the book: her essay “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” and her open letter to Mary Daly (aptly titled “An Open Letter To Mary Daly”), the radfem white lesbian whose recent death sparked a bit of controversy when many feminist bloggers mourned her death uncritically*, failing to acknowledge her racism and abhorrent and unfettered hatred for trans women (to the point that she actively called for their Nazi-style extermination… yeeeaah), and in fact those bloggers became defensive and let their racism and transmisogyny really fly when called out on it.

I liked “Poetry” well enough, but the letter spoke to me in a big way. In it, Lorde expressed her exasperation, her anger, and her exhaustion as a result of dealing with white feminists, who, for all their talk about equality, had no problems using the same oppressive and silencing tactics against women of color that men use against women. (My summary of it does it no justice and I really would recommend that you read it for yourself – you can find the full text archived here.) I identified strongly with Lorde’s experiences with and disappointment in white feminists, and she does it with such eloquence that I pretty much want to get every beautiful scathing word tattooed on my forehead just so that I can read it again as I brush my teeth every morning.

There is a reason that I identify as a womanist and not a feminist. I started calling myself a feminist about a decade ago, and over time, as I became more aware of the fact that white feminists, by and large, are only interested in securing respect and equality for a very specific kind of woman (a definition that, more frequently than not, excludes me and mine), I started to distance myself from the label.

A situation that sticks out in my mind is of a pages-long debate in a pro-choice group, in which a pro-life man who apparently did not like the direction that our debate was going suddenly said to me, “Let’s not fight, let me tell you a joke. Why is there cotton in pill bottles?”** Suddenly, all of the women who were so quick to call out posters for their use of sexist slurs, slut-shaming, or victim-blaming were silent. Not one member of the group called him out on his very explicitly racist attack, save for a moderator who intervened at my request (and even then, her admonishment was pretty lukewarm, along the lines of “I’m disappointed that you would think slave jokes are funny”). The man, who had been banned before for his sexism but never for his racism, was free to engage openly in as much as racism as he wanted, and no one ever said anything but me (that incident was only one of many with him). The very same women who had been right beside me when defending a woman’s right to abort would suddenly distance themselves and become silent when my race was used as a weapon against me (and some of them cheerfully joined in on the attacks). Eventually I quit participating, as it just became too much for me to deal with.

Too many white women who will freely discuss what it means to navigate this society without male privilege will shit themselves in violent denial whenever white privilege is mentioned. Attempts to discuss race are either discarded as irrelevant, unimportant, or worse, actively antagonistic. The mere mention of the fact that women of color frequently experience sexism in a racialized context is decried as either playing the “race card”*** or muddling up the discourse by taking time and energy away from the “real” (read: white) issues.

Suffice to say, I am excited to have discovered Audre Lorde’s writing and am looking forward to reading more of her works. It’s cathartic to discover that someone has managed to put words to my experience as a woman of color with such nuance and power. I’ll leave you with this quote, which I found to be a simple but powerful reminder of why I am making myself speak out against racism and oppression, and I probably really WILL have it tattooed on me someday (although not on my forehead, I promise).

“Your silence will not protect you.”

Likewise, my silence will not protect her.

—-

*This particular blog post by Sady Doyle entitled “Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly” is, unlike most of the posts regarding her death by cis white women, a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

**The punchline to this grotesque little joke is “To remind black people that before they were drug dealers, they were cotton pickers.”

***For an insightful look at just how ridiculous the notion of a race card is, read Tim Wise’s “What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity (and Consistency) of White Denial”

Uppity

April 22, 2010

Hey, ya’ll. Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is August, and I’m uppity. I didn’t always used to be uppity; in fact, I used to be entirely too shy to even stand quietly in the same room as Uppity. Fortunately, that all began to change some years ago, and as time passes and I learn more and do more and trust myself more, I’ve found myself growing more and more agitated with the world as I know it and less fearful of my peers and authorities.

I’m angrier. I’m meaner. I’m more awake and aware than I’ve ever been in my life. And so I became uppity, although not nearly as uppity as I would like to be someday. I’m a work in progress.

The birth of my child is the catalyst for this blog. She is the reason that I aspire to be uppity, to be loud, and to be a thorn in the sides of those who would rather not hear her, hear us. Her voice is small and her hands are tiny. Fortunately, mine aren’t. So I aspire to do the work that her hands can’t grasp and make the sounds that her mouth can’t articulate.

My old blog, How To Be A Pregnant Lady, is dead* and gone. I censored myself a lot over there, because not rocking the boat used to matter quite a bit to me, even cloaked as I was in semi-anonymity. But the birth of my little one means that I have to change that. I have to force myself to say those things that may make others uncomfortable; I do this in the hopes that she will not have to do the same.

This blog isn’t going to be all heavy stuff like anti-racism and such. I’m also going to use it to talk about life, about cooking, about gardening (if I ever get around to it this year), about whatever comes to mind. And of course, about Eve. Because she is the reason I decided to start writing again in the first place.

Hopefully this is the start of something beautiful.

*It still lives at howtobeapregnantlady.blogspot.com. I used to have a direct domain (howtobeapregnantlady dot com) but I let it expire, and a porn site took it over just a week or two later. No, seriously. If you leave the “.blogspot” out of the address, you are going to see some hardcore pregnant porn. Just a warning!