Last month, Secret brand deodorant released a new commercial featuring a transgender person in a public restroom. We’ve all seen deodorant commercials before and are familiar with the running script: these products hold up in the toughest of high performance activities! In this tiny 30 second clip, Secret manages to acknowledge the intensity and stress of being trans and using a public bathroom. An experience people whose gender identity aligns with the cultural expectations of their biological sex (otherwise known as “cisgender”) might take for granted as mundane. The ad closes with the actress brazenly opening the stall door with the words, “there’s no wrong way to be a woman” appearing on screen.
As a person who is trans or gender nonconforming, experiences like these are common and unfortunately sometimes not as heartwarming and triumphant as Secret’s ad, which ends with the women in the restroom complementing the dress worn by the trans actress.
Consider how much more anxiety-producing and potentially traumatic other hyper-gendered experiences may be. Consider an experience which no one experiences as mundane: pregnancy.
Before conception even occurs, there are millions of tiny moments akin to standing in a bathroom stall peering out through the slats at all the people who seem to not think twice about things which make you question whether your deodorant is going to cut it today.
Message boards, preconception appointments, pregnancy test ads, people cooing over what a cute “mom” you’d be… these things might make you question whether or not you’re even cut out for this venture. For most trans folks, deciding to become pregnant comes with the acknowledgment that their gender ID is going to be ignored for the next 9+ months. With that might come increased experiences being misgendered and increased feelings of dysphoria in relation to their body. Likewise, queer parents under the LGBT umbrella have to fight the “mom and dad” narrative to make space for “two mommies” or “two daddies.”
Some parents might find these titles don’t fit their experience and come up with entirely new ones. In her 2014 graphic memoir Pregnant Butch, A.K. Summers beautifully illustrates these conundrums and more. While she acknowledges in the forward the differences between identifying as butch vs trans, her experiences begin to form a picture of how pregnancy is so intertwined with gender expectations. Tongue in cheek, Summers’ story ends on a positive note, “incidentally, I feel like my masculinity got stretched along with my whatchamacallit.”
Using a butch narrative to illustrate my point shows how few resources there are for trans and gender nonconforming identified folks considering parenthood. We have a long ways to go but that doesn’t mean the trans narrative doesn’t belong in the world of pregnancy and parenthood. While pregnancy and midwifery have been historically female centric realms, modern doulas need to ensure their services are affirming for trans and gender nonconforming clients because, there’s no wrong way to have a uterus.
Considerations for affirmative doulas:
- Avoid gendered language on forms or in person or in trainings (use “gestational parent” instead of “mother,” and “partner” instead of “husband/wife,” etc.)
- Ask clients what pronouns and terms they prefer and use them - may want to discuss how to have this conversation and the importance of it
- Avoid honorifics (such as Mr. or Ms.) unless you know the preferred honorific of the person you’re speaking to
- Talk with your clients about what terms they feel comfortable with (“chestfeeding” vs “breastfeeding,” for example)
- Be aware of outing clients, talk with them about how they would like you to refer to them at appointments or hospital
*Some folks might identify as both trans and butch.
**While this article focuses on pregnancy and parenthood by way of uterus, it’s important to acknowledge that this is not the only route to parenthood. However a person arrives at parenthood, their experience is valid and deserves respect.