The other day, in an online infant feeding support group, someone asked me what "chestfeeding" was. A transgender friend of mine explained, while he fed his baby from his chest, the word "breastfeeding" was both inaccurate and triggering for him and other trans people. Most people in the group understood, but there were a few who couldn't quite wrap their heads around it (which is not really surprising considering that some people still can't wrap their heads around the idea that gender is a social construct). Honestly, there are more than a few reasons why I call it chestfeeding, and you should, too. Especially if someone asks you to.
Our culture is experiencing tremendous change and momentum. Marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws are helping, but there's still so much to do; especially when there's a strong counter-movement to restrict rights and the ability for transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary people to simply be themselves. Sometimes it feels like these issues take place on Facebook, at the Capitol, and on the news, but not necessarily in "real people's lives." So, in the meantime and while these issues persist, we all have lives, homes and families, and boring, mundane things to do. Well, transgender people are no exception. The difference is, I live in a world that uses language that describes me and my body, at least in terms of how I feed my baby. Trans people, on the other hand, do not. Not yet.
Some transgender men and women, and non-binary and genderqueer individuals, are physiologically capable of breast or chestfeeding and may choose to feed their babies that way. However, the word "breastfeeding" might not be accurate or comfortable for them, and having to hear a word associated with another gender (or your past gender) used to describe how you feed your baby might be triggering or painful.
My activist work mainly centers around issues of gender, abortion, equality, and yes, infant feeding. Every day I help parents and caregivers navigate feeding questions, issues, and related emotions while trying to be inclusive and supportive of all feeding choices. Learning to change the way I talk about these issues and the words I use has made me a better advocate. I sometimes still mess up, but the important part is asking questions, not taking people's choices or realities personally, and apologizing when I get things wrong.
From now on, I'm going to try to say chestfeeding to describe how people feed their babies. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.