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.
It's super important for all of us to be inclusive in the language we choose. While society tends to focus on the inclusivity (or lack thereof) of health care providers, policymakers, and professionals, our neighbors, friends and family members need to be inclusive, too. When people ask me why I use "social justice" language, my question back is, "Why not?" Words matter.
It's A Way To Be An Ally
I will never understand what it's like to be transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary, but using words like "chestfeeding" is an easy way to show people I care about them and their feelings.
People who don't identify as women use their chests to feed their babies. This is not an issue limited to identifying as a woman or having breasts. "Chestfeeding" is accurate.
It Doesn't Hurt Anyone
It doesn't hurt anyone. Period.
The Word "Breastfeeding" Might Be Triggering
It might not hurt anyone to change the words we use to describe infant feeding, but it certainly might hurt someone to use the word "breastfeeding" to describe how they feed their baby.
I don't want to intentionally hurt others. Do you?
I Have Chestfeeding Friends
I wish that having a personal connection to someone wasn't necessary to see their need for support or empathy but, for some people, it's hard to believe that these issues exist in a world beyond the internet.
However, believe it or not: they do.
Transgender people deserve to feel included and not shamed when they prefer a different word for how they feed their babies.
I Want Our Culture To Change
We can't change our culture around how transgender people (and other marginalized people, for that matter) are treated unless we are willing to make a few changes (even difficult ones) in how we talk and the words we use.
I'm Not A Jerk
I'm not saying that all people who haven't made shifts in their language to me more inclusive of transgender and non-binary people are jerks, but if someone asks you to use a certain pronoun, gender term, or yes, even a different term for how they feed their baby, and you refuse or say that it's not worth it, you kinda are.
It's easy to be kind, and while it may take some time to get things right, it's worth it, if we can make the world a kinder, more inclusive place.