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Why Chestfeeding Will Backfire Badly


The Atlantic recently featured the pioneering work of a woman from Winnipeg who asks that we take her as a man under the name Trevor MacDonald. She had her breasts removed under the misguided belief that “chest masculinization surgery” would make her feel like more of the man she believes herself to be.

The bearded MacDonald left her uterus intact, however, allowing her to become a mother (or “child-bearing person,” if you prefer). MacDonald tells of being unexpectedly overwhelmed by a tidal wave of desire to nurse her newborn even though she now has a man chest. She doesn’t speak of appreciating how her story illustrates that gender (I reject the gender/sex divide theory) might go deeper than one’s understanding of themselves, external body parts, or clothing choices. Sex and gender are not so easily divorced.

Earlier this summer, MacDonald proudly became a leader for the Le Leche League, an international nonprofit that supports breastfeeding. LLL changed their policy to include “men” with lactating breasts:

We recognize that any breastfeeding parent, regardless of whether they self-identify as a mother or father, should be – and is now – welcome to investigate LLL Leadership. There are other prerequisites that a potential Leader needs to satisfy, but being a woman isn’t one of them.

The possibilities are endless when you just start making stuff up. This news is super for MacDonald and her journey of self-discovery, but consider the anxious new mothers she will serve. Dealing with the rough seas of postpartum hormones and fragile body confidence issues, they must watch their instructor attach her child to her man chest as she eagerly instructs them in how to nurse.

All of her comforting “Don’t worry, ladies, I’m pretty much just like you!” assurances will do little to ease the awkwardness she’s forcing upon them. These ladies can neither complain nor demonstrate their discomfort. They certainly couldn’t roll their eyes and proclaim, “This is absurd!” Such feelings and behavior will be judged and denounced as raw bigotry and trans-hatred. These nursing mothers will have to be punished.

Kind of Wanting to Be a Woman Again

MacDonald is not the only chestfeeder. She published a study this summer in the online journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth examining 22 “transmasculine” individuals and their experiences with bearing children, lactation, chestfeeding, and their unanticipated feelings of gender dysphoria in the midst of it all. What man wouldn’t as his milk comes in? All apparently still have their uteruses and vaginas—thus their births—but most had had their breasts removed. MacDonald explains her peers’ maternity in a gnostically disembodied way: “Some transmasculine individuals choose to engage their bodies to carry a pregnancy and birth a baby.”

Cory, one of MacDonald’s subjects, explained her troubled relationship with her breasts: “I was just like ‘Get them off me. I don’t care what you do. Just get them off me,’” as if her breasts were nasty slugs latched onto her body. After the birth of her baby, however, Cory explained how useful her despised breasts would now be given her powerful instinctive desire to nurse her baby. Even though her baby could only latch on to her stingy little man breasts for a few seconds, “It was glorious. It was like, oh my God, at least I got to feel that at least—I got to experience that little bit and I’ll never forget it.”

What she hated so deeply, she now sadly missed. Cory is not describing a non-gendered experience. It was the world-altering power and experience of motherhood, something only another mother can even come close to understanding. That she can’t come to terms with her own motherhood doesn’t change the fact.

Easier to Be a Pregnant ‘Man’ Than Admit Reality?

Removing their breasts “seemed to provide immense relief from…[their] chest-related gender dysphoria,” the study says. Trevor explains that the level of gender dysphoria during their pregnancies would have been “unbearable if they had female-appearing mammary tissue.” Who can’t miss the troubled mash-up there? Their growing breasts during pregnancy made them feel too much like the women they don’t want to be.

One interview subject reported never having experienced such a deep depression while being pregnant and having her female breasts. Felix confessed, “I literally had nightmares of cutting my chest off with scissors.” This tragic desire to do such violence to her own body should strike our hearts like an arrow with compassionate sadness for what was going on inside Felix’s soul. Hers is far from an “identity” issue.

Of course, she is not unique among the transgendered. Some years ago I had a two-hour phone conversation with a trans woman. Trying to convince me how strong his desire to be a woman really went, he finally confessed what he thought would be a convincing point: “I didn’t try to cut my own penis and testicles off for no reason!” Such common admissions reveal this is far more than an issue of gender identity. It is a form of body-loathing that is not really about the body.

This is reflected in Peter’s comments in MacDonald’s study: “I’d hated [my female body] my whole life and here was just this amazing thing that my chest could do that you know I sort of felt like that’s maybe the reason why I had been given this body.”

Trans Isn’t about Me, But About Everyone Else

Nine of the 22 participants reported not feeling increased gender dysphoria at being pregnant men. They did, however, report significant distress “when others misgendered them as a result of their pregnancies…” Sadly, this is very telling, as well. It is not so much about one’s actual essence as a male or female and coming to terms with it, but others’ acceptance of how these individuals feel about themselves. “I can only feel good about myself if you feel good about and affirm me.”

Would it bother you if someone didn’t accept you as the man or woman that you are? Most of us would say that was their issue, causing us no self-doubt or anxiety. Even though we are told being transgender is completely normal, it is anything but. This explains why things like bathroom and locker-room politics are not so much about practicality but public acceptance and affirmation. It is not enough to provide a special facility for transgender people’s special needs as we do for disabled people, since their human value is no less than anyone else’s. The whole system must be changed to facilitate the trans person’s sense of community affirmation.

Many of these women were deeply surprised to find their seemingly male chests were actually still milk-producing female breasts. Emmett shares, “I was huge…so that was dysphoric and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was producing a ton of milk. …I had no way to stop the milk from leaking through my chest. I had no appropriate…male clothes for nursing.”

Chestfeeding unwittingly eviscerates the dogma that one’s male or femaleness is merely skin-deep: Change the body parts, hair, and clothes, and you will actually become what you truly believe you are. But of course, masculinity and femininity are indeed real things, set down into the deepest micro-levels of our DNA. Insisting such changes will resolve the incongruity between one’s body and self-identity is sadly naïve. Chestfeeding proves this fact. Again, why the deep hang-up with breasts when a uterus seems quite natural for the transmasculine? Freud might have something to say about this.

The Backlash to Falsehood Is Inevitable

When you stray from the clear and universally marked path of nature, confidently claiming that new paths are just as good, it can be fun and exciting for a while. But inevitably you will find yourself lost in troubling places you never bargained for. Chestfeeding is marking such a trail. It no doubt creeps out many trans advocates and feminists. It is merely the latest in a series of unanticipated backfires on those who thought they were doing good in promoting trans politics.

It’s why Facebook gave up on trying to capture all the different gender identities users could choose from in a pull-down menu. Their 58 different choices still excluded many self-identities, revealing the silliness of the whole thing. Their fix? Just let users write in their own subjective identities.

It’s why Target is now spending $20 million to expand its bathroom options in an effort to lure back boycotting soccer moms whose first desire is safety for their children. But the damage is done. Their initial move to degender their bathrooms sought to solve a problem that didn’t really exist. This solution hopes to solve a problem that can’t be fixed.

It’s why the Obama administration has found school districts rebelling and federal judges blocking its nationwide directive providing any boy the full right to enter your daughter’s locker room and shower right next to her. This one is not going to end pretty for the administration.

It’s why the Le Leche League will soon enough find out their new policy has created serious problems they never anticipated: strongly alienating their primary client base.

Stay tuned, folks. The maddening spectacle is just beginning, and the silver lining is it will eventually collapse under the sizable weight of its own silliness. Let’s pray it’s soon.