Can Someone Doula Me Through This Transphobia?

In my short time as a doula, I have already experienced discrimination, homophobia and transphobia in birth work communities. Despite my knowledge and understanding that birth work is deeply rooted in heteronormativity and cisnormativity, I am faced with everyday challenges as a doula because of my gender non-conforming queer identity.

I just started my doula journey. Like, fresh out of the womb, first breath, umbilical cord attached and still waiting on the placenta, just started. I can’t emphasize enough how new I am to birth work. I have some postpartum hours completed and have only attended one birth. I’m brand spanking new. Which is always hard to admit, because when you tell most folks that you’re a doula, they continue the conversation with either “how many births have you done?” or “what’s a doula?”.

In Spring of 2016 my partner sent me a link to a scholarship offering trans identified folks who want to become childbirth and postpartum doula. After about a year of wishing I could afford the expensive tuition of doula certification, and still being able to pay my bills and feed myself, I was handed an opportunity to step into the wonderful world of birth work. I applied, and was offered full scholarship from Doula Trainings International (DTI) to become a certified doula.

I was thrilled. Not only because I knew that I was granted full scholarship to become a birth advocate and educator, but I knew I was going to be learning from an organization that is inclusive of transgender folks, who are knowledgeable and accepting of trans birthing experiences. I went to my training with a fiery passion to learn and so much hope expectations of a inclusive birthing environment. I met another queer doula, who is now one of my dearest friends. I met seasoned (a term for experienced doulas) doulas, who welcomed my identity and passion for trans and queer birth with open arms and hearts. I was given valuable information from experienced and knowledgeable doulas. Cisgender Doulas who not once messed up my pronouns, or caught themselves slipping out of the trans-inclusive birthing language. Doulas who understood and worked hard to constantly improve their dialogue and disclaim when books or videos shown weren’t inclusive of minoritized populations. Cisgender Doulas who understood the importance of including transgender experiences in their birth work and education.I knew birth work would be hard, and I would face transphobia but DTI left me optimistic that this wonderful bubble of inclusive kind doulas would be what birth work was everywhere. Oh how I was wrong.

After my in-person training, I moved. My partner and I relocated from our comfy nest in San Francisco, California to Bowling Green, Ohio. I can hear you now, “Of course you’re experiencing transphobia Dylan, you’re in Ohio, you silly willy.” And I know. I knew this throughout this move. I knew I would be faced not only with the obstacle of moving and establishing myself as a birth worker in a new community, but I would have to do it as a trans doula in a swing state. A swing state where they held the republican convention.

But alas, San FranCISco rent wasn’t getting any lower, and my partner was offered a job in a town where we already had a knit group of wonderful queer and trans friends we could rely on. Our friends are deeply involved in LGBTQIA and Reproductive activism in Ohio. They are working hard towards change, to better Ohio for LGBTQIA+ folks, women, and POC. I figured I could be apart of that change.

After networking with local hospitals, attending breastfeeding support groups, joining nannying services and meeting with a member of a large doula group in my new area, I am left pretty exhausted. I have had numerous microaggressions and not so subtle things happen to me, and as much as I don’t want to blame trans and queer phobia, there is no other explanation.

First, when joining local childcare websites like Care.com, because I used my preferred name in stead of my legal birth name, I was rejected. There is no space for trans identified folks to be honest about their identity, due to their extensive background checks. But, who would want a trans person watching their child anyway? So I signed up on a different account using my legal name, and have been able to get temporary work through there until my doula business kicks off the ground. It is still nerve wracking when I have to be called by my birth name, and not my preferred name, and lie about my identity. Luckily I have gotten postpartum care from the website, which is helping go towards my certification. I did have an instance where I had a parent casually mention that she thought marriage should be between a man and a woman, (this was after she showed me her license to conceal). She asked for my license to make sure I was who I said I was. It is super comforting that to know that the people I’m working for can shoot me if they find out I am gay, or even worse, trans.

Going by my birth name is hard, but sometimes necessary. I have cis-passing privilege, which means I can pass as a cis gender woman. Because the name “Dylan” is becoming more gender neutral, I don’t get many odd looks like I would if I had chosen a more masculine name. I know it is harder for trans folks who aren’t passing. Regardless, I am able to pass as cis and straight so I can afford to keep myself housed, fed and clothed. However, it does come at the cost of having to lie about my identity.

At the breastfeeding support group I attend and have been a guest speaker talking about postpartum bodies and sex, I go by my preferred name. However I have not vocalized my identity to the group. The breastfeeding support group is a strict “no men allowed” space. I completely understand the need for these spaces. As the wonderfully nice and knowledgeable lactation consultant and RN puts it, “Many of these women need a safe and open space to discuss their needs and concerns, and most of the time they have to do with their husbands.” And I agree. There should absolutely be safe spaces for people who need it. Many of the women who attend openly breastfeed in the group, and would feel uncomfortable if a partner or man was there.

But then I wonder, what if a trans man needed breastfeeding support? What about a trans woman? Would they accept either of those identities into their space? Or quickly add “cisgender breastfeeding women only” to their rule book? I constantly wonder these questions, but I am honestly probably never going to bring them up, for fear of losing my reputation as a doula, and having to out myself. (Honestly, posting this article is scary enough, because I am internet friends with people mentioned here). I want to maintain these connections and help educate, but the fear of rejection is real, and valid.

When I did research about birth workers in the area, I reached out to a popular “LGBT inclusive” doula organization. I met up with a founding member of a well known doula organization in my area. She was excited to meet with me, and we found time to meet a lovely cafe in Toledo.After a long engaging conversation about what its like to be a doula in the midwest, advice and politic, her opinions of trans people in birth work came through. She mentioned the need for inclusive birth language, but also spoke about her issues with this new move towards politically correct language. She was an active member in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a space where trans women and their experiences as women are invalidated. I mentioned that the inclusion of trans birthing experiences isn’t erasing thousands of years of women’s birth experiences, but acknowledging that trans people are giving birth, chest/breast feeding and have families. She was more concerned of the preservation of the experiences of mothers, and the sacredness of women and wombs.

This made me uncomfortable, but she was my ticket into doula work. She talked about adding me to their company as an independent contractor, but after more than a month of me emailing, I haven’t heard anything back other than a brief and awkward exchange when we ran into each other at a coffee shop. “Our business is heading in a different direction, I’ll explain it all in an email…” was all she said. It’s been two weeks and I haven’t received an email yet.

Birth work needs to become more accessible to trans folks. Trans doulas work hard, but us alone aren’t going to make this change. Allies need to step up, speak up and not be passive. Allies need to make changes to inclusive language. Doulas, stops assuming all doulas are women. Make pronoun exchanging a normal part of your conversations. Become educated on issues transgender parents and trans doulas face. There are many trans doulas that are willing to help you change your website/language to be inclusive. Pay us for our time. More scholarships for birth work training need to be given to trans folks. Business growth classes need to be given to trans clients. Allies need to include trans doulas in their panel discussions, their classes and workshops. Doula work needs to be more inclusive.

Despite my rejections from birth workers, being constantly misgendered and feeling the need to be closeted in certain circumstances and relocating twice in the past six months, I am optimistic that things are changing. The hard work I hope this despite this resistance, trans doulas continue. I hope we don’t burn out, or feel down. I hope we actually get work and can afford to be in a career we love. Trans doulas are working hard to tackle this oppression. Trans-positive and inclusive birth work education and training can be found through programs like Doula Trainings International. I hope this change will make it easier for me and my trans doulas and future trans birth workers, so we can provide support and advocacy for all birthing bodies and all kinds of families.

More can be seen and heard from Dylan Allyson, The Seahorse Doula! I have recently started my doula career through Doula Trainings International in the summer of 2016, and will be receiving my official certification in February 2017. I graduated from San Francisco State University in Health Education and a minor in Women’s Health. I am passionate about reproductive health for all people. I identify as a sex geek, a LGBTQIA rights advocate, and cat parent. I have been a sexual health educator for the past 5 years and I am thrilled to now be working as a childbirth and postpartum advocate.

I am extremely involved in the Queer and Trans community. I hope to apply my sex positive, feminist, anti-capitalist, anarchist ideals, and love for justice to my work as a doula.