Today is national coming out day. I thought it might be a good way to celebrate by offering some suggestions on how to save your clients coming out to you.
It can be fun to come out, it can be a cause for celebration – when you get to choose your own moment. Often, though, we come out because we or our partner have been ‘mislabelled’, because someone assumes we or they are straight*, cisgender*, or that we identify within a gender binary*. There are moments, especially moments of vulnerability – and vulnerability is a typical situation for new or expectant parents – when coming out can be annoying, scary, humiliating, or even dangerous.
These days, with more and more celebrities coming out, it might seem that coming out is easy, and I hope it is easy for some – especially for the younger generation. I hope there is someone reading this post right now, shaking their head saying, “It was no big deal coming out, what’s all the fuss?” Or, better still, “I never came out, I just am”.
Ellen’s coming out humour has another face, a background story…..
Every time I would sob….to say the words ‘I’m gay’ came from such a place of …..shame…..self hatred…that society feeds you on a daily basis…. Ellen DeGeneres
Ordinary, non-famous people, don’t have the ‘benefit’ of everybody knowing and so we find ourselves explaining over and over.
For those of you who have never ‘come out’, you may have lived a similar situation when you have had uncomfortable news to convey – a separation, diagnosis of a child’s diversity in pregnancy, receiving the diagnosis of an illness yourself, death of a loved one – I’m not not comparing these events to coming out, rather seeking a way got some of you to empathise by remembering some news that you didn’t enjoy recounting over and over again and may have wished you could recount just once and not have to repeat – I think we probably all have experienced something we don’t enjoy recounting – this is what coming out as LGTBIQ* can be like.
There are ways of avoiding the need for someone to come out to you. A first step is not assuming that someone is straight, cisgendered or that they identify with a binary gender.
(I’m not suggesting I have all the answers to this predicament – this blog is my attempt at finding solutions, not prescribing them)
Imagine a new patient/client in your birth/breastfeeding practice.
How do you know if the person is straight cisgendered and female as most of your clients possibly are? (This is particularly difficult over the telephone if you are a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor).
What could you ask the person in order to fill out you client information record while communicating to them that you really do welcome all families?
- Would you like to describe your conception story? (birth workers)
- Would you like to tell me about the other members of your family? (breastfeeding workers)
- Use the word partner.
- Are you the birth parent/breastfeeding parent? (transgender men often prefer to use the term ‘chestfeeding)
- How do you divide the parenting/feeding roles in your family?
- Which pronouns do you use to describe yourself/your partner? Which terms do you prefer?
One father (FTM transgender – straight relationship) described his experience of assisting his daughter’s hospital birth. He recounts that it wasn’t questioned at all that he was the father, he was not required to show ID, he was given the birth certificate to fill out as the father;
I felt very validated and very respected…I just felt….bigger, taller….and not physically. It just felt really good
I think we all deserve to feel tall, to feel good. It can take a bit of mental gymnastics at first to get our head around a non-heteronormative, non-cisgendered, and non-binary gendered world (even writing that is a little complicated and possibly full of errors), but doing so might just make a world of difference to a lot of people. Helping parents stand tall is part of our mission after all?
*straight or heterosexual; “Heterosexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between persons of opposite sex or gender in the gender binary” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterosexuality
*cisgender; “an individual’s self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender
*non binary or gender queer; “Genderqueer (GQ; alternatively non-binary) is a catch-all category for gender identitities other than mand and woman, thus ouside of the gender binary and cisnormativity”
*LGTBIQ;lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, queer (one variation of a much discussed initialism)
Coming out to your doctor (with tips for healthcare providers)