Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Yes, transgendered men who are pregnant rightfully want to be included in MANA’s guidelines, so at first glance it seems inclusive to change “pregnant women” to “pregnant people”.  So why are some of us so opposed to what seems like a direct, simple solution?  

We don’t oppose including pregnant men in MANA’s guidelines.  We oppose changing the terminology because we think that females who identify as women will not be referred to as “women”, and their “femaleness” will become invisible.  

Until the very recent past, the term “woman” was virtually synonymous with “female”.  In fact, until feminist theorists distinguished gender from sex, we all conflated them.  See the dictionary.  Second-wave feminists fought to re-define women as equal and fought against gender stereotypes.  They joined together and rejected the stigma of being women; instead they embraced being women.  This positive identification with themselves and other women energized that generation.  

Of course, this was before anyone imagined that someday biological males who identified as women would, probably without realizing that it would change the definition of what was a woman.  How?  By insisting that anyone, male or female, who identified themselves as a woman had the right to be so regarded.  Even if they had testes and a penis.  This is a major re-definition, because it ignores the central fact of femaleness that we bear children, which, in male-dominated societies, has been and still is used to make us dependent.  If females were equal, a woman would be able to have both a career and children, because society would be organized to make it possible.

Some people insist that even if a person does not have, and never had ovaries and a uterus, she is still a female if she identifies as such, but most people realize that this is a denial of a biological reality.  Radical feminists totally disagree with such a distortion of both history and present-day reality.  Of course, if self-identified “females” or “women” joined in with females to fight for females’ reproductive control, they would be welcomed, but so far, they have not done so.  In fact, some are anti-abortion, like Caitlyn Jenner.   

Also, radical feminists believe that there is a patriarchy and that the patriarchy oppresses females as a class (as well as others), and that only if females can unite, can they overcome oppression.   

Many feminists today believe that patriarchal domination is only one type of oppression, and that the way to bring about justice is for our society to evolve into a more equal, unprejudiced society.  They hope this evolution will come about when each person acknowledges their privilege and confronts others who are oppressing them.  To them, MANA using more gender neutral language is one way to do this. 

I propose that if we support transgendered women in their right to be women (and I do), and if we support transmen in their right to be men and, if they desire, to have children, (and I do), that we clearly define the difference between sex and gender.  This means that we start with the generally accepted scientific fact that humans are basically divided into two sexes, males and females, however this distinction and the implications of this distinction have been greatly oversimplified and whatever gonads a person has, they are first and foremost human.  The main difference is that male sperm is needed to impregnate a female by uniting the sperm and the ovum, and that an intact uterus in a female body is needed to produce a new human being.  But this difference greatly affects a person’s experiences and opportunities and in a racist, capitalistic, sexist society, it is pretty much determinative.  From a political perspective, if we hide or minimize this difference in gender-neutral language, we can’t effectively organize to change society.

Gender is a social construct, and what we consider “masculine” or “feminine” traits are very often socially determined.

If we adopt this proposal to define sex and gender, I suggest one of two courses:
  1. MANA reverse its decision to change the language of its Core Competencies, while searching for other ways to be inclusive of those people who are pregnant who are not women.
  2. MANA change “pregnant people” to “pregnant females” and “pregnant males”. 
An additional suggestion a colleague gave me:  
MANA could leave “woman” in the core competencies document (which reflects the vast majority) and add a statement to it that they realize transmen don’t identify as women and if such a person becomes pregnant they deserve respectful care.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dear Kayla

I’m really happy to explain my views, because I believe we are standing at a crossroads, and our rank and file has not had the necessary self-education about the science involved in changing our bodies through drugs and surgery or broad-based political and philosophical discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of re-defining sex and gender.  (I am deeply concerned about transgender civil right; I think these studies and meetings/conferences/forums need to happen immediately.)

I’m also glad that both the Open Letter and the Response are carefully written and show great respect to those who disagree.  Unfortunately, up to now, careful thinking and respect has been in short supply in this debate.

I would like to continue talking about this with you and anyone else who would like to be involved.  I want to hear what you think, and I’m happy to explain why I think as I do.  If you’re interested, let me know. 

I found the Response very interesting and thought it brought out some valid points about the rights of transgender people, but it bothers me that the Response did not respond to the thrust of the Open Letter which had to do with the effects that the proposed changes in terminology would have on the practice of midwifery, on the health and well-being of birthing mothers and babies and their families, or what impact it would have on the political strength of the midwifery movement.  Instead, they changed the conversation to focus very narrowly on the justice or injustice that transgendered people suffer in our society and to suggest that the change of terminology would somehow be the first and most significant change that we have to make and that it would somehow end misogyny and social injustice.

One reason I know that most people, including medically-trained doctors, midwives, and other practitioners lack the necessary understanding of how our natural hormones work in the body and how the hormone-like drugs that are being used to prevent pregnancy and to bring about changes in people’s secondary sex characteristics is that over 30 years ago,  the Feminist Women’s Health Centers (FWHC) undertook to learn enough about hormones to enable us to write a chapter for our book, “Women’s Bodies in Women’s Hands.”  (That chapter was never published.  It was cut and the shortened version was published as “A New View of a Woman’s Body”.)

To remind you, the FWHC learned much about the healthy functioning of our female bodies through self-examination in groups.  But, to write this chapter, we did much, much more.

We formed a “hormone team”, which consisted of Lorraine Rothman, inventor of the Del’em, Kathy Hodge, Suzann Gage, illustrator of A New View and me.  We met all day, five days a week for months while the rest of our group kept the health center going.  We read scientific papers and journals.  Al Rothman, Lorraine’s husband, came up to L.A. from Orange County, at least one day a week to spend the day answering our many questions.  Al was a professor of Biology at University of California at Fullerton.  

We immediately learned that human beings, like all animals, aren’t cut out of a cookie cutter.  Of course, in self-help, we had seen that although we were all females, our bodies looked different, and we were all normal and healthy.  Our menstrual cycles weren’t all “28-day”.  Our genitals had a wide range of difference.  We realized that the concept of “male” and “female” was an oversimplification, albeit a very practical one.  We also realized, as feminists, that the Patriarchy exaggerates the differences between males and females, and that both males and females produce estrogen and testosterone.  Males and females are not “binary” (a mathematical term meaning that all units are either one thing or the other), however in the course of embryonic development, two normal curves develop.  How many people have ever taken a course in elementary statistics?)  Most people (about 60%) who present as males fall into the “normal-type curve”.   There is the same normal-type curve for females.  I don’t know if pre-historic societies created gender roles to fit in with their social and economic structure, but today’s world, gender roles definitely further patriarchal militarism, male dominance and female submission.  As a feminist, I challenge these restrictive roles, although I believe that as females gain more real power in the society, both individually and collectively, the oppressiveness will decrease and the content of these gender roles will change. 

I believe that white male supremacists are the most powerful force in the world, and they use their wealth and power to enforce these norms.  As a feminist, I battle against their ability to harness our reproductive capacity to further their nationalistic and imperialistic agendas.  Any discussion of sex and gender that doesn’t start off with this awareness just ends up defining the problem as social conditioning and the solution as changing public opinion.   

In our hormone study, we learned how little science really knows about how our body functions, and how the medical profession generally relies on their “detail salesmen” to tell them about drugs.  We found the average doctor knew less than we did—and that was frightening.  That was over 30 years ago, but our scientific understanding of hormones and the complexities of their relationship to our body’s functioning does not justify the reckless experimentation with hormone-like drugs to prevent pregnancy or to change our outward appearance.  Our present knowledge of GMO’s does not justify experimentation in changing the genetic structure of plants to make bigger profits.  We all know the capitalistic motivations of the scientists who promote GMO’s and other technological innovations like fracking, but most of us do not know the motivations of those who promote population control.

The books and blogs I’ve read on this issue gives the impression that the authors can explain these issues with the laywoman well enough to arm us with answers, not just questions.  I know how hard we worked, and I know how all the analogies that people use to explain these phenomena distort and mislead more than they enlighten.

I believe that the understanding of what is “sex” and “gender” is fundamental to having a sound theoretical base for our feminist struggle.  It is a spectacle of see us constructing manifestos out of the poorly understood and adequately researched “biological facts”, especially if it’s to push an agenda that doesn’t deal with the problem that all females (those identified as females in ultra sound in utero) are either being destroyed on the basis of their sex or raised to perpetuate their oppression.

Now, getting to the Open Letter and the some specifics of the response.  To me, the midwifery movement is much, much more than giving women “choices”.  To me, it’s restoring birth to its rightful place in human society.  The respondents mischaracterize the Open Letter’s exaltation of birth as a biological event, relegating it to “merely” being biological.  The biological reality of birth is the essential precondition of everything else.  It is awesome.  I’m concerned that de-emphasizing the fact that unless a human being is born with ovaries and a uterus, it cannot produce a new human being will weaken Midwifery’s powerful support of each woman’s right to birth without outside interference.  We females are the ones that the patriarchy is controlling; we are the ones that must work collectively to fight our struggle to regain control.   

I could say that this gender discussion is a side-show, and some people in power have been and no doubt will no doubt continue to use it for that.  But, actually, I think it’s very important.   

Right now, I can only hope we’re in an awkward phase and eventually we’ll be able to accommodate the needs of anyone, male, female or intersex, who wants to live in that way without undermining the gains of the feminist movement. 

Especially as it relates to the birth issues and the philosophy of midwifery, I think that, much as we respect the rights of mothers to drink and smoke and use drugs, we seek to keep environmental toxins and technology away from the birthing process.  This is a fundamental distinction between us and the male-dominated medical profession.  I believe that accepting the use of hormone-like drugs and surgery in our sexual and reproductive organs as being healthy will weaken our position as guardians of the birth process and clouds our thinking.

Please forgive my wordiness!  As Mark Twain said in a long letter, “I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

Warm regards,

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recommended Article: "Alabama Case Illustrates Difficulties Women Behind Bars Face When Seeking Abortion" by Victoria Law

Margaret Atwood did not have a crystal ball when she wrote the gripped “The Handmaid’s Tale”.  She didn’t need one.  She just used her brilliant creative mind to imagine women’s future in 30 years after U.S. legislators started making laws that make the fetus have more rights than the woman who carries it.  We have now entered the “woman as incubator” in Alabama and Texas.