Join us for the 2017 ILCA Conference and Annual Meeting, Knowledge, Diversity, Equity: Global Access to Skilled Lactation Care, 19-22 July in Toronto, Canada. #ILCA17 offers opportunities to learn from leading experts around the globe (68 speakers representing 13 countries) on a wide range of topics. Alice Farrow, IBCLC (Italy) is one of the #ILCA17 plenary speakers, and will be presenting Gender Diversity, Language, and Inclusion for Lactation Specialists. We spoke with Alice about the role of gender-inclusive language in providing compassionate, accessible lactation support, to get a feel for what we can look forward to at #ILCA17.
Lactation Matters (LM): How can knowledge of inclusive language help International Board Certified Lactation Consultants® (IBCLCs®) improve their practice?
Alice Farrow (AF): First, non-inclusive language is a barrier to practice.
Inclusive language can refer to many issues. My talk at the ILCA conference is about gender-inclusive language. Gender-inclusive language has become commonplace when it concerns changing male-gendered language to language that is inclusive of women. It used to be commonplace for the word “man” to mean men and women, or all people. It is no longer commonplace.
When I talk about gender-inclusive language, I am not referring to language that is inclusive of men and women. I am talking about all genders: cisgender and transgender, third gender, non-binary, agender, androgynous, gender queer, etc.
In lactation, pregnancy, and birth, until recently, language was unquestioningly female gendered and heteronormative, e.g. mothers give birth to babies and fathers support the dyad. But, not all families are composed of a mother and a father and their baby. It is now widely recognized that transgender men give birth; non-binary and agender people give birth; intersex people give birth; some men become primary caregivers without giving birth; some supporting partners are women; sometimes parents are the same sex; etc.
Mother + father + baby is no longer a formula that is inclusive of diverse family structures.
—for example referring to a birth father as “mum” or “mom” or referring to a female partner as “dad”—is erasing, hurtful, and disrespectful. A care provider is not doing a good job if their client or patient is uncomfortable, unable to listen to them, does not trust them, is afraid of them, is not intending to return for follow-up, is triggered, or is in any way damaged by the consultation or visit.
Transgender and gender nonconforming people have higher rates of suicide and mental illness and lower rates of health than the general population (not due to their gender, but due to society’s prejudice). This is a serious health equity issue. Knowledge of gender-inclusive language and a willingness to adopt gender-inclusive language will improve access to your care and improve the quality and appropriateness of the care you provide.
LM: What challenges do lactation consultants experience while working toward gender-inclusive language?
AF: This is very unique to the individual. Some IBCLCs do not find it particularly challenging to incorporate gender-inclusive language into their practice. I know of many IBCLCs who have updated their websites with gender-inclusive language. It may be more of an issue in unrehearsed speech.
There are some people who are strongly opposed to gender-inclusive language. I fully expect to be criticized for my talk at #ILCA17, and I am glad to be in a position to stand up and speak where other LGBTQI colleagues are perhaps not in a position where they feel safe doing so.
Some people are challenged by gender-inclusive language due to their religious beliefs, their upbringing, their ideologies, or something else. Some people were loudly outraged when the British Medical Association’s 2016 guide to inclusive language in the workplace suggested “pregnant people” in place of “expectant mothers” as inclusive of transgender men and intersex men. Some people see this as an erasure of women, but rather than proposing something that is inclusive of birthing women, men, non-binary, and transgender people, they want to maintain the current exclusive language. That is not okay. Exclusive language is not acceptable.
LM: Can you share with us one tip for introducing gender-inclusive language that you plan to share in your talk?
AF: Yes, quite simply adhere to the principle of treating your clients (and colleagues) with compassion, dignity, and respect. Change your intake forms to allow more than two genders, and ask preferred terms for parent/carer/family roles (i.e., mom/mum, dad, something else). Ask which pronouns the person uses (e.g., him, her, they, zie). Use the terms identified by your client and apologize if you get it wrong. That would be a great first step.
Alice Farrow is an IBCLC®, writer, speaker, and infant-feeding and health-equity advocate. Based in Rome, Italy, they have spoken around the world on LGBTQI health inequities, gender diversity, gender-inclusive language, lactation support for infants born with a cleft lip and palate, and barriers to entry to the lactation profession (in particular, those experienced by non-US candidates).
Alice participated in the 2014 Lactation Summit and the 2016 Lactation Equity Action Committee (LEAC) Global Forum, and published the groundbreaking article Lactation Support and the LGBTQI Community as part of a Journal of Human Lactation special issue on Equity. They write for the Language of Inclusion blog and the Cleft Lip and Palate Breastfeeding website, run the online support network for LGBTQI health professionals and allies Embracing Diversity in Reproductive Health, Birth and Infant Feeding, and run the Want to be an IBCLC? support groups for aspiring lactation consultants.
Alice is currently an undergraduate student with the Open University (UK), completing a Bachelor of Science with a focus on public health and public health promotion.