Every now and then (ok, probably much more often than that!) something comes along and makes me wonder if I’m living in a parallel universe. Yesterday, it was a post popping up on my feed from The Milk Meg, hosted by Meg Nagle, an Australian-based lactation consultant and breastfeeding advocate with over 175,000 followers:
The linked article is a Vice puff piece interviewing Dr. Tamar Reisman, co-author of a case study of non-puerperal induced lactation in a trans identified male published in Transgender Health in 2018. This case study, which made global headlines at the time, claims to be the first evidence of a trans identified male inducing lactation and exclusively breastfeeding.
The case study itself is a train wreck of substandard data collection, questionable ethics, and potential conflict of interest. An excellent analysis has been written here by La Scapigliata – a medical doctor who remains anonymous for very understandable reasons – anyone who has read the mainstream media coverage of this case should also read her interpretation of the report.
But beyond this case itself is the way in which it has been uncritically accepted as gospel by lactation professionals and among the breastfeeding community. As far as I can see, the primary driving factor in this has not been the strength of the evidence or its applicability, but the fact that any response to this case other than “YAY BEST” has been treated as evidence of punishable transphobic prejudice. This is bad enough when it takes place within closed professional groups, but taking it to mothers is next level.
Nagle’s original post bluntly framed the terms of engagement with the article and its claims as ‘if you say anything against this it means you’re a bigot and I’ll make you shut up’ (wouldn’t it be nice some time to have a caveat stating that misogynist comments will be deleted? OH WELL). And Nagle quickly made good on that promise. First in the trash was a mother who wrote that while she was happy for this family, after years struggling with insufficient glandular tissue and being dismissed by doctors refusing to supply medication to support her breastfeeding goals, reading this case study ‘felt like a slap in the face’. This mother was immediately denounced by multiple commenters pointing out that experiencing breastfeeding struggles was a privilege and she should damn well check herself:
When I checked back in on the thread later on, I found to my surprise that the entire thing had been deleted, and not because of the callous scorn and abuse being poured out on a mother who had done nothing except politely admit to feeling conflicted in her response to the case study:
Unfortunately I don’t have a screen shot of the original comment. But you bet your sweet bippy that this mother did NOT say that “we should not be celebrating this outcome because it happens to be a trans woman and not a cis woman”. She shared her own story of medical sexism and breastfeeding grief, and how it upset her to see investment in lactation in trans women in the absence of similar investment in women like herself. This is a valid feeling and a woman has every right to notice and be disappointed by the disparities in health care particularly when they have cost her breastfeeding relationship with her baby. But instead of listening, Nagle and her supporters took the opportunity to interpret this woman’s comments in the worst possible light and school her in how unacceptable it is to speak about her own lived experience because trans. SO STUNNING. SO BRAVE.
Nagle also pushed the line that being respectful to trans individuals necessitates that if we are going to ask questions, we do it using gender neutral language:
This is straight up ridiculous, not least because it makes the questions that we need to ask completely incomprehensible and unanswerable. Medications work differently in male and female bodies, but are predominantly tested for male populations, a norm which has led to disparities in health outcomes for men and women that we are only just beginning to understand. Domperidone – one of the primary galactagogue medications used in this particular case study – is a medications in which it’s extremely important to recognise these differences, as one of the reasons women are routinely denied access to domperidone is on the basis of complications in male patients that are vanishingly rare in young lactating females. But in this case study it was used at very high levels by a person who occupies the group of elevated risk of life threatening side effects from domperidone – pretending that we are talking about ‘people’ in situations where male or female matters is nonsensical and dangerous, and should not be ignored for the sake of an inclusive moderating approach.
Despite the warning on the original post, many critical comments were allowed to remain- how many were deleted or hidden it’s obviously impossible to know, but the sheer volume of comments (over 700 at the time of writing) was clearly overwhelming. In the face of pushback, Nagle ultimately doubled down, posting later that day that people who responded negatively to her post are (A) motivated by transphobia and religious intolerance (B) responsible for trans suicide (C) assholes for thinking that science and biology are indicative of reality:
I greatly respect Nagle’s work and the follower base she has built. I refer mums to her page a lot – The Milk Meg is a place where many women turn for evidence based breastfeeding information and support in an online sea of conflicting and anti-mother advice. Her intention of protecting a vulnerable and marginalised group in discussions on her page is completely understandable – but there is a difference between setting boundaries and silencing dissent. And, mothers and babies are themselves a vulnerable and marginalised group whose rights also require protection – if we can’t talk about the impact of trans identified male lactation on mothers and babies on a breastfeeding page, where the heck can we talk about it?
Over and over again in these online skirmishes, the insistence on attributing sinister motivation and using block/hide/delete tactics substitutes ad hominem attack for discourse and creates online echo chambers of wokeness. The fact that comments which don’t toe the line actually generate high numbers of upvotes and likes strongly suggests that many women are feeling disenfranchised by this, and that for each woman with the courage to speak, there are many who agree but don’t feel safe enough to comment themselves.
The wreckage that occurred over at The Milk Meg is just one more incident in a long line of formerly mother-centric leaders and organisations with significant reach, building their brand with genderist nonsense and using their influence to gaslight women while demanding we Be Nice about it. It’s a bold new frontier in the Mummy Wars – except now, instead of not being allowed to talk about the difference between breastfeeding and formula, we’re not allowed to talk about the difference between male and female. Feelings continue to trump facts and mothers continue to be framed as judgmental bullies who need to be kept in line. How truly progressive.