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Transgender debate and midwifery

02 December 2023
Volume 31 · Issue 12


George F Winter discusses medical advances related to transgenderism, exploring the possibilities and challenges that these advances present for midwifery

Clive James (2007) wrote that at a 1931 premiere of Charlie Chaplin's film, City Lights, Chaplin told Albert Einstein, ‘they cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you because no-one understands you’. James (2007) said of science that it has the power to transform the world in ways that are unpredictable even to scientists, whereas the power of the humanities ‘is to interpret the world in ways that anybody can appreciate’.

Medical science has brought the topic of transgenderism into an area that medical scientists might not have predicted, which can only be addressed in a cultural sense through the language of the humanities.

For example, shortly after publication of a brief consideration of transgender-related reproduction (Winter, 2019), an article by Reis (2020) appeared entitled ‘midwives and pregnant men…’, inviting the inference that the fundamental question of ‘womanhood’ had become the subject of urgent, sometimes heated, debate in midwifery circles, perhaps sooner than may have been anticipated. Reis (2020) noted that in 2014, the Midwives Alliance of North America stated its support for the care of transgender patients, ‘which included altering some of the language in its core competencies document’. This prompted a rapid response from the Women-Centred Midwifery group, led by midwife and former Alliance member, United States-based Mary Lou Singleton, who ‘penned an “open letter” to the organisation, accompanied by more than 200 signatures of midwives, doulas, nurses and women who just signed “mother”, decrying the revisions’ (Reis, 2020).

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