Relax About ‘Birthing People’ Already
The panic over gender-neutral reproductive health language has another eye-rolling favorite phrase
On Mother’s Day this past Sunday, conservatives on Twitter rallied around their new favorite joke — which is really just a variation on their one joke.
“Happy Birthing Person’s Day,” they all tweeted, rolling in retweets and the shared laughter of a bunch of usernames consisting of a first name followed by a bunch of numbers.
Ben Shapiro, the Babylon Bee, and countless other right-wingers all parroted the same punch line without a hint of originality. It’s a rewarmed variation of Shapiro’s “happy legal guardian of unspecified gender day” joke, which he’s made nearly every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day since 2013.
This year’s variation on the “haha laugh at trans people” punch line derived from a phrase used by Rep. Cori Bush last week while talking about her own experience of nearly losing her children in childbirth and the high rate of maternal mortality for Black pregnant people.
The tweet kicked over a transphobic hornet’s nest. Conservatives and gender-critical feminists pounced on the chance to tell a Black mom she was wrong. The tweet prompted nearly 7,000 replies and over 3,100 quote tweets, mostly mocking Bush for using the term “birthing people” rather than “mothers.”
Gender-neutral reproductive health language like “birthing people” or “pregnant people” has found popularity as trans people have been increasingly accepted by a wider swath of Americans. The reasons behind the language are fairly straightforward to understand and include far more than just transgender parents.
“Birthing people,” for example, is not only inclusive to trans men and nonbinary parents who give birth but also to surrogates or women who plan on making their baby available for adoption and don’t plan on being mothers.
This, of course, is the cultural rub for conservatives and their gender-critical allies, all of whom consider birthing and raising children to be the raison d’être of being a woman.
Instead of being chill about potential differences in life experience, they instead try to force others to conform to their beliefs about womanhood and motherhood. And they enforce this through incessant mockery and outright cruelty. Some, like actress Rose McGowan, attack trans women over the language, even though trans women have literally nothing to do with any of this (because trans women understand that womanhood is more than motherhood destiny).
Literally no one criticizing Bush stopped for a second to listen to her harrowing and painful story, nor do they care a wit about the crisis over Black and Indigenous maternal mortality. Several years ago, racial disparities in maternal mortality rates were ostensibly a bipartisan issue in Congress; now they’re a punch line for every loser on Twitter eager to take a rhetorical punch at trans people.
Anti-trans folks insist that using a catch-all gender-neutral phrase like birthing people instead of mothers erases women. But women are people too. This is about allowing people to define themselves within the complex world of sex, gender, and reproduction, rather than following a strict doctrine of biology as destiny.
Several days after her “birthing people” tweet, Bush wished everyone a happy Mother’s Day over Twitter, which sparked another round of mockery. Bush clearly describes herself as a mother, and that’s fine. But Bush, and trans people, understand that “birthing people” and “mothers” can sometimes be two different things, though they most often are not.
But the conservative jokes have grown into another cancel culture freakout. Literally no one on the left unironically called for renaming Mother’s Day; it was all a conservative fiction. But now conservative culture warriors are running around claiming that the left wants to cancel Mother’s Day.
Give me a break. They’ve made up something to get mad about and then gotten mad about it. Again.