‘Tis the season once again when many of us prepare to see our loved ones for the holidays. And once again, many of us might find ourselves anxiously anticipating invasive questions about, well, everything.
This is especially true for people who identify as women or gender minorities, who may feel distinct pressures to have relationships, families, and bodies that reflect certain ideals of femininity. To ease some of the anxiety around these questions, Those Nerdy Girls would like to outline our top ten considerations for conversational etiquette surrounding sexual and reproductive health.
Special Note: This piece is inspired by – and intended to be an extension of – a brief LinkedIn post recently made by Dr. Nicole Rankins, MD, MPH, a Black female medical expert who creates evidence-based, culturally responsive reproductive health content on various social media platforms. 👩🏽⚕️You can find a link to the original post here!
👨🏼⚖️ Holiday dinners are notorious for being annual hotbeds of political tension among family members. This holiday, it’s wise to approach politically charged conversations – such as the overturning of Roe v Wade or the ongoing debate about minors’ rights to gender-affirming care – with care and caution, knowing that the current political landscape is particularly unforgiving of people who are not cisgender, heterosexual men.
👨👩👧👦 Whether someone has a partner (to your knowledge) or not, do not ask them if or when they plan to have (more) children. Some people plan to remain child-free, and others may be struggling with childbearing in ways that simply do not meet the eye, so it is best to lead with empathy and compassion if topics around family planning arise. Unless a loved one willingly and enthusiastically raises the subject of their fertility and family planning – encouraging you to engage or offer your insight – your best bet is to simply not bring it up. References to women’s “biological clocks” are near-surefire ways to quash an appetite before you even get to dessert!
❤ Be extra kind to loved ones – including yourself, if applicable – who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, post-birth complications, or abortion this year. This does not have to be in any outright way; just making sure that these loved ones do not feel excluded, alienated, or invalidated in conversations about family planning can make a world of difference.
🏾The bodies of pregnant and postpartum people – or people who you assume to be pregnant – are rarely a safe topic of discussion. Weight gain and swelling can be due to countless reasons beyond someone’s control, from fluid retention and medication side effects to mental health challenges. What each of these circumstances have in common, though, is that they do not require any comment. All body-related talk towards pregnant, non-pregnant, and postpartum holiday guests should focus on how radiant they look!
🙅🏻 If someone is pregnant, please do not touch their belly – or any of their body parts – without their express consent; do not offer unsolicited advice on their birth plans or eating habits; and honor any extra precautions they take to protect themselves and their family from COVID-19 (such as avoiding travel). Think about how the mere suggestion that your favorite side dish isn’t properly seasoned can cause dinner-table conversation to take a nosedive. 😬🧂Now, you can imagine what your suggestions around someone’s childbearing/childrearing practices would do to the collective mood.
🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ If a loved one interrogates you about your sexuality, regardless of whether your sexuality is universal knowledge, there are ways to respectfully steer the conversation away from your sexual preferences. One way that you can self-advocate is to simply say, “Let’s just spend time basking in the relationships that are present in this room today!” This is also a useful go-to line for allies who want to nurture a safe space for others who are not in a position to say this for themselves.
🚻 Approach conversations around someone’s transition from one gender identity to another with great care. This means avoiding discussions about transition surgery, transition “timelines”, hormone use, and sexual practices. Transitioning is not a “one-size-fits-all” process by any means, so being open-minded, patient, and inclusive are key to creating an environment where everyone can truly enjoy themselves. If you are hosting an event outside of someone’s home, try researching event spaces with gender-inclusive bathrooms.
⚧ Related to the above point, be thoughtful about using loved ones’ proper pronouns, and avoid using people’s dead names (for more information on dead names, see resources below). For family and friends who do not use someone’s preferred name and pronouns, offer gentle correction during conversation. And perhaps most importantly, remember that just because someone has “come out” or disclosed that they are LGBTQ+ to you does not mean that they have explicitly come out as transgender (to you or anyone else). It’s always good practice to follow your loved one’s cues when discussing their gender identity.
🩸 Is (peri)menopause or your menstrual cycle giving you grief? Don’t feel guilty about stepping away from food or conversation to embrace the fresh air. If you are hosting a holiday gathering, including feminine hygiene products in your guest restrooms would be a lovely gesture. If you have the means, also set aside a space for parents to breastfeed and chestfeed as needed.
👩🏿🍼 Do not assume that a postpartum parent is “back to normal”, even several months after a pregnancy has ended. It’s completely okay (and encouraged!) to ask a postpartum parent whether they are in need of any moral support during the holiday season, and if you’re already planning for a designated breastfeeding/chestfeeding room at your event, you can allow that space to double as a low-stimulus room for new parents (and, I’m certain, plenty others) who would like to socially decompress.
👧🏾 A bonus tip for the children in your life: One of the best ways to support kids in setting healthy boundaries and exercising bodily autonomy is to affirm them in their decisions not to physically interact with every adult they encounter during the holidays – whether they know these adults or not. A seemingly benign hug, kiss on the cheek, or offer to sit on an older relative’s lap can make some kids uncomfortable. It’s best to kindly honor their preferences while also guiding them in how to respectfully articulate those preferences to others.
And always remember: Unless a loved one’s habits cause genuine concern for their physical and mental health, their reproductive health choices and circumstances are not fodder for public (or private) comment – during the holidays or otherwise.
Stay safe, stay well, and stay rooted in your boundaries!
Those Nerdy Girls