I appreciate everyone who took the time to respond to this question here and on Facebook.
I personally do not have any official position on male doulas. I have never met one, and would love to hear from a guy doing this work.
I am happy to see people responding by being really open to and respectful of ideas. I think this is important as we challenge "traditional" roles and loosen up our clinging to "girl/boy" taboos, and become inclusive of every range of expression of one's sexuality.
I do, however, have questions.
When I support women in birth, there is definitely a very strong sexual energy they exude. Not an "I'm horny" sexuality, but one in which the emotional state is of full engagement with the body centred experience, like reaching towards orgasm. I am a straight woman, and I hold my clients, straight or gay, with the same energy. I don't worry the lesbian moms are going to feel inappropriate with me because I am holding them, swaying with them, whispering in their ears encouragement to go more deeply into that state, tending to the intimate care of their bodies, minds, and hearts. I've never had an issue with a lesbian mom's partner having problems with this. A labouring person is a labouring person, whether she's straight, gay, or doesn't even identify as a woman. If a labouring person identified as a man, I know I would not have any misgivings about holding his space the very same way. Maybe it's a womb identification thing that makes me comfortable with all these scenarios.
I may touch the mother's partner, no matter what the sex of that partner is, in a loving affectionate way just for support, but not at all in the same way I do with the one who is labouring. Though the labouring woman may be naked and I may be literally holding her in my arms and swaying with her, rubbing her back and belly and pouring my love into her when she requires that from me, I would not do that with her partner. I don't come up behind the father while he's in the shower and wrap my arms around him while his partner labours because he needs emotional support. Here, outside of the oxytocin trance we all get caught up in, the boundaries of appropriate touch become very clear. What is it about labour that creates this intimacy where it appears the boundaries of normal every day touch fall away, and men who are not partners or clinicians are seemingly allowed to touch women in a very intimate way, which is not overtly "sexual", but still involved in a powerful expression of her female sexuality?
I have seen images of Michel Odent lovingly hold up a nude labouring woman, saying soothing words intimately in her ear and have not experienced any creepiness in watching that. But I do have to say that when I think of a man helping me through birth the same way I help women, I feel a slight "hmmmmmm". This is not to judge the guys, it's more about me. If a man were telling me to breathe down down down into my cervix and imagine it opening, flowering, and feel Baby coming down,no matter what his sexuality, I feel like I personally would question if he was really feeling his words. I wouldn't question this from a woman, even if she's never had a baby, no matter her sexuality, because that's a very deep, instinctual, womanly knowing, even without previous experience. But I've never been in that experience, so I don't know truly how I'd feel. Perhaps a man truly could feel those magical cervix melting words. I have no negative thoughts at all about male docs who catch babies or male midwives, because that role is more clinical. A doula's role is different, though, somehow a lot more emotionally intimate, so it just raises more questions.
I wonder how my husband would feel about a man physically and emotionally supporting me in the intimate way I support other birthing women. I think it may cause discomfort to a lot of partners. And would it make a difference if this man were gay? Would I choose a male doula over an experienced female one because I clicked better with him, and if I did would it be because of an intuition of better rapport, or a deep, intellect sidestepping, little spark of biological, sexual chemistry? And if so, would that be a terrible thing? Could be not, but could be devastating too.
To some birth attendants, birth has very much the feel of being in a women's spiritual circle, experiencing a collective expression of women's own unique belly magic through a birthing woman. I do believe in the sanctity of women's spiritual circles, as men can and do have their own gatherings. Because birth does have its challenges sometimes, it is normally held within a space that allows for clinical intervention if need be. These clinicians are often men. But even though they're on the periphery and doing the clinical thing, (like the men perhaps protected the women's gatherings from the periphery even if they didn't engage in the ceremonies) they're not really part of the dance, part of that intimate circle of women (and her consort), regardless of their sexuality. How about this: because we want to break down traditional gender roles and identifications (and so we should in many respects to become a more loving, inclusive society), does this necessarily mean it's sexist for a woman to not choose a wonderful and experienced male doula simply because he's a man? Why not? Where do Nature and pheremones and biological pulls assert authority, if it is possible that they do, over our arguments for breaking with traditional roles in the birthing room?
Remember, these are truly questions, not me playing devil's advocate or asserting a position. I'm looking for potential answers, not arguments, because I'm not putting forth any. I would love love love to speak to a doula brother and have him give us some answers.
Respect to all loving and well intentioned birth attendants everywhere, no matter who you are.