At Aunt Flow, we do our best to promote period inclusivity, the recognition that not all women have periods, and not all people with periods are women. Approaching menstrual equity shouldn’t be viewed solely through the lens of gender, but as a health issue that affects every person that is – or knows – someone with a period.
As March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility, we wanted to take time to celebrate trans people, and honor their accomplishments and contributions to society. We are especially interested in promoting discussion about trans- and gender-inclusion within the menstruation movement.
Thankfully, Dr. A.J. Lowik, Gender Equity Advisor at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity, in Vancouver, BC, wrote a guest blog to give valuable and expert insight into the pressing topic of transgender menstruation. Dr. Lowik is not only a trans person who menstruates, but they are also a health researcher, whose work focuses on the reproductive and sexual health of trans and nonbinary people. In 2020, they wrote an article about trans and nonbinary people’s experiences of menstruation in the International Journal of Transgender Health.
Read about the misconceptions around menstruation for transgender people, the challenges they face, and resources everyone can use to be more inclusive!
What Most People Get Wrong About Trans Menstruators
There are a couple of common misconceptions when it comes to trans menstruators. One misconception is that menstruation is understood as necessarily triggering of gender dysphoria among trans people. This is certainly true for some trans and non-binary folks – the act of cyclical bleeding can and does stir gender-related distress, and is entangled with and complicated by gender identity. However, there are many trans and non-binary people for whom their menstruation is not a significant source of gender-related distress – they may experience it neutrally, or even positively!
I think another common misconception is one that is the result of gender essentialism and cisnormativity – that only women menstruate, and that if a person menstruates, they are therefore a woman. This is the result of our confusing and conflating of gender and sex and is a way to delegitimize the identities of trans and non-binary people. This framing positions cisgender people’s relationships to their sexed bodies as the dominant norms and ideals, that trans people are then supposed to aspire to and adhere to. Whether someone menstruates or doesn’t, and whether the presence or absence of menstruation is experienced negatively, neutrally, or positively, is not grounds to dismiss someone’s gender identity.
Menstrual Challenges Go Beyond Accessible Products
Trans menstruators face all of the same challenges as cisgender menstruators, and then some. Trans menstruators are dealing with menstrual stigma and shame, period poverty, a lack of inclusive menstrual education, un- and under-treated menstrual health issues, a lack of inclusive OBGYN care, and a menstrual movement that by large is not attentive to their needs. We are dealing with menstrual activist efforts that think that access to products is of primary importance – so, efforts to make pads and tampons available are increasingly common. Ultimately, we need our menstruation research, advocacy, and activism to think beyond product access, and to think in inclusive ways, and to have trans menstruators tell us what they need. Without our direct involvement, the ciscentric menstrual movement risks continuing to fall short of true inclusion and continuing to develop strategies to address problems that don’t meet our needs – either because we are trying to solve a problem that isn’t actually a problem for trans folks, or we are solving it in a way that doesn’t actually work.
Empowering Trans People Is How We Get Meaningful Change
We aren’t knocking at the door of cis activists asking for admission and entry in a movement that is cis-owned, we don’t have specific menstruation-related needs that will only be met with the help of cis people. I suppose that cis people can look at the structure of their organizations, if are affiliated with one, and ask themselves – “how many trans and non-binary people are involved? Do they hold positions of leadership and authority? Why are they so underrepresented and what can we do differently?” While we do need cis allyship at all levels of society, what we need more so is for trans menstruators to be empowered to make our own lives and circumstances easier and better – pay us for our labour, pass us the microphone and listen to what we have to say, elect us, hire us, consult with us, center our experiences and needs, and don’t try to fix things for us, without our input, guidance, and leadership.
Knowledge Is Power. Become Powerful.
The literature on trans and non-binary menstruators is in its naissance, but there are research articles and studies that people can read in this area. There are also things like Bleeding Thunder, this incredible zine that includes poems, first-person stories, art, comics, etc., all by trans and non-binary menstruators. There are YouTubers like Jamie Raines (Jammidodger) and Chase Ross (uppercaseCHASE1) – among many others – who have shared their personal stories and experiences of menstruation.