Historically, menstrual advocacy has centered cis-woman, often at the expense of people of the trans experience.
A cisgender woman is someone who was assigned the female sex at birth and identifies as a woman. Transgender or trans are terms used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, as defined by the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
The United States, and frankly the whole globe, continue to feminize menstruation despite not all menstruators identifying with womanhood and femininity. Whether it is how someone walks and talks, their clothes, or what profession they pursue, societal pressures to fit gender norms reaffirm gendered stereotypes. Transgender and non-binary persons often deviate from the stereotypical mold of gender, which can position them to be discriminated against for simply expressing who they are. Unfortunately, the menstrual movement is no exception.
From the all pink packaging of menstrual products to aisles labeled “feminine care,” cisgender women tend to find their gender identity and expression affirmed in the menstrual space. This is not to say that cis-women do not experience oppression in society due to menstruation, but there is no denying their privilege within the movement.
Society tends to enforce the gendered binary — if you menstruate, you are a woman, and if you don’t, you are a man. This simply isn’t true. Gender identity is fluid and exists on a spectrum. The feminization of menstruation invalidates and harms individuals who don’t identify with womanhood or femininity.
For example, in October of 2019, Proctor and Gamble announced that they were removing the Venus, often known as the female symbol, from their Always brand period pad packaging. The backlash that ensued was enormous on social media, with statements being spouted regarding the “erasure of women.” Cis-gender women are not being erased by making space for other gender identities that menstruate. That notion continues to perpetuate outdated gender norms and highlight the privilege cis-gender women hold within menstrual advocacy.
Additionally, non-cis-gendered menstruators are rarely equipped to manage their periods in public. For example, there are rarely waste disposal bins or baskets in male restrooms. This can be invalidating to male menstruators, but it can also put their safety at risk.
Transgender menstruators bear the risk of being caught throwing their period products away in public trash cans, potentially making them vulnerable to degradation or transphobic attacks. Another possible public obstacle can take place in grocery stores. When an aisle is labeled feminine care, gender minorities are at risk for being misgendered and consequentially experiencing prejudice or harassment.
To hear from gender and sexual minority persons directly, I invited them to share their own experiences (or lack of) with menstruation. The responses below were crowdsourced via social media, where respondents filled out a google form detailing their own stories. Overall, these sentiments shared by non-cis folks continue to highlight the harm that the over-feminization of menstruation can have.
“In a way, it almost feels like my autonomy is being removed when people equate periods to womanhood. When I started T (testosterone), it took a few months for my cycle to stop, and in that period especially, it was super invalidating to hear that type of language. You’re telling me I’ve gone to a doctor, started taking hormones, picked a new name, and use different pronouns, and that’s still not good enough to prove I’m not a woman?” — Non-binary and Agender identifying person.
“It’s a strangely feminine thing that’s never made sense to me. It’s always been pushed on me as a beautiful blessing into womanhood. I may have my period, but it’s never made me feel more like a ‘woman.’”- Gender Fluid identifying person
“Strong female connotations like ‘female products’ or ‘girl’ or other things like that completely isolate both trans women who don’t experience it (menstruation) in their female experience as well as serve as a reminder to trans men as something they don’t want to be female aligned.” — Non-binary and Agender identifying person.
“As a non-binary person who’s AFAB (assigned female at birth), it just…serves as another reminder that I’m perceived and constrained by “female” experiences when I’m just me…menstruation isn’t just a cis thing but a thing for everyone.” -Non-binary and Agender identifying person
I write this as a cisgender white woman. I recognize that I am about as privileged as they come. However, I want to do more, and I hope you do too. We need to ask ourselves how we can all be better allies for trans and non-binary menstruators. Here are three steps to get started:
- Use the word menstruators or the phrase people who menstruate. It allows for gender neutrality while also recognizing that, yes, that person gets a menstrual period. It can also create unity among people who menstruate rather than dividing us into groups of different identities.
- Free tampons and pads in restrooms are great — but don’t forget to advocate for them in men’s restrooms as well. And ensure that your local homeless shelter is stocked up on menstrual products shows allyship, as 1 in 5 transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their lives.
- Support specific organizations that advocate for the rights of trans and nonbinary people, such as the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Law Center, World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and so many more.
Continue to educate and challenge yourself to unlearn the gender binary that you have been socialized to believe is the truth. It will be uncomfortable, and it will take work, but we owe it to all menstrual community members to work to fight against the oppressive systems in which we are complicit.
(A version of this piece originally appeared in Medium and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.)