Female identifying cartoon and genderqueer cartoon walking hand-in-hand

Why Transgender Voices Belong in the Menstruation Positivity Movement

Female identifying cartoon and genderqueer cartoon walking hand-in-hand

To all people who menstruate or have menstruated, let’s start this article by rewinding the clock a bit - back to the years when you first had your period.

How many of you have experienced this scenario: you just had your period for the first time maybe around age 9-12. And then you hear something like this: “you are a woman now”. If we had a virtual show of hands I bet plenty of hands would be up right now. This seemingly harmless comment was (and may still be) quite a common thing for adults and peers to say.

But wasn’t it a strange feeling? That somehow your period defines who you are? You may still have been the same person in your eyes, but in a blink of an eye, you’re not - because of your period. Did you experience the pressure of needing to “grow up” - whatever that meant at the time?

Back then, hearing this could’ve caused discomfort but our young minds may not have been able to really grasp why. Well, this right here is an example of how we, as a society, have somehow equated periods with womanhood. But if you think about it, how does an involuntary bodily function change/affect someone’s identity?

As absurd as that is, many of us have felt it - a changed perception of ourselves (temporary or not) just because our period has started. To some, this caused nothing more than a subtle feeling of discomfort.

Well, this discomfort, multiplied exponentially, is what many non-binary folks and transgender men struggle with every time menstruation is talked about in a gender-specific and/or non-inclusive way. So, as the menstruation movement gains traction and more discussions about menstruation positivity take place in our society, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that all voices are valued and nobody is left out. After all, we’d want this movement to go in the right direction - which means inclusivity, sensitivity, and compassion for all of us who bleed.

But why DOES it matter so much? And what can we do? This article seeks to shed light on this issue.

Woman holding up the transgender symbol

What is the Menstruation Movement?

Phew! Society sure has had a lot of growing up to do when it comes to how menstruation is handled. In years past, it has not been easy for many people who undergo menstruation - whether they’re cis-gendered, transgender, or non-binary. There were plenty of universal problems surrounding the idea of period poverty. Mainly, it can be summarized in the following three issues:

1. Cultural stigma wherein negative attitudes great and small are reinforced around menstruation

2. Inadequate education and poor access to information about menstruation

3. Poor access to menstrual hygiene tools

Any movement that addresses one or more of these three problems can be considered a menstruation movement. One of the biggest (and equally scrutinized) ones is the period positivity movement.

The period positivity movement advocates that menstruation should be seen as a normal part of people’s lives - it is not something shameful that needs to be dealt with in secret. This movement has had great success around the world, encouraging more open discussions about menstruation and its pain points.

These discussions then became the groundwork for much-needed societal changes like the lifting of tampon tax in many parts of the world, the innovation or optimization of period products, the birth of organizations and programs to solve the main problems surrounding menstruation, and much more.

Why We Need to Include Non-Binary People and Transgender Men in These Discussions

Now let’s talk a bit about gender identity and why inclusivity is so important. Gender identity is a personal conception of the self as male, female, both, or neither. In most cases, gender identity is congruent with the gender role - but not always.

Being non-binary means that the person’s gender identity does not exclusively fall into the male or female categories regardless of their anatomical sex. Meanwhile, a transgender man is someone who is assigned female at birth but whose gender identity is male. This means that most of these folks still experience their menstrual cycle despite not identifying as a woman.

In our society, the lack of inclusivity for any gender under the LGBTQ+ umbrella causes a host of problems for these individuals. Such problems can be regarding their healthcare, insurance, employment, psychological well-being, and so on.

In order to ensure that the menstruation movement is fully inclusive, all individuals who menstruate need to be included.

Trans-Exclusive Language/Messaging & Menstruation

When it comes to talking about menstruation in our society, trans-exclusive language and messaging is a serious problem.

Trans-exclusive language regarding menstruation can be summed up in this equation: menstruation = womanhood. But this can be very subtle. Here are some examples:

Branding

Trans-exclusive messaging runs rampant in the branding of almost anything that is menstruation-related. The packaging tends to target only women with stereotypes such as flowers, hearts, pink colouring, and so on.

Advertising

The advertising of menstrual products is also trans-exclusive in messaging and language when brands present only stereotypical females in their ads. Sometimes the ad (through a voice-over or through the stereotypically female protagonist) even addresses the audience as “women,” “ladies,” or “girls.”

Statements/Slogans/Taglines

Another example of trans-exclusive language is saying something like “women who menstruate” or “girls who menstruate” when it can be simply said as “people who menstruate.” And what about cliche statements like “celebrating womanhood” or “embracing femininity”?

Of course, any concrete example you may find of this type of messaging or language may have been all unintentionally trans-exclusive. But intentional or not, it can be problematic - and not just for transgender people.

Why “Menstruation = Womanhood” is Problematic for Transgender Folks and Other People

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with womanhood or femininity! The problem is when this aspect of identity is equated with menstruation. Menstruation is thus portrayed as a “woman’s issue” or a “girl thing.”

So yes, at the very least, it alienates transgender men and non-binary people. It can also be harmful because these individuals may already have a complicated view of their menstruation cycle to begin with.

Additionally, this message can be offensive or even downright hurtful to some people. If menstruation equates to womanhood, what about the women who have undergone early menopause, have had a hysterectomy, or have other health issues that make their menstruation cycle stop? Is their womanhood taken away?

This just shows how absurd this line of messaging is.

There are so many people out there who have a complicated view of menstruation, whether it’s because of their gender identity or rooted in health issues. We, as a society, must really step up in terms of sensitivity and inclusion. After all, menstruating or not, we are so much more than our physical bodies and no aspect of our personality should be linked to a bodily thing that we have barely any control over. It’s simply limiting and unfair.

Cropped photo of a transgender male artist holding a sign saying: Periods Are Not Just For Women

Trans-Exclusion & The Menstruation Movement

So what are the repercussions of trans-exclusion for the menstruation movement, exactly? Let’s go back to what period positivity aims to do. The period positivity movement is about encouraging discussions that then lead to needed change and innovation surrounding the way menstruation is dealt with - for everyone concerned.

So quite simply, trans-exclusion renders the movement to be less impactful because it alienates people who should be a part of the narrative. Trans-exclusive language and messaging, when present in any menstruation movement message, discourages non-binary people and transgender men to be a part of the discussion.

But at the end of the day, it’s not just about strengthening the cause. It’s mainly about compassion.

If you think about it, trans and non-binary people are marginalized enough. Therefore, we should avoid that they are marginalized further by a movement that seeks to empower people and encourage positive change.

How can this movement ever serve its purpose fully if not all voices are heard?

What Direction Do We Take as a Community?

Everyone out there who supports the menstruation movement or specifically, the period positivity movement, can do their part to make the movement as inclusive as possible. Here are some suggestions:

1. Simply being conscientious about what you say or how you say it is already such a huge help. For example, using gender-neutral terms like “people” or “individuals” when talking about menstruation may seem like a small thing but this subtle change can be the difference between alienation or inclusion.

2. Avoiding the creation or spreading of messages that equate menstruation to womanhood can also avoid alienation or even harm - not just for transgenders but for anyone who has a complicated view of their menstruation.

3. You can also take the extra step and stand up for transgender and non-binary folks who are getting bullied - whether it’s in a forum or public gathering, whether it’s related to the menstruation movement or not. Bullying or exclusion on the basis of gender identity is never a good thing.

4. Spread the word. As you spread awareness, you spread the love - and in your own way, you are able to do your part in laying the groundwork for a society that is more inclusive, sensitive, and compassionate.

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