It's a well known fact that all those who are AFAB (assigned female at birth) undergo the cycle of menstruation. Some of them might identify as women, whereas some might identify as transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary. Non-binary people are the ones who don’t identify exclusively as male or female. They might, in some cases, identify as both and in some cases, as neither. There are those who are genderqueer, they might fall outside of, fall in between or fluctuate between the gender categories of male and female. Furthermore, there are transgender people, who embrace a gender identity which is different from their assigned sex at birth. Gender doesn’t have to be black or white. The idea that gender has to be binary i.e. either male or female is a social construct, just like the idea that periods are experienced merely by women and are a symbol of ‘womanhood’ is.
When a bodily function like menstruation gets gendered, it sets the stage for emotional turmoil, gender dysphoria, social exclusion, and growing inhibition to seek menstrual healthcare amongst those who embrace other gender identities. Prior to writing this piece, little did I know that there are people other than women who experience menstruation. It was after my exhaustive research that I truly came to understand their plight. When a trans man experiences periods, he might feel akin to a woman, which goes deeply against his gender identity. Likewise, when a trans woman doesn’t have her period, she might not feel ‘woman enough’, which goes against her gender identity. The root cause? Periods’ dragging association with womanhood. If periods could be reprogrammed in our minds to be genderless and those who experience it, be referred to as ‘people who have periods’ instead of ‘menstruating women’, wouldn’t it make for a more inclusive society? The facts are that periods are a natural bodily phenomenon and can be experienced by a person identifying with any gender. Having said that, it’s our deeply-rooted mental constructs which come into the way of greater acceptance.
In many parts of India itself, a cis-woman who encounter periods, faces ridicule and restrictions from those who have little idea as to what she is undergoing, mentally or physically. She is barred from entering temples, having certain foods, and in some remote villages, even made to go and live separately from her family for the time she menstruates. If this is how women are treated, imagine stretching any form of acceptance to those who are transgender or non-binary. During my research, I came across forums where transgender and non-binary people voiced their concerns about menstruation being a women’s issue and how they overcome gender dysphoria caused as a result of it. The measures ranged from taking a contraceptive pill which would halt their period to getting a hysterectomy done. The struggles they undergo are immense. Imagine not being allowed to use a bathroom in a public place because they are only made for either males or females, imagine the trepidation of buying sanitary napkins or tampons in a place where, in the eyes of the society, ‘You shouldn’t even be having periods’, or the exclusion that you might feel when advertisements of sanitary napkins show a woman overcoming the struggles of her period and walking into glory, to exemplify her status as a ‘strong woman’?
All this can be a lot to take in when womanhood and menstruation don’t come hand-in-hand for you. Gender Dysphoria is merely a concern to begin with. The lack of access to menstrual healthcare, social exclusion, the stigma attached to periods, and moreover non-binary and transgender people experiencing periods just worsens the situation.
Clearly, something like this calls for a mindset shift within the society. Since it’s the people who form a society and its norms, it boils down to one question. What can we do as individuals to alleviate this problem? First of all, accept and acknowledge a person’s right to identify with whatever gender they want to. Secondly, not take it for granted that womanhood and periods are sides of the same coin. While we all could make this small mindset shift, the media as well as brands selling sanitary napkins can do their bit too. They could refrain from portraying periods as a women’s issue in advertisements. I came across an advertisement where a period campaign depicted a transgender male model. Such measures could be uplifting. Having unisex bathrooms in public places along with male and female bathrooms could be a huge measure on part of the administration that governs a country. The same could be adopted by owners of malls, movie halls, and other establishments. While these measures won’t happen overnight, we could begin by opening up the conversation to all gender identities and taking the first step towards being more inclusive.
Supriya Jain (Author)
Note from Carmesi: We thank Supriya, the author of this piece, for sharing her views on an extremely important issue. We, as a brand, acknowledge the need to initiate these conversations, and aim to do the best in our abilities to further the cause of having a society with periods beyond gender.