– BY YAYERI VAN BAARSEN –
Bleeding every month is a quintessential women’s issue. Hence why many cultures consider the menarche as a transition from girl to woman. Because only women menstruate. Of course this statement isn’t true. There are also trans men and non-binary people for example who get their period every month.
Bye bye Venus symbol
Is it time for more awareness and attention for gender-neutral menstruating? Procter & Gamble certainly thinks so. The company, that produces Always sanitary pads, has removed the Venus symbol (a circle with a cross below it, a.k.a. the female symbol) from its packaging. They do this after receiving criticism from transgenders on Twitter; after all, not everyone who menstruates is a woman. The product itself doesn’t change; it’s just the packaging that gets updated. It remains to be seen whether the absence of the Venus symbol on a box of sanitary pads will truly contribute to diversity and the inclusion of trangender people. Wouldn’t waste bins in the male toilets be a better solution? However, for the transgender community it’s a step in the right direction.
Trans inclusive campaigns
Attention for gender-neutral menstruating isn’t new. Already in 2016, posters of Thinx, a company that makes ‘underwear for people with periods’ could be seen in New York subway stations. Featured on these posters was a trans man, Sawyer DeVuyst. DeVuyst came out as transgender when he was 23, but didn’t start hormone therapy which caused his periods to cease until he was 28. In 2017, Jamie Raines, better known as You-Tuber Jammidodger, posted a video called ‘Trans Guy: I Got My Period’. In it, Raines explains that his menstruation came back a couple of times after he switched the type of testosterone he was taking. That same year, Pyramid Seven was launched; a Chicago-based company that produces boxer briefs with an interior pocket to secure menstrual products such as pads and panty liners. Its tagline? ‘For periods, not gender’. And in 2018 the UK period subscription box company Pink Parcel featured trans model Kenny Jones in its trans inclusive campaign. Jones already knew he was meant to be a boy at age 14. He got his first period at 15 and started hormone therapy when he was 16 years old.
What’s it like to bleed every month while identifying as a man? Well, it’s neither enjoyable nor a walk in the park, according to the stories of DeVuyst: ‘It’s definitely a safety risk; you’re in the men’s room and somebody hears you rustling a paper in the stall because you’re changing a tampon’ and Jones: ‘Getting a period made me feel like less of a man.’ It seems like menstruating is still considered a female-only thing. American menstrual activist Cas Clemmer (see picture), a nonbinary trans menstruator, writes about this on HuffPost. ‘The persistent gendered messages I regularly encounter hit me like thousands of metal slivers piercing through my skin: the feminine hygiene signs, the lack of disposal bins in men’s restrooms, the sanitized advertisements featuring thin white women preserving their femininity with dainty white pads and periwinkle ‘blood’.’ As a counter-message Clemmer made the colouring book Toni the Tampon, which features a gender-neutral main character. They also posted a picture of themself on Instagram with a leakage stain and the sign ‘Periods are not just for women #bleedingwhiletrans.’
Periods: not just for vaginas
That some non-binary persons and trans men who don’t take hormones to stop the monthly cycle, menstruate every month, is widely known. Less well known is that trans women can also get periods. Without blood, as they don’t have a uterus or ovaries, but with all the other menstrual and PMS-symptoms such as pain, cramps, headache, mood swings and a completely disrupted pooping routine. You don’t need a vagina to experience period symptoms. The fact that some trans women experience a monthly cycle, has to do with the hormone replacement therapy they’re on. Just like cis women, the period experiences of trans women range from barely noticeable to debilitating.
What if we all had periods?
Long story short: cis women aren’t the only people who menstruate. Thinx’ latest ad campaign builds on this fact and asks: what if we all had periods? The campaign, with the fitting title MEN-struation, shows menstruating men. With blood on bedsheets, a tampon string peeking out from a pair of underpants and a check in the mirror for any period stains. All situations that are familiar for most women, but now with men in the lead roles. Especially conservative groups make a lot of fuss about this and criticise the advertisement. According to the conservative organisation OneMillionMoms, the video ‘doesn’t only blur gender lines, it totally destroys them’. Here at Period! we’re gender neutral about the Thinx-movie. If only because it normalises menstruation. Period!