Hygiene Products: Menstruation and Gender

At Aunt Flow, we strive to be socially conscious, and as a result we’re always expanding upon our understanding of menstruation and how it affects ALL people. With the politics of menstruation on the forefront of feminist culture, now is as good a time as ever to address the taboo on menstruation for folks who identify with various parts of the gender spectrum, or with no gender at all. I (Melory) identify as a cisgender woman, so I can only experience menstruation as a cisgender women, but luckily I have some incredible friends whom I had the pleasure of interviewing in order to educate my cis-ass; (pictured from left to right) Andrew (a trans man), Jess (a trans woman), and Ash and Eli (nonbinary/agender).

I GIVE YOU A SERIES OF QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY SOME VERY SMART PEOPLE IN ORDER TO INCREASE YOUR SMARTNESS:

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT MENSTRUATION? HAVE THEY CHANGED AS YOU’VE BECOME IN TOUCH WITH YOUR GENDER IDENTITY?

A: Jess: I had a very traditional, “masculine” view at a young age. I was socialized in the way a lot of “boys” are. I was told that periods are gross and thought, “ew menstrual blood” or whatever the fuck that noise is. As I got older [pre-transition], I had lots of female friends. In middle school, when they were all getting their periods, I started learning about what they were going through. I actually learned what periods are and why women experience them. From that point on, I just felt like it was something entirely natural and necessary, just like sweating, or hair growth – just something our bodies do. By high school I started to have a perception of my gender identity. It got to the point where I even kind of wanted to have a period to feel like a woman. Now, I think periods are natural. They’re beautiful, and they happen to women and men (trans men). We must be respectful of this and help to provide resources.

A: Ash: Honestly, I relate my menstrual cycle to my sex, not my gender. I think periods give women power. Everyone should celebrate their bodies and feel comfortable using those [menstrual hygiene] products.

A: Eli: I don’t really get one [a period] unless I take birth control, because of hormone issues. I prefer getting them because it feels like I’m somewhat balanced. They’ve never really given me any issues because I’m conscious that I’m more physically “feminine” and kind of prefer to stay that way. It causes dysphoria for other people, but I’ve always associated bleeding with having a healthy reproductive system, so I personally consider it more of a blessing than a curse.

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TERM “FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS”? IS IT EMPOWERING TO WOMEN?

A: Andrew: To me, the term “feminine hygiene products” is just poor marketing. It sounds like something someone made up without fully comprehending menstruation, and it actually gives it a negative connotation, I think. It seems to imply that to be without them is “unclean,” or that menstruation itself is. This follows a lot of older, often religious ideologies. On top of that, these products are not only used by women anymore. I can’t really speak for the empowerment it might give some women, or any women, because that’s a mental state I just can’t step into, but overall I believe the term is just too exclusive and filled with hidden connotations to be deemed a suitable term anymore.

A: Ash: I also understand those feelings [exclusion and dysphoria]. For me, it’s less about the actual products being referred to as “feminine”–it’s more about the change in my body (bloating, mood swings, etc) that make me feel like I am put into a box of “you are a woman”.

Q: WHAT TYPE OF PRODUCTS DID/DO YOU USE?

A: Andrew: Personally, I used tampons and pads, which created a gigantic hassle in public for the last few months I needed them after coming out, pre-testosterone. If I needed to change them throughout the day, there aren’t any of those little garbage bins in the men’s stalls, and you’re not supposed to flush them, so it was always a challenge getting them to the garbage can in the main area without being seen. Even as liberal as Oregon is, it’s just not very well known that trans men can also menstruate. I did everything I could to avoid unnecessary attention and potential backlash and harassment.

A: Ash: Tampons.

A: Eli: When I use them, it’s normally tampons. I want to try a diva cup eventually, though.

Q: SHOULD MENSTRUAL HYGIENE PRODUCT COMPANIES AIM FOR MORE GENDER NEUTRAL PRODUCTS?

A: Andrew: I definitely think they should, and I know there are a lot of individuals who would welcome that, but financially I can see why so few, if any, have. We’re a pretty small percentage of the population—I’ve seen most estimate around 0.6-1% of the population in the US—and that’s just anyone who identifies as somewhere under the trans umbrella, not just “AFAB” (assigned female at birth) people. So really, companies would have to weigh their personal and company values against all the money that would go into marketing, branding, packaging, etc. and they just aren’t seeing it in the budget. It’s sad, because they’re excluding a good chunk of the population that uses/would use their products, but I can’t place them completely at fault. Hopefully we’ll get there someday, because personally I’d really like to see some more neutral packaging for these products. I think it’d help relieve some of the discomfort so many face in just buying them, let alone using them, and I know I would have appreciated it.

A: Jess: I would say yes, definitely! I think especially for those on the GNC spectrum, if they are maybe aligning with the male gender during that time, or for trans men. Having a period is very commonly known as a “feminine thing” for just cisgender women, and it can trigger dysphoria or other insecurities. I feel like more gender neutral advertising would really help that aspect. Also, maybe to just stop hyper-feminizing, purposefully going for feminine stereotypes like flowers, pink, and shiz like that will also help others understand that it is a natural body process, just like sweating!

TAKAWAYS?

  • Menstruation is NOT exclusive to cisgender women!
  • Men’s bathrooms should have more friendly means for dispensing of menstrual hygiene products!
  • Beware of triggering dysphoria when discussing periods and their stereotypically feminine connotations!
  • My friends are the BEST.

Most importantly, never (e-v-e-r) assume that there is only one take on a taboo subject–if we didn’t expand our horizons and attempt to truly understand others, then we would all be stuck with the values of a bundle of rich, dead, cis, white men… and nobody wants that. So kindly educate your damn selves, and continue to flow forward into a more conscientious future.

Thank you to those who shared their experiences and opinions!

WANT TO SHARE YOUR PERIOD STORY? DON’T HESITATE TO REACH OUT TO ME AT MELORY@AUNTFLOW.ORG!

October 26, 2016

Claire

Written by:

Claire Coder is the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow. Now 19, the young entrepreneur spends her very limited free time dancing spastically, geeking out over podcasts, and dreaming of being on The Ellen Show. Claire loves chatting about religion, higher education, and left-handers, so shoot her an email on the contact page.