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Not all people who menstruate are women

by Emily-Rose Payne 4 months ago in Empowerment
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By ending stigma surrounding male menstruation; knowledge and education will be easier to access for those exploring their sexuality, gender and identity.

Stigmas need to end around periods, bleeding isn’t only a women’s issue, and bleeding as a man doesn’t make you any less masculine.

The Government Equalities Office estimate there are 200,000 to 500,000 transgender people in the United Kingdom. The transgender males and non-binary people in this statistic will menstruate in their lifetime.

Which is why stigma needs to end around males who menstruate.

Last year the menstrual hygiene company Thinx launched an advert depicting cisgender (a term for people whose gender matches their sex assigned at birth) men who menstruate. The advert showed a young boy running to his Dad, scared about his first period, a businessman asking around for a tampon in his workplace. A year on, we arrive closer to Transgender and non-gender conforming awareness week, which is celebrated between the 13th and 20th of November. This week allows transgender people and their allies to educate the community and bring awareness to problems the transgender community face every day. Problems such as the stigma surrounding menstruation and menstrual products. Stigmas need to end around periods, bleeding isn’t only a women’s issue, and bleeding as a man doesn’t make you any less masculine.

Hannah Araniello, a graduate from University of Westminster with a BSc in Psychology, now works at LifeKeys, a mental health support service offering online consultations and courses with expert psychologists. Araniello has clients that identify as transgender and non-binary, “It can be very difficult for people who identify as male or non-binary to have their period. Those who are assigned as female at birth but identify as non-binary or male may feel that biologically their body still feels female due to their monthly menstruation.”

This unsettling feeling can lead to “Dysphoria, a term used which describes a person’s sense of discomfort and unsettlement which is routed to a mismatch between their own biological sex, the sex they were assigned at birth, and their gender identity”. Araniello explains Dysphoria can cause many different mental health concerns, “feeling really distressed and unsettled because of the feeling they haven’t fully transitioned can lead to low self-esteem, withdrawn from other, friends or family, becoming more isolated, feeling low moods and depression.”

The advert created by Thinx resulted in many channels banning it from being broadcasted due to its display of blood and a three-inch white tampon string hanging from a man’s black boxers. Thinx created an advert that challenges sex and gender stereotypes to end stigma but instead was deemed too graphic by executives, the tampon string hanging from a man’s boxer shorts was labelled inappropriate and carried too much stigma.

Dais Westbury, a student in London, explains “I menstruate but I am not a woman, I have a friend that calls it shark week because the word period and stigma feels too feminine. This feeling of gender dysphoria rises when I have to buy ‘feminine’ hygiene products. I’m not female nor am I feminine. This is just another way in which trans, and non-binary people feel excluded from normality.” Araniello supports the Thinx advert, not having the correct representation can add to the stigma of male menstruation and negatively affect “people in the LGBTQA community who are having issues around their identity or transitioning.” This lack of representation “can make it hard to overcome barriers with self-stigma and they may begin to suppress certain emotions of hate, doubt, anxiety towards themselves.”

Should we think of menstruation as gender neutral?

Adverts create conversation, hashtags surrounding menstruation became more and more popular; #ifweallhadperiods, #bleedingwhiletrans, and #bloodhasnogender. These hashtags were created to end stigma around periods and allow room for conversation. Araniello believes talking about “menstruation, gender, transgender, non-binary people, anything under the umbrella of the LGBTQA people” in “Secondary school education would have real positive impact on a lot of peoples view and understanding of these would give a lot of reassurance for people who can identify within the LGBTQA community, people who don’t fit the heteronormativity [the belief that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation] or cisgender box.”

#Bleedingwhiletrans sparked the LBGTQA community to share photos depicting transgender, cisgender, and non-binary people freebleeding, a term for menstruating without any product to absorb the blood, to end the stigma around blood that comes from a reproductive organ. Cass Clemmer’s photograph of him/they sitting on a bench with bloody trousers, holding a sign saying ‘periods are NOT just for women’ went viral after posting it on Instagram. Clemmer told People that “I really hope that people see my post and start to consider that not all people who menstruate are women and not all women menstruate...we can start to collectively move away from the harmful tendency to equate periods with womanhood and femininity.” Seeing images and adverts such as the Thinx advert “would help raise awareness for people who are not necessarily transgender or non-binary, to be aware of the wide spectrum of gender identity and sexuality” explained Araniello.

Effy, a 23-year-old, is a trained healthcare and support worker in Kent, UK. Effy identifies as non-binary, a term that describes people who feel their gender cannot be defined by the margins of just female and male. “I menstruate and I don’t identify as a woman. I’ve got trans friends, some identify as female who don’t menstruate, and some identify as men, and they do menstruate.” In a study by Britta N. Torgimson, a psychologist and biologist in women’s health, and Christopher T. Minson, a psychologist, both from the University of Oregon, explore ‘Sex and Gender: What is the difference?’. In their study, they define sex as ‘the structural, functional, and behavioural characteristics of living things determined by sex chromosomes...which beings are distinguished as male and female’.

Gender is defined as ‘the behavioural, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex’. However, gender as a noun is ‘referring to kind or race...or class referring to the common sort of people’. In other words, gender can be a collective of people, such as the LGBTQA community. Effy adds “you are not defined by your genitalia; I think there is a big stigma around that...there are scientific studies to show that sex and gender and two different things, the way your body biologically works does not have to align with the way you identify.

Torgimson and Minson summarise ‘it is appropriate to use the term sex when referring to the biology of human and animal subjects, and the term gender is reserved for reference to the self-identity and/or social representation of an individual.’

However, for many transgender and non-binary people, menstruating feels unnatural to them, despite their gender identity. Effy is “getting an IUD (intrauterine device) fitted to stop my period. I was on the pill but that sent me up the wall, I just want an effective way to spot my menstruation so that I can feel comfortable all the time. Having my period doesn’t correlate to who I am and by stopping it, I will feel more transitioned...stopping ovulation is important to me and my identity because menstruating makes me feel too female. I don’t want children either, I don’t think that’ll be good for my mental health. My breast and period feel so strange to me, I don’t think carrying a child will feel natural at all.”

There are many alternatives when transitioning, Araniello goes further, “there is actually a lot of treatment you can take to prevent the menstrual cycle from happening such as birth control to stop menstruation or hormone replacement therapy that suppresses female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, and prevent the individual from becoming more feminine. There are specialist doctors, hormone therapist, that can give the right advice and support so people can feel more settled and in control of their transition into male.”

In an article for Psychology Today, Michael Mascolo Ph.D., a professor of psychology and relationships at Merrimack College, explains the difference clearly. Mascolo defines the “term sex...the biological reproductive anatomy and physiology of individuals–chromosomes, internal and external reproductive anatomy, as well as sex hormones and their effects.”

He explains in his article that the “concept of gender has its origins in masculine and feminine forms” and not the sex of the person. Mascolo goes further, “there is no biological reason to associate any given way of acting, thinking or feeling with any particular gender”.

Nadya Okamoto, the founder of The Period Movement, a non-profit organisation fighting to stop period poverty and end stigma, explains menstruation in the simplest of terms, “Not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators are women.

The education of gender, sex and menstruation has begun in the United Kingdom; beginning in the hub of the LGBTQA community. Brighton and Hove Council state, "Language and learning about periods is inclusive of all genders, cultures, faiths and sexual orientations" and “Trans boys and men and non-binary people may have periods”. This statement was released after school guidelines were changed to be fully inclusive. Araniello believes in the importance of LGBTQA education in schools, “I think that education of menstruation in all genders would help create a better social support system within schools. Teachers should have this knowledge implemented into their training so they can answer questions and teach about sex and gender adequately.”

The newly implemented teaching guidelines were met with criticism, anonymous comments stating its “political correctness gone mad!”. Araniello disagrees, “the adolescent years can be some of the most difficult to overcome in terms of self-identity, puberty and social relationships. Targeting that audience in the time period when puberty begins would be so positive and helpful for people’s mental health and wellbeing. And allow children to develop into the person they want to become without stigma or judgement.”

She believes that lack of understanding about your own body “can lead to worse things than body and gender dysphoria, illnesses such as psychosis and severe depression can begin to develop. To prevent this, support in schools, from friends and families will allowed transgender and non-binary people to feel more accepted and valued as individuals.”

Dais Westbury believes their lack of education on sex and gender left them “confused for years...I would have loved to learn about gender identity, and it would have helped me through some difficult times knowing I had a better support system.”

Each advert breaking down the social constructs that ‘menstruation is just for women’ creates new allies for every transgender and non-gender conforming person out there. It’ll create a society where people aren’t offended by a man wearing a tampon, or where blood coming from the uterus is as normalised as blood coming from chopped off head in zombie TV series. It’ll end the generalisation that menstrual equates to being feminine. By ending stigma surrounding male menstruation; knowledge and education will be easier to access for those exploring their sexuality, gender and identity. This will allow for the LGBTQA community to overcome stigmas embedded in an outdated theory that gender and sex are the same.

Effy believes “there will be less pain in my community if the world is educated about gender identity and sex. Knowledge enlightens people, and by educating about problems facing the transgender and non-binary community, we gain allies to join us in the journey to make periods genderless and not a sign of weakness for trans men.”


About the author

Emily-Rose Payne

I am a B2B journalist based in London. I'm using this space to share my work I have previously done in my spare time.

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