Masc While Menstruating
Take a stroll down any pharmacy's feminine hygiene aisle and you will be bombarded with flowers, curvaceous silhouettes of ladies, and dozens of Venus symbols. It is quite obvious that menstrual products are marketed toward cis-gender women (the entire aisle is labled “feminine” for goodness sake!) Anyone who does not fit into this idealized feminine archetype will stick out like a sore thumb shopping for these products. However, many people who one might assume to be buying pads for someone else could be buying them for themselves.
Trans men can still get their periods, especially if they are early in their transitions. However, not all transgender people decide to medically transition using hormones and gender affirming surgeries. There are also many non-binary people who may present masculinely but continue to need menstrual products. So to assume that only women experience menstruation is just false. Buying menstrual products can be awkward and disforia-inducing for many trans folks as menstruation signifies a big part of themselves they wish they could change. Although starting testosterone can quickly stop the production and shedding of menses, this is still an alluring prospect for many and can help tremendously with dysphoria. But starting testosterone does not always help with other symptoms such as cramps, mood changes, and hormonal fluctuations. This is because the uterus is still intact.
We conducted an interview with Chris, a trans man, and he explained that there are still issues that can occur after medically transitioning that cis-men would never experience. He explained, “[After my complete hysterectomy] I still feel pain every once in a while. So, I think my PCOS is still active. I have a doctor who specializes in transgender healthcare and I asked him, since Iv’e had all those organs removed, should I still be having this issue? And his response was, pretty much, there is not enough research to really know.” It seems that anyone with a body containing a uterus is at a disadvantage in our healthcare system.
There can also be other reasons a trans man could get their period again even after being on testosterone for years. A change in the type of testosterone one uses can bring back menstruation temporarily and send men back down to the pharmacy for “feminine products”. As I searched the web for experiences of trans men and non-binary people and their relationships to their periods I began to notice a few things. Firstly, that there is a market for period products that are not overtly feminized. That means less flowery perfume, less pink, and less smiling ladies doing yoga in commercials. Secondly, that periods in general can be the catalyst for many gender non-conforming people to realise their difference.
I related to this a lot as a non-binary person assigned female at birth. In previous posts for Ruth I expressed how traumatic my first period was. Not necessarily because of the blood or the pain, but because of what periods symbolize in our culture. The inevitable. Being a woman. Chris expressed this sentiment as well, “Menstruating, in general, was a signal from my body that said, ‘Yeah, you are a female. You were born in this female body and no longer can you pretend that, maybe, you were just born in the wrong body– you will never wake up in the body that you want.’ It felt very much like the nail in the coffin.”
Back then I didn’t understand why being labeled a woman made me sick to my stomach. But after hearing the testimonies of other people like me It began to register. Chris continued to say, “Stopping [my period] was like cracking open the coffin a little bit and [realizing] there is a possibility!”
I remember one of the first times I had to walk to the Shoppers Drug Mart beside my house to buy my own pads. The old ones my mom had kept from the 90’s were pure white, cotton filled, and had absolutely no gendered images. But when I began to search for anything similar to the first one I was given there was nothing remotely similar. Like I said earlier, everything was covered in venus symbols or, even worse, infantilizing slogans printed on the pads themselves like, “You go girl!”
This was quite discouraging, but I was never given funny looks or interrogated as to why I was buying pads because, especially at that age I looked like a normal middle school girl. At best I looked like a tomboy, but I never felt looked upon, I never felt like I did not belong there. I’m privileged in this sense because many do not have the same ease as I did. As Chris described it, sometimes it can feel like you are a part of some sort of joke when you enter this aisle, looking adrogenous or masculine. “There is always this joke that men will go into the aisle and look, not know what to get and It will be super awkward. So, that was playing in my mind, how other people are seeing me as this clueless person who is just trying to get period products for the lady in his life. But I'm really getting them for [myself] and I am quite clueless because I have no idea what I should be getting and what I need!” I have heard testimony from other trans men that had even more fear going down this dreaded aisle because they were afraid of being clocked or shamed.
Discovering Ruth products made me realize that there are people who are willing to chater to my needs and the needs of other people like me. There has been improvements in the marketing of menstrual products from the time I bought my first pads in the mid 2000’s. Chris noticed this as well, “Many products now are not so much geared towards women, but towards bodies that menstruate. It’s a little bit of a different world now.”
I’m relived to know that there are products that will be available to the younger generation of gender non-conforming teens dealing with the same fear and awkwardness that Chis and I did. Hopefully they will feel seen and respected, having products exist that do not exclude them from the conversation. Feeling seen can be what helps gender non-conforming youth to accpt who they are and not hide away in the shadows. Ruth products are free from any feminine imagery and consequently can free your psych from undeserved stress.