‘Not all periods are women’: why trans and non-binary people want to talk about their periods

Identification as a non-binary gender does not exclude menstruation, activists emphasize. (Getty images)

When it comes to menstruation, calls for action to include trans and non-binary people in research, literature and general education are growing – both in the medical field and in society as a whole.

Earlier this month, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreed and was subsequently criticized for using the term “menstruating people” during a CNN interview discussing Texas’ strict anti-abortion law.

“I don’t know if he’s familiar with the body of a menstruating person,” she said of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. “In fact I know that he is not acquainted with a woman, with a woman or [with a] menstruating body.”

Ocasio-Cortez was later ridiculed by the Daily Mail, which tweeted her quote with the caption: “AOC calls women ‘menstruating people’ while explaining the female body.”

“Not just women!” she replied in a retweet. “Some women *also don’t menstruate* for many reasons, including surviving cancer that required a hysterectomy. GOP angry at this is protecting the patriarchal idea that women are most valuable as womb holders.

Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the only public face fighting for more trans and non-binary inclusive language. In 2019, the Always brand removed the feminine symbol on its products to be more inclusive for non-female identifiable customers. Likewise, different trans-affirming brands from the period have increased their online visibility to raise awareness of non-cisgender menstruators.

But as corporations and officials debate ideology and terminologies, people like: AJ Lowik, a non-binary activist and researcher at the University of British Columbia, says erasing trans and non-binary people from the discussion of the period has real-life implications.

“We’re dealing with erasure at the information level,” Lowik (using the pronouns they/them) tells Yahoo Life. “We know very little about the menstrual health of transgender and non-binary people and the need for menstrual health care. Among others, caregivers, educators, parents and both trans and non-binary people are at a disadvantage in the field of information. As a result, trans and non-binary people have to make health care decisions, for example without all the relevant information, and we have to navigate health care spaces where few people know anything about how we might experience our periods differently than our cis. counterparts.”

The central reason for this removal, Lowik argues, is a ‘cisnormative worldview’ that frames trans and non-binary people as ‘abnormal, unnatural, rare and exceptional’.

“It’s ingrained in everything,” Lowik adds. “From education to architecture, from medicine to law. Basically, we assume and expect that everyone is cisgender, identifying with the gender which is understood as ‘aligning’ with the gender they were given at birth. We treat sex and gender as binary numbers, and we expect that these binaries will or should align in predictable ways with dominant socio-cultural values. We treat cisgender people as normal, natural and expected. It’s a bit like heteronormativity – assuming that everyone will be straight, and treating heterosexuality as normal, natural, and expected. It’s the same idea, but because it’s about sex and gender, rather than sexuality.”

Canela López, an activist and journalist who covers trans health in front of Insider, agrees, adding that because menstruation is seen only as a “cis-women” issue, access to adequate health care is compromised by major health agencies and “not addressed.”

“For someone who has used testosterone, menstruation may look a little different,” López (using pronouns) told Yahoo Life. “Someone who wants to get off HRT” [hormone replacement therapy] getting pregnant will look a little different than someone who has not used HRT before. Those are really specific questions that can really only be answered by a doctor, but because there’s no research, it’s really hard for a lot of trans people who either want to get pregnant or just get very basic care.

“You don’t have research facilities that do this work,” continues López. “Or you have teams of researchers who want to investigate trans-specific menstrual care but can’t because they don’t have the funding because it’s not seen as a broad enough problem by agencies to get that kind of funding.”

Isabela Rittinger, founder of Blood North, a growing student- and volunteer-led organization of Canadian youth activists fighting for menstrual equality, explains that the first step toward trans-inclusiveness is by “improving our language.”

“Using terms like ‘menstruators’ and avoiding gender names” is important, Rittinger believes, although she admits it will take a long time for most people to accept the shift in terminology — and that we should accept that as “totally OK.” for now.

“I remember explaining to my parents why we use the term ‘menstruators’ instead of ‘women’ and they looked confused because it’s not something they grew up with,” Rittinger, a cisgender woman, tells Yahoo Life. “This is something that is new to a lot of people.”

Still, she says it’s no excuse for being “harmful” to trans and non-binary communities in any way. “I think it all comes down to the stigma, which is clearly influenced by a number of different identities,” she adds, pointing to older generations, especially those who are also influenced by cultural and religious beliefs, as the main perpetuators of stigma. of the period.

“I come from a family of immigrants,” she explains. “I think while menstruation could be a unit, the way it’s discussed in society in different groups is very different.”

López says that inclusive language goes beyond just period terminologies, but also in describing people.

For example, “instead of saying ‘women with vaginas,’ you could also say ‘people with vaginas’ or ‘people with vulvas,'” explains López. “Making sure our language is very gender neutral can be a small way to engage people and make it seem more of a safe space when we have these conversations that can often be really triggering for trans people.”

Tara Costello, a British activist and author of Red Moon Gang, adds that it’s not enough for “brands and celebrities” to make inclusive statements, but that people who menstruate should demand more research and education from all levels of health authorities — something she says could save lives. Especially when you consider that trans men, non-binary and intersex people, “basically anyone with a cervix,” often have to rely on cisgender women to access accurate health information, and that there isn’t enough specific research for everyone who menstruates.

“There isn’t enough money,” Costello admits, “but there are people doing the work. I recently spoke with a doctor in South Africa who is researching endometriosis, specifically in trans men, so little is being done.”

Due to a growing number of allies on social media, Lowik says more of the public is beginning to understand that “not all menstruators are women,” which they say is “fundamentally important” not only for trans and non-binary people, but also for cis women as well.

“I get it [critics] relying on biological essentialism – that a woman is necessarily a person with a uterus, and that having a uterus and all that comes with it is ‘what makes a woman’ – in a way that feels really harmful, not just for trans – and non-binary people but also for cis women,” says Lowik. “We cannot rely solely on trans and non-binary activists – scientists, researchers, health care providers. We need strong, fierce and determined allies to mobilize their privilege, to speak up when they see our communities being erased from the discussion, to ensure we have a place at the table. This is vital, and that it is happening now is important.”

“The violent idea seems to be that if you’re menstruating, you’re a woman,” Lowik added. “Our identity is being debated in a way that puts us at increased risk of violence and discrimination. When we think of trans and non-binary people who menstruate, it seems to expose some people’s transphobia, their cisnormative, reductive way of understanding sex and gender.”