Menstrual Hygiene Day is not just for women: young trans people speak out
When it comes to menstruation, the world tends to refer to cisgender women (women who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.) But there are those who were assigned female at birth, but don’t identify as women. SocialStory reached out to a few young people who are of alternative gender identities to understand their experience with menstruation, and find out why it’s important to be more inclusive of them in the discourse.
Menstruation and womanhood don’t define each other
“Womanhood isn’t defined by menstruation. Womanhood is defined by the people who identify as female; it is their experiences that give it meaning. It has no rigid boundary. Menstruation is just a bodily cycle that people with uteruses go through,” says a 16-year-old student from Bengaluru who identifies as non-binary.
Ra, a 24-year-old gender-fluid artist from Bengaluru, has another point of view.
“Cisgender women go through menopause and stop menstruating; they are still women. There are cis women who have their uterus removed for health reasons; they continue to be women. Trans women may not menstruate, but that doesn't mean their womanhood is somehow incomplete.”
Right from new parents being asked “is it a boy or a girl?” to the discussion about gender equality being just about women and men, the world operates in a very binary manner. People whose gender identity does not align with either side have a tough time navigating through life because most people are completely ignorant of the existence of gender beyond the binary, or simply refuse to learn.
“I feel left out. I get my periods too, and people just assume that I am a female. As a trans person, I feel the general population lacks the knowledge about other gender identities and forms of gender expression,” says Robyn, a 17-year-old student from Mumbai, who identifies as genderfluid.
“When someone close to me talks about menstruation being ‘a woman thing’, I'm viewed as a woman and it makes me very uncomfortable,” says Val, a 22-year-old student from Mumbai.
Misrepresentation and lack of representation
Almost every form of Indian media that has tried to portray trans people has failed at getting it right. Most roles are played by cisgender actors, written by cisgender scriptwriters, who have absolutely no clue about what being transgender really is, and grossly misrepresent the demographic. Since what people see and hear on screen largely influences their perceptions and beliefs, this has been and continues to be detrimental to trans people who face discrimination.
In the case of menstrual hygiene, all advertisements by cisgender women are marketed towards them, and portray menstruation in one particular way. People under the trans umbrella who menstruate seem to have no space; this needs to change.
“There are hardly any avenues for trans and gender non-conforming people in modelling or media. When you add the stigma against talking about menstruation, no matter what gender you identify with, that leaves almost zero opportunities,” Ra says.
“I think including trans people would make the conversation about menstruation far more inclusive, and also help those who menstruate to see options for themselves outside of the binary,” they add.
“We still live in a world where gender is defined by genitals and outward presentation, despite the fact that a large section of the population does not fit the bill for what they ‘should’ be. Diverse representation would reaffirm that trans people’s identities are respected and their needs are looked after. It may seem like a small thing, but every time minorities are included into anything targeted towards the public, we get closer to integrating our communities and understanding each other better,” says the 16-year-old student from Bengaluru.
In classrooms, students are usually taught about menstruation in a very hush-hush manner. Many times, it’s only girls who are made aware; boys are often left out of the conversation. The discussion on alternative gender identities is completely skipped, making students who are exploring their identities feel out of place, and more vulnerable to mockery and bullying.
“Our education, although at a private international school, was not good when it came to sex education. We were explained the process of menstruation in an abbreviated format; a female teacher even said that girls shouldn’t wear tampons because they'd lose their virginity,” Val says.
So, how would changing the discourse about menstruation among students really help?
“The next generation of people will grow up being more aware and understanding. People who are confused about their identities won’t feel like they are wrong. People will grow up knowing that we exist and that’s okay, it’s normal. If kids learn this, they can teach it to generation after generation, and we’ll gradually become a more inclusive society as a whole,” says Sunn, an 18-year-old student from Bengaluru who identifies as a trans male.
“Today's kids and teens will understand the various gender identities and won’t be surprised that marginalised genders menstruate too. Education is important for a better future,” says a 16-year-old student residing in Dubai, UAE, who identifies as trans non-binary.
The need for gender-neutral restrooms
Many trans people have an internal debate about which restroom they should use. When they are menstruating, it gets even tougher to decide which room would make them feel less distressed. There is a real need for gender-neutral restrooms to be installed everywhere.
“Going to the washroom in public while looking masculine hasn't been pleasant. Gender neutral bathrooms need to be provided in more places, not just cafes and restaurants,” Val says.
“It makes me extremely dysphoric using the women’s restroom, but what else can I do? I think it would be dangerous if I used the men’s restroom. A gender-neutral restroom would be a great way of tackling this problem,” says the 16-year-old from Dubai.
Change for the better
There need to be some serious reform in the education system, government policies, and laws to be inclusive of trans people, and protect them from discrimination. Some simpler ways that life can be made better for trans people include more awareness of alternative gender identities through educational sessions for kids and adults alike, improved trans representation in mainstream media, installing gender-neutral restrooms in all public spaces, and marketing of menstrual hygiene products in a less hyper-feminised manner.
“I would like for people to stop asking invasive questions about my gender and genitals. I’d like them to respect my pronouns even while knowing I do menstruate, and to stop looking at periods as something dirty or disgusting. It’s just a natural process that billions of people go through — woman or not,” the sixteen-year-old student from Bengaluru adds.
Being an ally to trans people is simple if one just looks beyond the binary and respects the different ways of being human. Policing them on the “right” and “wrong” ways of living will only make us, as a society, more regressive. Change is a slow, but sure process; let’s make it for the better.