Imagine the seemingly unbearable struggle of a woman dealing with the stigmatization of menstruation through embarrassment, fear, and misogyny: then, add not only facing the stigma surrounding the menstrual cycle but also, judgment over being non-binary, a transgender male, or even a woman that presents themselves as what society would consider being “masculine”. Then, you have imagined the often undiscussed and unseen concept of having a period outside of the female community. I interviewed MyKaela Salcido, who goes by Max. Max’s gender identity transitions between genderfluid and transgender (based on what is comfortable) and their pronouns are most often they/them. Max shared with me their experiences with having a period and being seen by society as a woman just because of their having this bodily process each month.
In a society that unifies the women’s community based on sharing a body part and bodily process, the experience of having a period as someone who is not a woman is bound to be much different and often less inclusive. After asking how this experience differed for Max personally, they shared their fight with body dysmorphia, defined as a mental illness involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance, during their menstrual cycle. When your body is automatically labeled as female, you have an unwanted biological stigma of femininity, causing you to feel invalidated and even question your gender identity. As a non-binary person or transgender male, if you were to ask someone for a pad, your gender would most likely be assumed as female, when that might not be true.
Even women’s marches or other notably progressive fights for justice can be exclusive due to one unifying label: having a vagina. These groups often make the assumption that all who share one body part are women and the period is used as a banner for women and something that all women experience, excluding people without vaginas that do identify as women and those with a vagina that do not identify as women.
In regards to easing the experiences of such people, Max recommended that others stop labeling body parts as a woman’s and increasing diversity in advertisements of menstrual products. Other practices that could benefit people are normalizing asking for pronouns when talking to others, especially in spaces of supposed activism, and destigmatizing the assumed gender identities of those with periods. Something else that could help is having more people that do not identify as a woman but still experience the menstrual cycle come out (if they are able to safely do so) and share their experiences to help visualize this situation to uninformed individuals. Also, by destigmatizing the period in general and coaching young people not to feel embarrassed about having a period, we can lessen the problem in the future. After implementing these practices in our daily lives, then, we can reach the deeper roots of misogyny.
As far as being informed, Max agreed that not enough people are informed about these particular circumstances, but then again, not enough people are informed about plenty of issues in general. To tie this back to raising awareness, things that can be done to help inform others are increasing the knowledge of the existence of non-binary and transgender individuals in general. Then, the understanding of periods within these individuals can be increased. Something not talked about enough is the existence of complications in body politics–again, the labels of body parts and their relative gender associations can be very problematic. A challenge to feminist groups is to be more inclusive of people with periods that are not necessarily female and to discontinue the use of the unifying status of women being their body parts and processes.
Max described their coming out and how it changed their experience with having a period. During their sophomore year of high school, Max began to identify as a man but struggled with their body identity while having their period. Then, in junior year, shrunk back into the queer category. It became difficult to be comfortable in open spaces and deal with having an assumed gender identity from others based on the way they presented their appearance and even asking for a pad. Clothing is often determined as a way to identify someone’s gender when men don’t always wear “masculine” clothing and vice-versa. Through their experiences, they realized coming out is more of a process than a one-time scenario.
The only time Max has ever dealt with body dysmorphia was during their period, because the stigmatization of a woman’s purpose has often been seen as having babies, and therefore, a period being the first step of doing so. By having a gender identity outside the female circle and still having a period, Max was able to find the truth in that a woman’s purpose is not strictly aligned to having children and that a period did not represent gender identity. One of Max’s wishes is that they would have had more queer adults in their younger life to coach them through the concept of understanding that just because they had a period did not mean they were less of a male or non-binary individual.
As far as experiencing judgment, Max has increased their safety by living on their own and surrounding themselves with people who are progressive, inclusive, and accepting. Max still faces an internal dialogue about whether or not their period discredits their identity, but has become encouraged by others to feel validated. They shared a story about one of their friends, who lived as a successful transgender male, but when asking their boss to leave work to purchase a pad, the boss made a snide comment, asking if the man had not had “the surgery” yet. This visualizes the toxicity existing within workplace environments, where people are supposed to work as a team, not demean others or make unnecessary comments about someone’s gender identity in relation to their body. This also ties back to the fact that every time someone mentions their period, they are automatically assumed to be a woman.
As far as resources go for people in these situations, none specifically dedicated to people outside the female binary that menstruate exist, but there are general support groups for non-binary and transgender individuals in which they can find a safe space and talk about their bodies. However, these safe spaces still exist inside a much larger unsafe space, which can make it difficult, knowing what it is like to feel validated and then having to deal with judgment outside that circle of validation. This is why, at Project Period, it is important that we recognize these people and include them in our efforts for awareness, encouragement, and justice. Max is now a member of our team and hopes to help us in this fight to bring enlightenment to those who might not know enough about this issue. From this point forward, we hope to unify ourselves as strong individuals who fight through the battle of menstrual stigmatization together and not just as women.