Putting The Men In Menstruation

Stock image showing the moon in all her phases through some sort of long-exposure photography, including a normal full moon on the left hand side and a reddish full moon on the right. The moons are displayed over a city with many lit-up buildings, but the sky itself is pitch black.

This post is my contribution to the Menstruation Matters meme, an excellent project started by Sub-Bee with the intention of encouraging frank discussions about all sorts of periods from all sorts of people. Naturally, it contains references to menstruation and blood, and also discusses my experiences of dysphoria as a nonbinary human with a womb. If that’s hard for you, come back next week, for a post I haven’t planned yet more scintillating content!


I have infuriatingly textbook periods.

They were a touch erratic throughout puberty (especially when I wasn’t eating), but as soon as I started using hormonal birth control at age 17 they became so regular you could set your watch by them. Every fourth week, on a Sunday evening or (if I’m stressed or run down) Monday morning, I start to bleed. I have annoying-but-not-debilitating cramps for the first two days, when my flow is heaviest, which vanish by a Thursday morning at the latest, and then the bleeding tapers off and ends on the Friday afternoon.

I don’t bleed spectacular amounts, I don’t have life-ruining PMS, I don’t even break out unless I’m also stressed and not caring for my skin.

And yet I still fucking hate my periods.

Actually, it’s not that simple. My periods themselves are fine. I like the tangible evidence that I’m not pregnant or experiencing organ failure, they’re so predictable and chill that they’re not even a nuisance, and I find menstrual blood fascinating, rather than gross, so it doesn’t even unnerve me in that regard. By all accounts, I’m one of the luckiest period-havers I know.

But I’m also nonbinary.

Leading up to a period, the body retains water and its weight increases. You might find that your breasts feel heavier and more tender, appear larger and spill out of your bra. You might also find that 99% of all period products are marketed in such an aggressively gendered manner that walking down the “feminine hygiene” aisle makes you want to cry. Additionally, PMS-related hypersensitivity means you’re more likely to notice gendered terminology like “womanhood”, “Aunt Flo” and other instances of menstruation being conflated unequivocally with femininity. This might make you feel somewhat murderous.

My periods would be fine if they didn’t bloat me and gender me and force me into the feminine hygiene aisle of Tesco. The latter issue is one I’ve mostly mitigated by investing in an armful of menstrual cups (an armful because if I have just one, I can and will misplace it every single month). Even the ones whose websites are pink and flowery are more comfortable than using pads and tampons, since the cups themselves aren’t big enough to display any patriarchal bullshit on them; they just have 7 and 15 millilitre markings on them, to encourage my fascination with the blood and gunk that they collect. (They’re also a blessing because, unlike pads and tampons, they aren’t scented and they don’t produce any plastic crinkling sounds, which means that they don’t set off any Autistic Rage™ inside my hormonal soul.)

Menstrual cups can’t fix our cisnormative society, though. (Even if you throw them at people.)

Once a month, a nagging pain in my abdomen reminds me that people think I’m a woman. Washing blood from under my fingernails after emptying a menstrual cup reminds me that people think I’m celebrating a feminine, womanly experience when in reality, it’s just another bodily inconvenience, like my knee hurting, or needing to pee in the middle of an important video game boss battle that I don’t want to pause. My boobs being fuller and more sensitive makes me convinced other people are looking at them, and if they’re looking at them, I know they’re assuming that they’re girl boobs. And to top it all off, my moderate flow and easily-ignored cramps make feel guilty for hating my periods with the passion that I do. I’ve read in depth about PCOS, endometriosis and diagnosis-less nightmare periods and I know full well how lucky I am, but I also know full well that dysphoria is a hideous experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

And I know that other nonbinary and transmasculine folks will benefit from hearing about my very ordinary, very detestable menstrual cycle. They don’t have to be the typical Periods From Hell to make you feel hellish. I want other transmasculine people to feel seen and to have space for their anguish even if it doesn’t look like typical menstrual anguish. I also want to point out that there can be something deeply masculine and primal about tipping the contents of a menstrual cup slowly into a toilet bowl and admiring the crimson aftermath, and few things sound more manly than walking around, continuing your day whilst one of your organs sheds half its contents into your clothing and nobody is any the wiser.

Menstruation Matters

Fucking Dysphoria

I stand in front of the full length mirror my Daddy has opposite his spare bedroom. He’s in his office, only a couple of feet away from me, working on something important and grown-up. Sensing me in his periphery, he twirls in his spinny chair and sees me poking at the squishier bits of my body, frowning intently at my reflection.

“Hey,” he says, stern but caring. “Stop that. You’re beautiful.”

Pouting, I ask, “Am I handsome?”

Understanding, he gets out of his chair and moves to stand behind me, putting his big hands over mine – helping me to squash down my chest. “You’re Daddy’s handsome little boy,” he murmurs, kissing my hair. “You’re so cute.”

It doesn’t make the dysphoria go away, but it helps.


Being genderfluid is weird, because sometimes I love my curves. Sometimes I wear things with plunging necklines to highlight my cleavage, or I find the tiniest skirts my local charity shops have to offer, so my butt catches people’s eyes everywhere I go.

Sometimes, though, I hate them.

On those days, it’s hard not to feel hopeless. I know that in a week, or a day, or even a few hours, I’ll swing back around to feeling femme – which means that I don’t consider HRT or top surgery as options for me. I’m even reluctant to bind, worried about harming my breast tissue, making my boobs saggier (as though saggy boobs matter – of course gravity is acting upon them, when they each weigh the same as a small melon). On my masculine-of-centre days, I hate my body, and I hate my changeable identity that leaves altering anything permanently off the table.

 

I only found the vocabulary for my Gender Feelings™ two or three years ago. Before then, I didn’t feel that I had permission use words like ‘dysphoria’, because I believed myself to be cis – just kinda butch, and only engaging selectively with femininity. Being autistic complicated things further – lots of autistic people struggle to perform their assigned gender, or are simply uninterested in it, because performing gender involves understanding a lot of unwritten rules and having half a clue how other people might perceive you. Plus, performing femininity in particular involves a lot of sensory inputs – tight clothing makes me itch like fuck-knows-what, and foundation and concealer make me wish I didn’t have a face at all.

When I came across a definition of the term ‘genderfluid’ after seeing someone identify as such on Tumblr, my first thought was, Wow, I wish I was genderfluid, so I didn’t have to be a girl all the time! It took me an embarrassingly long time to register that that thought alone probably indicated I was genderfluid. If you passionately hate performing your assigned gender and you’re desperately searching for reasons to opt out of it, you might not be cis.

Having a host of sensory sensitivities and a very complex relationship with food and its effects on my body, I had shrugged off the panicky discomfort and bewilderment I felt when I looked in the mirror while presenting femininely. Nobody tells you how dysphoria is supposed to feel, just that it’s bad. Lots of media seems to portray it simply as a longing to look different, but having an eating disorder meant that I couldn’t find the source of my desire to be flat-chested and without hips.

It took me maybe a year to piece together my Gender Feelings™ into a coherent identity. I tagged my selfies on Tumblr as ‘they/them’ to see how it felt; it turns out I liked it a great deal more than ‘she/her’, which felt clunky, like a pair of shoes the wrong size. I borrowed clothes from my boyfriend at the time; he was six foot something, so they all swamped me, and I found I loved the invisibility it granted my boobs, with my little arms sticking out of sleeves and fabric draped over my arse.

At some point, I came across Bex (of the Dildorks, whose work I link to a lot in my posts), who was transmasculine and who was just starting to take testosterone as I was discovering their online presence. Looking at (and crushing on) people like Bex, who were wearing shorts and didn’t have enormous bushy beards and six-packs, I realised that I’d been buying into the same narrow, cis and heterocentric, and outright damaging ideals of masculinity that I would so vocally denounce when other people were harmed by them. I insisted on my tumblr that boys were allowed to cry and wear makeup, but I wouldn’t let myself do those things – because, I suppose, I didn’t really believe I ‘counted’ as a boy. Finding role models, especially transmasculine ones, expanded my understanding of gender expression and of masculinity.

Realising that I didn’t have to look like a PhotoShopped cis dude on my masculine days was liberating.

I Googled words like “twink”, looking for boys who looked like me. I found that there were ways to express my masculinity without trying to be a clone of my boyfriend, or of Vin Diesel, or Buck Angel.

I could be me.


I kept dating straight dudes for a while.

They insisted they respected, believed in my nonbinary identity. And they insisted that they were attracted to me – sexually and romantically. And they insisted they were 100% heterosexual.

It hurt a bit.

Actually, it hurt a fuckin’ lot, but I didn’t want to admit that at the time. They still touched me like I was a girl, no matter what they said about my gender. They cupped my breasts in their hands, kissed my neck softly, held me by my waist or my hips. They caressed me.

It’s difficult to explain this to cis people, especially straight ones. There’s just a very different vibe when someone thinks you’re a girl. Even if you’re having rough, kinky sex – the places people touch you are different. The language they use is different. The aftercare they give you is different.

Even when straight dudes are excellent at interacting with my front hole, they call it my ‘pussy’. They do deliciously evil things to my nipples, but I’m distracted when they compliment my ‘tits’. I know that when they call me a slut, whilst I like it, they mean a girl slut. There’s something in the way they say it. I spend the whole interaction a little sad, a little distant, feeling disconnected from myself and from my partner.

Sex with people who know I’m not a girl is just better. It’s not nauseating, and it doesn’t leave me feeling miserable, confused, hurt and unseen, and it’s so good because I’m actually in my body, enjoying everything that’s being done to it.


My Daddy slides his hand down the boxers I’m wearing, pulling me closer with the arm that’s around my neck. His fingers brush the thing a medical professional would label my ‘clitoris’.

“Look how hard your little cock is,” he teases me, as I squirm against him. “Does Daddy choking you turn you on, little one?”

I nod against his arm, whimpering. “I – um, I don’t think I want, um, PIV today.”

“That’s okay.” My Daddy’s hand comes out of my boxers, and he pushes his wet fingers into my willing mouth. “You have a vibrator, and you have other holes Daddy can use.”

I watch myself sucking on his fingers in the long mirror in front of us. My scrawny, pale legs are shaking a little from the strangling. My curvy body is dwarfed by my Daddy’s, but I’m focused on my face.

I look like a twink.

I look boyish.

And I look fuckin’ hot.