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.