By Amber Leventry
Bleeding from your vagina, and everything that comes with it, can suck. But when you are a nonbinary, trans masculine person like me, having a uterus to begin with *really* sucks. Every month, my period intensifies the body dysphoria I struggle with on a day-to-day basis.
For me, being nonbinary means that I am neither specifically male nor female; I am a mix of two genders. Being misgendered as male doesn’t bother me as much as people assuming I am female—which happens often based on my body and name. People draw conclusions quickly when your name is Amber Dawn, and the curves of my hips and the roundness of my breasts convince people I am female.
Not all transgender folks have the ability to change gender markers on legal forms or access medical treatments like hormone therapy or surgery, and we shouldn’t have to anyway. It is not the responsibility of transgender people to make any physical changes in order to live a life of feeling accepted. Some of us make social transitions by changing our pronouns, name, hair, or clothing. Others make medical changes using hormones or gender affirming surgery. But none of these things need to be the answer to fitting in nor should they be viewed as something we have to do to be accepted. The transition that needs to happen is in the way people understand gender and the heteronormative roles and expectations placed on it. Biological sex is not the same as gender, and gender is not binary. That’s why we should stop treating menstruation as an if-then statement.
What we really need to do is normalize the fact that all genders and body types may bleed. It’s hard enough to get your period, but if you are a person who uses the men’s bathroom, it’s a real bummer if you are caught off guard and there are no tampons or pads available. This is why it's so important to make these products accessible in all bathrooms and locker rooms. And when you talk to your kids (or your friend’s kids or your sibling’s kid) about sex and reproductive health, talk about menstruation. Be clear that some boys bleed and some girls don’t. This will keep transgender men and nonbinary folks safer if someone finds out they menstruate.
When I purchase tampons, my brain floods with demoralizing thoughts: Everyone sees your swollen breasts and hips. Your short hair and men’s clothing isn’t fooling anyone. Buying tampons confirms to everyone you are a woman. You are an imposter.
Even if someone flinches because they think I am a man buying tampons, the idea that people assume all women bleed and men do not adds to the stigma transgender people face all the time. It’s a lot of work to explain to people that periods are not just “girl problems.” Some transgender women actually wish they could experience “girl problems” because that would mean they have a shedding uterus which could possibly grow a baby they desperately want to carry.
We need more inclusive language and added sensitivity to the conversation about periods so that space can be held for trans folks who feel betrayed by their body whether they are capable of bleeding or not. This starts at home and needs to be enforced in schools and in the media. Companies that sell menstruation products and their accompanying ads need to present outside of a gender binary and offer support to men, women, nonbinary, and genderfluid folks. This needs to be in language and imagery on their packaging.
Representation is important. Not just for me to see myself, but to educate those who have never met a transgender person so that the transgender community doesn’t have to continue to be the sole educators and defenders of who we are. Without social expectations and the constant barrage of heteronormative images, I am just me. I exist in a mental space where I am no gender at all. I don’t get to experience that very often, so on most days I feel like I am the problem for not matching the definition of pictures constantly being shown to me.
The bloating, bleeding, and breast pain before and during my period are awful reminders that I have a body I don't want. It’s like my body is screaming truth into the assigned female gender I was given at birth while my brain is screaming that I am being lied to. My assigned sex does not determine my gender, but the actions of my parts take away from my whole. The added intensity of body dysphoria—of not feeling right in my body — when I menstruate is compounded by severe depression and anxiety (classified as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD) for about a week before my period starts.
For transgender folks, periods are not “girl problems” — they are mental health concerns.
Each month I try to go through the motions that keep me stable. I work out and stay sober. I reach out to friends and take my prescribed meds and THC-free CBD gummies. I try to stay present in a body that makes me want to run away from it and the literal and figurative mess it causes. Dysphoria is not just about learning to accept our bodies, it’s about learning how to live with ourselves while the world tells us how we should identify based on our parts.
Whether you celebrate or loathe your period each month, there are ways to make the conversation around periods more inclusive of transgender folks. Can you think of any ways you can lend your voice to making this conversation more positive for those of us who are often left out?
Amber is a queer, nonbinary writer and advocate. They live in Vermont and have three kids, including twins and a transgender daughter. Amber’s writing appears on The Washington Post, Ravishly, Grown and Flown, Longreads, The Next Family, and PopSugar, and The Temper. They are a staff writer for Scary Mommy. They also run Family Rhetoric by Amber Leventry, a Facebook page devoted to advocating for LGBTQ families one story at a time, and provide LGBTQIA+ inclusivity trainings at schools, temporary housing shelters, camps, and businesses. Amber is the 2019 recipient of the Iris Breakout of the Year award at Mom 2.0 Summit.