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Periods Beyond Gender: Is Menstruation Only A Female Issue?

Periods Beyond Gender: Is Menstruation Only A Female Issue?

Menstruation is so deeply entangled with normative ideas about gender that it is almost impossible to think of it as something other than a ‘female issue’. And yet it is far from that because a lot of people who don’t identify as women experience periods too. On the other hand, some cisgender women do not go through menstruation at all. So it’s high time we start talking about period inclusivity, especially during this Pride Month. So let’s dive in and learn all about menstruation and gender.

Not All Menstruators Are Women

First things first. Menstruation is a biological process that anyone with ovaries and a uterus can go through. What this means is that quite a lot of people who do not identify as cisgender also go through this process.1 This includes people whose gender identity does not match with their assigned sex at birth, such as transpersons, intersex people, people who identify as gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, or agender. People from each of these categories differ from those in the other in a number of ways, but what they have in common is the fact that the topic of periods can bring about gender dysphoria in them all. 


Opposite of euphoria, dysphoria refers to a feeling of discomfort or distress. Consequently, gender dysphoria refers to the emotional distress that a person can feel when their gender identity differs from their assigned sex and the physical characteristics or biological processes associated with their sex at birth. In fact, a study found that most gender diverse people who were assigned as female at birth feel gender dysphoria associated with their periods, and even a desire for menstrual suppression, or a way to stop menstrual bleeding.2  


When we link periods with womanhood, it can bring up a lot of difficult feelings for such people, making their gender dysphoria worse. The fact that all information and discussions about periods, or the marketing and packaging of period products, are also associated with womanhood, can make menstruators who don’t identify as women feel isolated and alienated. Not to mention the fact that if one thinks of menstruation as a health issue, such menstruators also feel a lack of gender-affirming care.3 


All of this is especially true in India where LGBTQIA+ individuals still face a multitude of societal challenges, which menstruation can exacerbate. A study found that trans and non-binary menstruators in India experience gender dysphoria associated with menstruation, in order to deal with which they undergo hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) so as to try to suppress menstruation. Additionally, they also find it difficult to navigate the physical aspects of menstruation especially with fraught access to public spaces and bathrooms, and have to face the challenges of misgendered healthcare and next to no social support.4    

Not All Women Menstruate

Entangling menstruation with womanhood is also problematic because not all cisgender women experience periods. This is not just due to menopause, but also because of a medical condition known as amenorrhoea or absent periods. 


Some girls do not get their periods at all after puberty due to genetic conditions that affect their ovaries, which is known as primary amenorrhoea. More commonly, some women experience secondary amenorrhoea which makes their periods stop way before menopause due to a variety of reasons such as a gynaecological disorder like PCOS, physical stress, having a very low body mass index (BMI), eating disorders, or even due to some medications like progesterone-only contraceptives, antipsychotics, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, allergy medications, or even chemotherapy.5 


Thus, conceptualising menstruation as a female issue can be just as much a source of emotional distress for cisgender women with amenorrhoea as it is for gender diverse people. It can make them feel as if they are not a ‘real woman’ or not ‘womanly enough’. Of course, these are false narratives to begin with as gender identity is in no way a reflection of sex or biology, as feminist scholars have tried to drill into us over the past few decades. And yet in reality quite a large number of cisgender women, especially in India, identify with such views, which makes it essential to take their distress into account when one thinks about periods. 

The Need For Inclusive Language

One of the easiest ways in which we can break free from biases and gender normative conceptions of menstruation is by using more inclusive language when we speak of the same. This means using non-gendered terms like ‘menstruators’, ‘menstruating people’, or ‘people who menstruate’. Similarly, period care products can be referred to as ‘menstrual products’ instead of ‘feminine hygiene products’. This is important because gendered language can alienate and isolate gender non-conforming individuals, which can be especially harder to deal with when matters of health are concerned. 


Changing the language in which we talk about menstruation is the much needed first step in changing the dialogue about menstruation and gender. And gender inclusive language not only helps gender non-conforming individuals and cisgender women who do not experience periods, but it also helps the cisgender women who do experience periods because it acknowledges that ‘woman’ is not a monolith category and hence every woman might experience her periods differently. Some women might want to go out and conquer the world even on their period, while others might want to just relax and indulge in some self care on their period. Bringing about such a change in the discourse about menstruation is just what Azah aims to achieve through its inclusive period care

The Path To Period Inclusivity 

Because gender diverse identities are still very much a novelty in India, it’s hard to separate the ideas of womanhood and periods. Perhaps the path to period inclusivity lies in acknowledging that difficulty but trying nonetheless to find ways of working around it which can open up a dialogue about diverse experiences of menstruation which extend beyond normative ideas of gender. This Pride Month, it behoves us all to acknowledge gender fluidity and make periods more gender-neutral and inclusive for everyone who menstruates.   

FAQs

Can men menstruate?

Yes, gender nonconforming individuals who identify as men but were assigned as female at birth and have female sexual organs can menstruate. 

Do transgender have periods?

Many transgender men can have periods given that they have female sexual organs and haven’t had sex reassignment surgery done.

Can a non female menstruate?

A non-female individual cannot menstruate. This is because ‘female’ refers to one’s sex rather than gender. If one does not have female sexual organs, they cannot menstruate. However, individuals who do not identify as a woman but have female sexual organs can menstruate.

Can an intersex person have periods?

Intersex individuals have biological characteristics that don’t fit into the normative ideas of male and female sexes. There are multiple variations of such biological characteristics that different intersex people might be born with. This means that some of them might experience typical puberty and others might not depending on their biological characteristics.6 If they have functioning female sexual organs, no matter their physical appearance, then chances are that they will start menstruating once they hit puberty.

Is it possible to be a girl and not have a period?

Yes, it is possible to be a girl and not have a period due to a medical condition known as amenorrhoea in which girls either never get their periods after puberty or a gynaecological disorder or some other condition makes their periods stop.

Next article Why You Need to Talk to Your Son about Periods