what i wish i knew

Finding the Words: Queering Periods with Kendra Campbell

June 29, 2021
Isabella Torchia

When I asked Kendra Campbell what their title of Inclusive Performance Coach meant, I was met with a laugh. “For me, I’ve tried to find words that define what I do and what I’m about… and nothing ever feels right. You can say that about my entire gender identity!”. The laugh was comforting to me. I had never seen that job before in the fitness space, and it turned out— neither had Kendra before coming up with it. 

Language sometimes fails us. Expansive and yet often limiting, words carry century old meanings, connotations and years of societal weight. For example, I say "menstruation" and I can bet your brain immediately lands amongst these words: bleeding, puberty and womanhood. And while the pink packaging, Feminine Hygiene signs hanging in pharmacy aisles and the middle school anatomy classes have all trained us to think of the word "period" as just a girl thing— we know that’s never actually been true.

So we sat down with Coach Kendra to talk about the importance of evolving language and navigating meaning, their own experience around menstruating as a trans non-binary person, and how they create space for people to simply exist. Meet Kendra. 

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We talk to a lot of people about their first periods. What was your experience with your period like as a trans non-binary person growing up?

Being socialized as a young girl, being socialized as a woman, I was so young that my parents hadn’t even had “the conversation” with me yet. When I got my first period, I literally thought my butt was bleeding, I had no idea what was happening! 

At a young age, I just didn’t understand it. And growing up, now looking back— my period was a constant reminder that I never felt I fit in with boys or girls. I wanted both. So I was kind of a chameleon, because I could be in both worlds early on. But getting my period was that defining factor for me. You don’t belong in this group of boys, so you are one of them— one of the girls. But my experience now has definitely changed. 

Tell us a bit about that!

I’m completely comfortable disclosing this but— being both socialized as a woman and then as a trans person, I developed a really bad eating disorder. And it wiped my period away. So for a long time, it was all about getting my period BACK. We need to get your period back, this needs to happen if you want to have children and on and on and on. 

But I discovered I actually liked not having my period. Was that the eating disorder? Was that gender dysphoria? I still don’t know. 

I still haven’t gotten my period back. That may be just because I’ve been on testosterone for the last year and a half. For me as of right now when it comes to bleeding or not bleeding, I don’t experience any of the symptoms. I don’t bleed, but I can certainly still relate to people who do. 

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Up until I was 19 I had a period. I was ashamed of my womanhood during that time, because having a period made me feel like I didn’t fit in. So not having a period now really aligns with who I am as a trans non-binary person, but that’s not the same for everyone. It’s so not the same for everyone. 

Some non-binary people or trans masculine people really DON’T want their periods. Some people get hysterectomies. If I did currently bleed, I don’t know if I’d be pushing for that. I just do not know! This is just my unique experience and it’s not talked about a lot, even in the trans community. For some people, it can feel shameful to have these parts sometimes. 

There’s so much shame and stigma for periods still when it comes to just cisgender women, so adding this other layer of queerness and gender on top of it—it seems really difficult to talk about it. 

Yeah! It gets to the point where we’re like, let’s just not talk about it. It’s uncomfortable! I say… talk about it! But I feel comfortable enough in my privilege to do that. I own a vulva! And I don’t have bottom dysphoria. I’m fine with it, but maybe my opinion would be different if I menstruated regularly. 

I’m curious about what the future of periods looks like in general. What’s your hope for the future of menstruation and conversations around different bodies? 

I think that’s the golden question when it comes to inclusivity. You can take the topic of menstruation out and apply it to anything. 

I think ultimately what I strive for is a place where my gender isn’t the most interesting thing about me. A place where whether I bleed or not is not the most interesting thing about me. We’re so fixated on genitalia! I wish for a world where I don’t have to disclose I am transmasculine non-binary. The second I say transmasculine, people assume I was born with a vulva. Which might not even be true, there are intersex people too. 

Why are cis men so frightened of talking about periods? It’s because we’re socialized that way. So in terms of the future of menstruation, I think the first step is just education. When I was a young kid, I didn’t know what was happening to me. Why aren’t we telling young children about these experiences, and not just children who bleed? We should be talking to everyone about what happens to different bodies. 

It’s almost like, the goal is not have this be a conversation. But in getting there, you need to have those conversations. You need to talk about things... so they’re not things anymore. 

Right! It takes an immense amount of work to have these conversations, and to continually advocate for these conversations. It’s work. It’s not easy. And language is not easy at all. I slip up all the time! Was that okay? Did I not include everyone? I’m constantly thinking about it. But if we can queer up language, and queer up period conversations and menstruation— that’s the goal. And I don’t just mean queer as in gay! I mean queer in the sense of things ever-evolving, always creating, and forever changing. 

The past few years at Knix we’ve really worked to remove gendered language from our website when it comes to periods. And that upsets a lot of people! When we use words like menstruator or people who menstruate, we’ve definitely gotten some angry emails about it. Which is funny to me because I always think, in what world does that language affect you at all? 

To say it bluntly, it hurts peoples’ cis-egos! It hurts people to hear that other people who are different from them can share their experience. 

I think changing language is one of the hardest things we can do, Like, we still use words from their origins. But I was saying to someone recently that these inclusive phrases like people who menstruate—  that’s not cute! It’s not fun! It’s a mouthful. But it is so necessary. We’re trying to navigate spaces right now where we’re really careful with our words. We have to think, who is this going to impact? Who will this exclude? Whose ears will be turned off? But I think language can change culture.

You know who is really good at navigating language? Teens. Even just seeing it on Tiktok, they have the language, and it’s so natural to them. It’s comforting to me to see that evolution happen. 

I agree! I was talking to my wife Kaylynn (note from Knix, we chatted with Kaylynn last year here!) about the Gen-Z’ers. I think they are so cool, and their emotional intelligence is far beyond where we are now. They’ve done some self-reflection. When I was that age, I had no idea. I was like Am I… gay? Will I ever tell my parents? And then they’re here casually like Yeah, don’t label me, it’s whatever. 

When we were talking about things not being a conversation anymore, they’re definitely already there. 

It’s like, they’re annoyed that they even have to talk about it still! 

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Truly, thank goodness for them. Okay, I have one last question for you! You’re an Inclusive Active Performance Coach. I’ve never heard of that before, what does that mean? And how do you create a space for everyone in your work? 

For me, I’ve tried to find words that define what I do and what I’m about… and nothing ever feels right. You can say that about my entire gender identity!

We have words like fitness, exercise, personal trainer and if I said those words to a group of people, they already have an idea of what I do. They have an idea based on their own experience in that space. Especially if they have traumas. We hold a lot of traumas in our bodies— especially if you’re in the queer community! Or if you’re a person of color. Queer women, Black women, Black Queer women— we’re at a place in our society where we’re finally navigating and holding space for all of these people. 

When you hear fitness, you might think— that’s not a space for me. The words personal trainer can have a negative connotation for some folks too. If people know I’m a personal trainer, they automatically want to talk to me about food, or their weight, or how good or bad they’ve been. But woah! Back it up! You do you. I don’t need to know those things! 

So I see it in terms of performance. Performance is something we all have to do. Whether that’s showing up as a partner, a working professional, a parent, or just existing in society — we all have to perform in our lives one way or another. Performance doesn’t just mean lifting weights and running. It means slowing down and thinking about what your breathing is like, what your daily stressors are like, what your sleep is like, are you getting enough water? 

That’s why I like calling myself a Coach! First and foremost I want to be an educator. I want to educate you about your experience with your body, because everyone’s experience is different. When people see my title, I almost want them to think… what does that mean? What do you do again? I’d rather have that conversation than the assumptions. And then it opens up doors to all sorts of different conversations. 

When it comes to creating an inclusive space, people want a recipe. You have to do A, B and C to have an inclusive space. We’re looking for the perfect, cookie-cutter way to do things. But there are no measuring cups involved. There’s nothing written down. There are no instructions. I think we just need people to feel empowered in their space, so they in turn can empower others. You have to just live it. 

The hope is to have people walking away thinking, this space is somewhere I feel like I exist.