Last week, J.K. Rowling tweeted out an article that predicts the future of menstrual equality, health and hygiene in a post-COVID world. And while the article she posted is a must read (how do we prioritize menstruation and sanitary resources for everyone going forward?), Rowling seemed to fixate on one thing in particular: that the authors chose to title the article Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.
Rowling outlined the problem in her Tweet: ‘People who menstruate. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’— doubling down on an often-thought (but incorrect) belief that only women get their periods. Still a little confused? That's okay! Read on to learn about who else gets their periods, and why it's important to use inclusive language when talking about menstruation.
The Myth: Only Women Get Periods
June is Pride month, which means there’s no better time to learn a little more about gender and sex (and everything in between)! A really vital aspect of learning is often unlearning— especially when it comes to “concrete” societal beliefs that were introduced to us at a young age.
Here’s what a lot of us have been taught: that only women get their periods. Whether this was introduced in an elementary school sex-ed class, or perpetuated through depictions in media and marketing, periods are wildly considered to be a girl thing— a cultural experience that signifies womanhood.
But here’s the period golden rule, outlined by trans menstruation activist Kenny Ethan Jones in response to J.K. Rowling’s tweet:
Not all women menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are women.
Who else bleeds?
Gender isn’t actually a determining factor on whether someone gets a period. This is because gender and sex are two distinct aspects of our identity. “Biological” sex largely has to do with our sex organs. If a baby is born with a penis, they’re assigned male. If they’re born with a vulva, then the assigned sex is female. Sex, like gender, also operates on a spectrum. You can read more about it here.
If your gender identity doesn’t match what you were assigned at birth, you may identify as transgender or non-binary. For example, if you were born with a vagina but don’t identify with being a woman, you may choose to identify as a male. This means that there are people other than ciswomen (women whose gender identity matches their sex organs) who menstruate!
The only determining factor on whether someone gets a period? Having a uterus. And people who identify as male or non-binary can have uteruses. Because why? Let’s say it together: Gender and sex are different things. See! We’re learning already.
Understanding that people menstruate is really crucial— it helps us to curve behaviours and language that make trans and non-binary people feel like their bodies and experiences are invalid or wrong. It's important to say that people menstruate, because it helps to destigmatize and demystify periods for all.
We’ve gotten better at talking about periods, but stigma around menstruation still very much exists.
Have you ever hidden a tampon in your sleeve and scurried off to the bathroom during your time of the month?
Have you ever skipped school or work with the “flu”, when really your cramps were acting up?
Have you ever been chastised for being too emotional, and had others blame it on your PMS?
As much as period shame and stigma still exists for ciswomen, it's even greater for trans and non-binary folks. “A period in and of itself can be uncomfortable for any individual, and being transgender adds another emotional layer to that”, Kenny Ethan Jones explains. An experience largely associated with womanhood, getting a period when you don’t identify as a woman can feel confusing, dysphoric and take a huge toll on one’s mental and physical health.
Changing the Conversation
Here are little things to remember that can help us all be more empathetic, inclusive and understanding when talking about periods.
Use non-gender specific language. Menstrators and people who menstruate are really great ways to make menstruation experiences valid for everyone. Also take a look at some of the euphemisms you use to describe your period. Lady business? Girl flu? We’ve all used those! Using the words period or menstruation helps to center the experience as a normal, biological bodily cycle. One extra tip: avoid calling pads, tampons or other methods of period protection feminine hygiene!
Menstruating does not mean you are a woman. Trans and non-binary folk who don’t identify as women can get their periods too.
Being a woman does not mean you menstruate. If you’re a ciswoman who doesn’t menstruate, this does not make you any less of a woman.
Look out for period protection that is gender neutral. The period aisle at the drugstore is filled with flowery imagery and products with packaging that screams these are for girls! But periods are for everybody. Products like Leakproof Underwear are great neutral alternatives that are designed to make everyone feel more comfortable and secure while menstruating.
According to a study done by Reuters, nearly 60% of transgender people avoid using the restroom in fear of being harassed. If you’re trans or non-binary, Leakproof Underwear (like the Dream Short which is designed like a brief) also helps you to be subtle and safe in order to avoid violence in bathrooms while on your period.
Every person has a different relationship with their period. Everyone has a different body, and everyone has a different cycle. Ultimately, a period shouldn’t define a person or their worth!