I had been waiting to get my period for what seemed like forever when it finally came. At 11, I thought the dread I felt in my body would just disappear when that fateful “womanly” function began. Now that I’m much older, I understand that not all women menstruate and not all those who menstruate are women.
But as a child, I saw it as the cure-all for what I now know was dysphoria. I wished so hard to feel like a woman, like I belonged in my body. I wished for a body that I could love myself in, and I thought menstruating would bring me closer to that. My 11-year-old brain just couldn't grasp what I would be if I were not a woman. I’m a man, a transman. But that is a fact that I did not understand until much later.
When I did finally get my period, I was utterly crushed--my hope that it would make me feel at home in my body did not come true. I did not suddenly feel like my body was my own. Rather, it felt even less so.
Throughout middle and high school, even though nothing felt right about it, I pushed to be seen as a woman, I forced myself into a femininity that was inauthentic. As many trans people do, I tried to force myself into being something I was not.
Menstruating was part of this--I thought that if I embraced the constant reminder of my so-called womanhood, I might actually feel like a woman. I was wrong. I never felt like a woman, and I never felt good. In my conservative high school, I portrayed the epitome of girl power and part of that was attempting to be proud of something that I was so deeply ashamed of: my period.
My friends and I celebrated menarche anniversaries and had period parties. We were fanatic young feminists, who spoke often and fervently of reproductive rights as they pertained to women.
I transitioned while attending a historically women’s college in New England where approximately 15% of the student body identifies as trans or gender non-conforming. As I became more comfortable with my gender identity, I actually became more comfortable menstruating.
Yes, it was a reminder of my trans-ness, and it often brought pain, frustration, and dysphoria. But it did not bring shame. I could discuss menstruation and menstruating as a trans person freely and without judgement for the most part. I lived in a place where it was common to hear the unmistakable sounds of a pad wrapper being thrown away in a stall trash bin and seeing a man walk out of that stall.
As I grew older and studied abroad, I started using men’s rooms that were not as welcoming as those I’d become accustomed to. Off-campus, I found myself deeply afraid of the men’s room. That fear never stemmed from shame, but rather a fear of strangers. I am afraid of strangers knowing that I sit to pee and wondering why. I am afraid of bathroom confrontations. I am afraid of truck stop bathrooms. I am afraid that my body has been so politicized that it prevents me from relieving myself.
How could I change a tampon with someone using a urinal right next to me? What would people say? What would people think? What would people do?
For a while, I stopped using public bathrooms altogether because my fear outweighed the reality of my body’s basic functions. I scheduled my day based on where I knew I could find a private bathroom. Traveling was tricky and I was consumed with anxiety if I couldn’t find a single-stall bathroom.
I don’t get a period anymore because of my weekly testosterone injections. But when I did, my fearful trips to the men’s room were more manageable because I used a menstrual cup. I started using the cup for the sustainability factor. I continued using the cup because I could use it anywhere and feel safer.
It proved more useful than a tampon because it was discreet and easy to carry with me. I could use it in a men’s room with people none-the-wiser. It was gender-neutral and did not raise suspicion in my carry-on luggage at the airport. It was quiet, and I didn’t have to fumble through noisy packaging in a men’s room unfamiliar with the sounds of a pad wrapper. I could use a cup anywhere, even a truck stop men’s bathroom.
With the cup, it felt like for the first time in a very long time, I had control over something that had brought me so much anxiety and distress in adolescence. The ability to mold my interaction with my own menstruation gave me the distance I needed to be able to appreciate it and not be ashamed of it. As a trans person, my relationship with my body is complicated sometimes, and the ability to take the space that I needed from parts of myself allowed me to calm that relationship and start to repair it.
The freedom of not having to think about my period--being able to forget about it, to not fear it--made me less afraid of what a public bathroom might mean for my safety. Using the cup not only released me from that fear, but also helped me love a body that I once thought I could never love. Using a cup, I realized that menstruating or not, my body is my body and nothing and no one can take that away from me.