I was nine years old when my first period came. My mom and I were in a Toys R Us in Tulsa, Oklahoma, looking for Christmas gifts, when I had a sudden warm-wet feeling between my legs. For one terrible moment I thought I’d peed my pants, and quickly snuck off to the bathroom to assess the damage. Seeing blood in my underwear didn’t make sense to me at first; my grandma had discussed development with me off and on as a kid, but there had never really been talk of bleeding, more about hair and breasts and how boys might treat me - all issues I was already dealing with by the time I found myself worrying over the blood in my pants.
I was nine years old when I came out of the bathroom with blood on my pants and tears in my eyes. I was sure that my mom would be mad, but when I worked up the courage to tell her what had happened, she laughed. ‘It’s normal,’ she told me while perusing the aisle I’d found her in, ‘It happens to all girls when they grow up. It means you’re a woman now.’ My mother had little more to say about it at that moment. We finished looking through the store and eventually drove the hour back home, my pants still bloody, my stomach still twisting up with the quiet, nagging feeling of not-right.
I was nine years old when my mom laughed and gave me the news. You’re a woman now, she said. A woman.
Except I wasn’t.
At nine years old I didn’t yet have the language I’d need to be able to express why I felt not-right with bleeding. I didn’t have the terms, the knowledge base that came with the growth of the internet, and getting out of the tiny town I grew up in. Words like Two-Spirit and transgender weren’t in my vocabulary, and the only time I heard the word queer, it was being used as a weapon against the very people I was already beginning to feel some sort of kinship to. Instead, I’d always been the daddy’s girl, the Tomboy.
Tomboy was a badge I wore with pride, a label given to me before I could remember, but one that seemed to work well enough for how I felt. With a name like Tomboy, I could play in the mud or climb trees, go hunting and fishing with my dad - I even got to wear my older brother’s hand-me-downs. With a name like Tomboy, I played ball, ran with the boys, and less commonly found myself subjected to the same doll-like treatment I saw happening to my little sister. With a name like Tomboy, I could be like one of the guys.
At nine years old, standing in Toys R Us while my mother laughed and said, “You’re a woman now”, a name like Tomboy no longer felt like enough. The term which had once been mine to proudly boast, now fit in a way that wasn’t quite right, an itchy, too-tightness that crawled across my skin when I thought about it: I had been Tomboy, like one of the guys, but I was a woman now. I was a woman. So why, then, did that fit so badly too? That same not-right feeling remained, present every moment of every day, sometimes quieter, sometimes too loud to ignore. My skin felt wrong. My reflection wasn’t quite my own.
My body was a foreign space; I found myself physically bound but never attached.
There were times back then when I felt better than others. I’d settle partially into my skin, find some way to make due - sometimes I even felt good for a little while, although those moments of forgetting that I was only like one of the guys would inevitably come to an end. The worst harbinger of my Woman-ness came monthly, or close to it. Just as it had at nine years old, my body would give me another reminder, unable to be ignored: you’re a woman now. A woman.
My period was never a source of power for me, not a sign of life or the ability to create it. It wasn’t even just something that was, something annoying I had to deal with but nothing too terrible. Instead, it served as a physical reminder that something was wrong with me, that there was an otherness to me, something irrevocably unaligned. That not-right feeling that had taken root at nine years old in Toys R Us had grown, become a terrible sense of wrongness that stared back at me in every mirror, taunted me with every call of my name, and each month it blossomed into something too terrible to bear.
At nine years old I would walk down the Feminine Health isle at the store, guts twisting into knots and hands fisted in my pockets. My palms would sweat a I stared at the boxes, bright pinks and purples with some blues, though nothing that would come off as too masculine. Even the designs on the wrappers were feminine, packaging screaming FEMALE and GIRL and WOMANHOOD with words or designs or pictures. It felt wrong back then and only worsened, becoming a constant fear of being outed due to shopping for products that so clearly both were and were not for me. It wasn’t my fault so many companies seemed to have overlooked me, us, those who don’t quite fit into the boxes.
By twelve years old, my periods were sending me to the hospital. The severity of my cramps and bleeding would be brushed off for years despite my efforts to get help, first written off as normal and part of being a woman, then later blamed on my transition, on hormones I wasn’t yet taking at the time of many of the conversations. At one point, after being diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis, one doctor suggested I get pregnant, claiming it might help with the pain and heaviness of my flow. I explained (not that it was her business) that despite being a man who does want to be a carrying parent someday, I definitely wasn’t ready yet.
Doctors refused me care, claiming there was nothing to be done in the case of what they saw as my woman issues - and later, when I began to transition, nothing they were willing to do for someone with issues like me.
Even now, years into my transition, I find that the world so often struggles to make space for us, to allow us to take up space at all.
I’d like to say that, at twenty-five, I never feel that not-right feeling of childhood anymore. I’d like to say that I never struggle with fear, shame, or confusion, that I wake up in love with myself, and that I keep loving myself, each moment of every day.
While those things may not always be true, I did eventually find the labels that fit who I am, as well as the communities that came with them. I found myself, and the goodness I could give myself. The road to this point in my life and in myself was long, and the battles along the way were hard-won. It’s a journey I continue to make, and one I’m proud to say I’ve already made great strides in. I’m confident in who I am far more often than not. I love myself more often than not. I am who I am, more often than not.
It took years to begin unlearning the trauma associated with my period, with my body, but I’m getting there. Despite years of testosterone and an IUD, my body continues to bleed every month. I’ve had sixteen years to practice, sixteen years to prepare myself for the monthly trip through the Feminine Health aisle at the store, to learn how to keep from getting found out while on my period in a public men’s room where there are no trash cans in the stalls, no secret bin to drop used tampons or pad wrappers into, just the trash can next to the sink for paper towels. Sixteen years to struggle, to try and suck it up, to quietly try and remind myself that I’m more than my body, more than the things I can’t change. I’m Two-Spirit and trans, I’m a man, and even periods and female-oriented products can’t change that.
Then, I found the cup.
Menstrual cups had never really seemed like an option to me. I heard about them once as a middle schooler, quietly discussed with no small amount of disgust by some of the women around me, but it was only in passing. They were never sold in stores around me, and at $40, they never seemed quite like an expense I wanted to try - tampons worked, even though they hurt and I hated them, and I just didn’t have the money to spend on a cup I might not like.
When an ad happened across my Facebook feed earlier this year for the June Cup, sold at cost to offset the havoc COVID has wrought on all of us, it’s safe to say that it caught my attention. I was interested in trying the cup at such a low cost while I could, but what really drew me to start looking into the company and their product was the ad’s model. Rather than the picture of a perfect woman, I saw a more androgynous take on menstruation publicly displayed by a company for the first time. The language in the ad was inclusive and, upon looking into the company further, I decided to purchase a cup.
Not only would I get to try a cup out for a low cost, but I knew that I was supporting a company that was trying to support me. The June Cup has granted me more peace during my period than any other product I’ve used. In my sixteen years of menstruation, no other product has made the physical realities of my body more bearable. My dysphoria, while still present, is lessened. My trips to the period aisle are over.
It’s true that we are still fighting, that wars are waging ever onward all around us. Things are far from perfect but, when I think of how far I’ve come, how far the world has come, I can’t help but feel hopeful. At nine years old, my exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community was limited at best. The representation I saw for people like me was minimal and largely negative, including villains in drag or queer people being used for comedic relief.
Now here I am, able to spread knowledge and awareness thanks to companies like JUNE who have decided to stand beside us, who understand that menstruation isn’t just part of being a woman, but an experience shared by many people. JUNE’s inclusive initiative has provided me with products that are not only safe for my body, but also for my mind and spirit. They’ve given me more freedom in my body, and provided me with a form of safety, putting me at a lower risk of being found out in the bathroom due to menstruation.
More than that however, JUNE has stood behind me as an individual, and has helped to amplify my voice as a Two-Spirit transman and activist, granting me the platform to now be here, writing this post for others to read.
I’ve grown immeasurably since that trip to Toys R Us, both physically and otherwise. I’ve learned to accept and love myself, menstruation and all. I’ve stopped waiting for the world to make a space for me and have instead found my voice, the ability to stand up and claim my own space, and to bring about positive change in those around me. I’m grateful to JUNE for giving me the opportunity, the platform on which to stand and share with you my truth, my life, my experience, period.
By Daniel Clark
Daniel is a member of the JUNE Team and moderates the JUNE Facebook Community