Not Everyone Who Menstruates Is A Woman

While the silence around women and periods is slowly being broken, there is still an absolute lack of awareness around men who bleed. Here’s a call for more empathy towards trans men and their problems with menstruation.

Menstruation is so heavily associated with the ‘woman’s body’ that it results in horrifying trans exclusion and neglect by a large section of the world. Image via Unsplash

Menstruation is considered a taboo in India and we often see that there’s a lack of discussion on this subject. What is even more appalling is that there are educated people whose belief-system still doesn’t allow them to talk about this issue. Periods are stigmatised to the extent that many women are deprived of their rights on account of menstruation. Here we are talking about women who go through this stigma, but there are other people to consider too – people who identify themselves as Female-to-Male or FTM, i.e. those who are born biologically female but later realize that they identify as men. It is then that they start to face difficulties and sometimes, an identity crisis too.

Menstruation is so heavily associated with the ‘woman’s body’ and her health that it results in horrifying trans exclusion and neglect by a large section of the world. There is an added layer of social shame for trans men who menstruate, as they need to hide their periods from society. According to Transfaith, a transgender faith and spirituality organisation, 36% of non-binary people have refused to seek health care out of fear of facing discrimination. There are many trans men who are diagnosed with dysphoria, which is a clinical term for the experience of having strong and persistent feelings of identification with a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, and discomfort with your assigned sex.

When I talked with one of my friends who is familiar with the issue, he said, “During menstruation, trans men suffer from feelings of loss and detachment when their bodily functions don’t match up with their gender identity.” Not every trans or gender non-conforming person is uncomfortable with their uterus. However, many feel right at home in their bodies. But even those who don’t experience gender dysphoria come up against difficulties in the health care system, particularly when it comes to gynaecology.

People often face difficulties in finding a gynaecologist who can help them get rid of the uterus and its bleeding; moreover, hysterectomy costs a lot and there are often complications in surgery. Also, most healthcare and insurance plans don’t cover the surgery.

At an everyday level, there is another problem which is annoying and embarrassing, which is how to dispose of a pad in a men’s washroom. If we look from a historical perspective, we can see that the whole community has met with a strong opposition and backlash, and there is a lack of studies on trans men and menstruation. That’s how far behind we are in providing the basic needs of respect and dignity.

We need to create an environment which is more gender-neutral. Education must start at the primary level and whether it’s health care, the arrangement of public washrooms or the attitude of society as a whole, we should be more empathetic towards menstruation. Lastly, we need to have a more inclusive approach to sex education.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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