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“Yes, I’m A Man, And Yes, I Menstruate, What Is So Hard To Understand?”

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Owing much to activism in the past decade, the topic of menstruation and menstrual hygiene has come to occupy the public stage; however, rarely the political discourse. This dialogue has included a disproportionately high number of upper caste/class cis-women, and thus, has been dealt with within a structure-guided by social privileges and capitalist disparities.

Despite the strides in queer rights, we, as a society, haven’t come to terms with the lived realities of trans men and non-binary menstruators. It is reflected in the recent usage of the word ‘menstruators’ and ‘people who menstruate’ instead of women to include trans men, non-binary folx, trans women, agender people and more. It made many netizens outraged, which was followed by floods of transphobic replies and tweets (you may remember the controversial tweet by JK Rowling on the topic).

What’s also worrying is that these bouts of intolerance are only more amplified and alarming, outside the echo chambers of Twitter. What starts as a sarcastic joke translates into normalized conversion therapy, risen hate crimes against genderqueer people, reduced chances of getting medical treatment, and more. We must understand that the polemics we use to “play the devil’s advocate” have tangible impacts on the invalidation of the very existence of people.

A man lying on a stained bed sheet

Despite constituting a significant portion of the society, queer menstruators are relegated as either medical statistics or social anomalies. The lack of fruitful discussion around the subject prohibits any normalization of scientific and medical developments around the topic.

There is a distinction between gender identity, gender expression, and the anatomical sex which a person is assigned at birth. The past decade has seen growth in trans-rights and acceptance from the medical community. The American Psychiatric Association declared support for gender variant patients and genderqueer people with medical associations in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India issuing similar stances; we are yet to see these attitudes translate into practice. Even now, it is common to see psychiatrists and medical professionals treat their queer patients with disdain or even refuse treatment altogether.

Menstruation And Body Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is unease with one’s gender and a firm conviction and desire of being another gender (or no gender at all), a strong incongruence with your assigned sex. In the cis-normative society, we inhabit the idea of menstruation being inherently linked to womanhood. The average image of a menstruator is a smiling cis-woman frolicking in white clothes; period products labelled as ‘women’s products’ and marketed in ‘pretty and pink’.

This association of menstruation with femininity causes, or worsens dysphoria in a lot of queer and questioning individuals. Adam, an AFAB genderfluid person, who I interviewed for this article, responded to my question about menstruation and dysphoria as, “Well, menstruation makes dysphoria worse because it’s like a constant reminder that I’m not in the right body. And it makes me have to think about the fact that I have the wrong genitals even more than I already do.

Adding to this, they also mentioned that if we didn’t actively associate menstruation with cis-women, it would help with their dysphoria. However little it may. “It would help with the fact that it wouldn’t remind me I’m female and that because of this, society will only see me as female. Instead, it’ll only leave the reminder that I have the wrong genitals.” This cis-normative narrative around periods is exceptionally harmful towards Genderqueer individuals.

When asked about if there are enough medical resources available for them, and if doctors are sensitive towards their needs, Adam replied, “There are not enough resources, the wait times are insane, and it’s also hella expensive. And while doctors are becoming more open to queer patients, there are still horrible ones that will look down on you.”

I had the privilege of getting in touch with another trans man who prefers to remain anonymous. He responded to a question about the societal reaction to them having periods as, “It’s so frustrating and repetitive, yes, I’m a man, and yes, I menstruate, what is so hard to understand?” Their accounts weren’t unique to them either; the same sentiment has been echoed by trans and non-binary menstruators all over the world.

Dysphoria is a very nuanced and multi-faceted issue and hoping that changes in marketing strategies of period products would magically do away with it, is little more than wishful thinking, but it is a place to start. In a world with electrical cars, buildings that scrape the sky, and devices that let us interact with other people’s ideas from more than a continent away.

Women’s menstruation is still not only a taboo but it even causes men to squeeze and squirm in their seats. So how do we expect to initiate a fruitful discussion about inclusivity among menstruators? It is evident that we have very far to go in regards to queer rights, but the change has already begun, and I can only pray, that it be soon that all humans be treated with dignity and have medical resources at their disposal.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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