Let’s talk about men who menstruate! We got together with our newest team member, Skyler, to answer some questions about his experiences with periods as a trans man!
My first period happened when I was in the 6th grade. Before starting, I had migraines for almost a week straight. Blinding, vomit-inducing pain that completely debilitated my ability to do anything but crawl into bed and hope that when I woke up, the pain would have subsided to a dull throb. In comparison, though, the actual period was pretty tame. I woke up that first morning with a bright red stain on my underwear and covers, so there was no question about what was happening. I remember having the worst gastrointestinal issues, and hoping it was the corn dog I had eaten the night before. Unfortunately for me, it was my period that was causing the stomach upset which has turned out to be a classic symptom for me.
The worst part about that first one was that it kind of lasted 6 months. It would subside for between a day and a week, then pop right back up. It probably would have continued like that for as long as it took my hormone levels to balance out, but I finally told my mom after 6 months. We went to the gynecologist, and she stuck me on low dose birth control to balance me out, which worked. (As a side note, I personally hated this, and it destroyed what little emotional stability I had gained at 13.)
Well, I started testosterone in mid October of 2014, and by January of 2015 I had completely stopped menstruating! At first I still got some light cramping about once a month. After a little over a year, I noticed that the cramping intensified and started happening more frequently. I would get intense cramping usually the morning of my shot day. It felt like an engine trying to turn over desperately, and was definitely one of the contributing factors that led me to stop taking testosterone in late May 2016. Since I’m not taking testosterone currently, my cycle has started back up. It took until late July 2016 to have my first cycle after stopping testosterone, and the period itself was pretty mild. Although, I will mention that the week of intense PMS that came with that first one was just horrendous. As of now, everything with my cycle has returned to much the way it was before testosterone. I’m not sure if it’s connected to taking testosterone, but I have found that this time around I spot occasionally about a week after my period stops.
I would definitely say it has. When I first started my period at 13, I made a huge deal about how happy I was; that I was proud of ‘becoming a woman’. I was caught up in the thought that if I just pretended to be happy, eventually it would be the truth. Instead, I grew to resent having a period at all and held out hope to start Testosterone. I knew that one of the side effects would be that my cycle would stop. (I want to make it clear that this was not the main reason I chose to start taking hormones, only a bonus effect.) After stopping hormones and my cycle starting back up, I’m still struggling with the dysphoria that it brings slamming into my life every month. It’s a little easier to deal with, though, knowing that I made the choice this time. I also have a much easier time dealing with the dysphoria after switching to reusable pads, since I no longer dealing with the chafing and irritation that disposables caused me.
What I struggle with the most is that people automatically file you into the “female” category when you have a period. It can be difficult to remain positive in the face of people who don’t think or know you even exist, and it can really hurt when people tell me to my face that men who have periods don’t exist or are actually women. So let me state for the record: I am a man. I have a period. I exist.
I usually use clinical terms like vulva, vagina, cervix, because I find them comfortingly non-gendered. Other terms I’ve used in the past are ‘my bits’ and ‘my downstairs’, but I don’t like using euphemistic language to talk about my body.
My feelings on this subject are a little complicated. I completely support people using whatever words are most comfortable for them when talking about their bodies and experiences. On the other hand, I have seen that using euphemistic language can promote a cycle of shame and embarrassment about bodies. I have also seen that this kind of language can lead to a lot of misinformation not only among those who menstruate, but especially in those who do not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to educate a partner about how menstruation works, or even how my vagina works and why. (Which is pretty disconcerting to explain to someone who has been intimately acquainted with multiple vaginas and may become intimately acquainted with mine.) I would encourage everyone to evaluate the way they talk about menstruation and reproductive parts, and to make conscious decisions about what language they want to use and why.
I first heard about reusables from the webcomic “Oh Joy Sex Toy” when I was binge-reading the entire archive. I remember thinking, “Well, that makes a lot more sense than clogging up a landfill with used pads!” That was in 2014, right before I was about to start testosterone, so I figured it wasn’t something I needed to worry about too much. When I saw reusables at grocery stores or pharmacies, they were always menstrual cups, which I didn’t feel would be a good fit for me since I’ve never found insertables very comfortable. What finally helped me make the switch was actually coming to work for GladRags. I tried a cloth pad during my next cycle and it totally changed my expectations for my period. Since starting my period at 13, I had experienced significant chafing and irritation every single time. Sometimes (more often than not) enough to need ointment after I was done. However, when I switched my disposable out for a Day Pad, to my surprise and delight the chafing that had already started disappeared by that evening. It hadn’t occurred to me that the disposables themselves might be the cause! I truly thought that it was just a ‘normal’ part of having a period. I’m happy to report that I’m never going back to disposables!
I know that the idea of men who menstruate can be difficult to understand, but I hope this article has helped bring some light to the situation. I also hope that this article helped those trans men and non-binary individuals who may be feeling alone or invalidated. While we may not be a large portion of the menstruating population, we certainly exist! Menstruation is not defined by and does not define gender. I am so grateful and excited to be part of a movement of companies, organizations and individuals who advocate and strive for inclusivity.
If you want some further reading on menstruation and gender, check out this article. And thanks for reading!