I’m doing the cramp wiggle at my desk chair right now.
You know, the seat acrobatics you do when you’ve got cramps, but you’re too lazy to get up and get Advil, and it hasn’t gotten bad enough yet that you’ve got to lie on the ground with your butt up in the air.
It’s funny. When I initially began writing this article, I hadn’t had anything resembling a period in months. And then my doctor switched my birth control on me, and my reproductive organs took full advantage of the slight change in hormones. My body really, really wants to menstruate, y’all.
Oh. This might be a good time to mention that I’m a dude – one with a uterus. A very, very excitable uterus.
I actually did okay when the Great Body Part Mechanic in the Sky was handing out body parts. I have broad shoulders; fat settles on my belly instead of my thighs; and I have narrow hips. I’m built like a little bull (or refrigerator).
So although I don’t take testosterone, my body looks male in many ways that are important to me.
Unfortunately, there’s still my reproductive system.
When I got my period – at eleven – I discovered that my female hormones were just about as excited about menstruation as they could possibly be.
I used to think that this was something I’d just have to deal with, like my small hands and long eyelashes. But then, my psychiatrist prescribed me birth control pills.
She had correctly identified that I’m least stable in the weeks before and after my period. So I got to take BC for “continuous suppression of periods.”
I mostly get to forget that I can have periods. But I can’t pretend that I’m going to be able to avoid it permanently. Every once in a while, I have a full blown period attack.
So that’s my life. My period is going to period whenever it gets the chance.
It’s not easy. Everyone in the world thinks periods are the ultimate expression of femininity. Sometimes it makes me feel very, very feminine.
But the truth is, there’s no reason bleeding makes me feminine. Gynomastia doesn’t make men women, and my period doesn’t make me one either.
Most trans guys have to deal with their periods at some point or another. It’s not something we talk about — a lot of us are ashamed, which is understandable.
But this shouldn’t be a shameful thing. We should be able to talk about what our bodies are doing and help each other out with tips and support.
I’m trying to start a conversation both about why menstruation isn’t an inherently female thing — if trans men experience it, it can’t be truly female, can it? — and how talking about our bodies is sometimes the best way to fight dysphoria and learn new things about how to improve our lives.
Periods happen to lots and lots of people. Many of them are women and girls, but those of us who are something else should have a context for our experience and a way of talking about it without being misgendered.
So here’s what I do to help myself feel better when I’m getting a visit from Aunt Period.
1. Avoid ‘Feminine Products’
I like not to wear pads or tampons or any sort of quote-unquote “feminine product.”
This is not possible for everyone, and it’s not even possible for me without the aid of birth control.
When I do need to buy them, sometimes I ask my girlfriend to buy them for me; sometimes I make a lot of jokes about it in my head. I remind myself that the cashier definitely does not care what I’m purchasing. If I’m feeling particularly fragile about it, I avoid stores where I might run into the same cashier again.
But when it is possible, it makes me feel more like myself experiencing a medical condition and less like I’m a lady flower experiencing lady uterus ladyship.
2. Treat It with a Sense of Humor
For example, I call it a “man period.” I joke to myself about it. I joke to my friends and girlfriend about it.
I make it silly so it’s less likely to upset me. If I make light of it, it has less power over me.
Silly things don’t cause deep emotions.
When you trip over your shoelaces in front of your Mean Girl coworkers, you can make it serious – Wonderful; now they’re gonna think I’m clutzy – or you can make it funny: Of course I had to trip just then. Perhaps I should take up ballet.
It’s not easy to embrace the latter perspective, but I’ve found when you make yourself take things less seriously, everyone else follows suit.
3. Remember That Anatomy Isn’t a Binary
It helps to remind myself that there are more similarities between “male” and “female” anatomy than there are differences.
I’m not going to get ejected from the realm of masculinity because my set of gonads produces blood from time to time. I didn’t get “born into the wrong body.” I just developed a little differently from some guys.
We all have the same basic stuff. My junk just got a little confused along the way.
Also, we have this idea that there are male genitals and female genitals and nothing in between, and that they are polar opposites. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Human sexuality is a glorious mess, and it makes me feel better to know that I’m not at the wrong end of the binary. I’m just somewhere on it, like everyone else.
4. Talk to Other Trans Guys About It
A lot of trans guys have periods, for whatever reason. And a lot of them are very philosophical about it. I definitely recommend talking to them.
I find it’s easier to put things in perspective when I feel like I’m not the only one experiencing something.
I have some male friends who still get their periods, and they experience a range of feelings about it, but hearing a trans guy complain about getting his period like it’s a totally normal thing for a dude to complain about makes me feel like I can treat it like a totally normal thing to complain about, too.
Talking about your reproductive organs as a masculine-identified person is a political act. If we openly talk about it, there’s less shame. If there’s less shame, there’s less pain and more acceptance.
5. Let Go of Expectations
Lastly, and most simply, I try to let go of my expectations.
We all grow up with a link between sex and gender and ideas about what’s intrinsically male and female.
Even though I have more information now, and I know intellectually that sex and gender aren’t as simple as I was raised to believe, it takes time to override my upbringing.
I may have to remind myself over and over again that having a period doesn’t make me female any more than having nipples makes someone a mother, but someday I’ll overcome my conditioned ideas of sex and gender and be able to fully accept that men can have periods.
My body is not female. My menstruation is not female. It just is. My body just is.
My body is its own thing. It does what it does, and that’s fine. Getting my period is painful and bloody and messy and annoying, but it doesn’t have to make me feel like less of a guy.
The amount of pain I hear from trans men related to their periods is substantial. But by talking about it and degendering it, we can lessen the pain.
Menstruating doesn’t have to be a girl thing.
Wiley Reading is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Wiley is a New Jersey-born artist, writer, environmentalist, and social justice advocate located in Burlington, VT. He works as a community health worker for the Greater Burlington YMCA, and writes for Disrupting Dinner Parties, a small collective feminist blog. In his free time, Wiley draws bugs and old buildings, loves every show on the Food Network, makes creative (read: pulled from the recycling) toys for his bunnies, and tipsily reminds every person in every bar that New Jersey is the best state. Follow him on Twitter @wreadinggo.