Why “Feminine Products” Have Got To Go: an Interview with Benjamin W.
Written by Cinestie Olson
Since the launch of Sunny’s petition to de-gender menstruation, there’s been quite a bit of controversy on who menstruates and who doesn’t. Many may confuse the gendered labels, such as “woman” or “feminine” as biological. Yes – those who can menstruate were identified with female reproductive organs when they were born. However, sex is different than gender, and someone’s gender may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. This can include our transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid friends. I sat and interviewed a friend of Sunny, who was born with female reproductive systems and hormones, but identifies as a transgender man.
Benjamin W. (he/him) is a 21-year old transgender man who came out six years ago. Benjamin recently started testosterone in July.
Q: Can you tell me about your transition and what that was like for you?
A: I came out about 6 years ago. I am 21 now, and I have recently started testosterone just back in July. Testosterone has changed my menstruation cycle quite a bit, so that has been a challenge to get around. I am learning new things every single day. I grew up in a really small town, so I struggled with my gender identity. It was hard feeling like no one understood you. As I grew up, I found people who loved and accepted me for who I truly am, and now I am able to live my best, authentic self, and be proud of how far I have come.Q: What have your experiences been like while shopping for period products after your transition?
A: I have always felt awkward buying period products. I always wondered why the packaging couldn’t be more inclusive and/or less color coded. After I came out, it got worse. Every time I had to go out to get period products, I felt like all eyes were on me. It’s so awkward having to go into these aisles and have every package be bright pink or purple, and say ‘feminine product’ or ‘for her’, etc. It causes a lot of dysphoria and anxiety. I never understood why period products had to be in-your-face-feminine. Not all of them have to be like that at least. Even if period products were just for women, not all women/girls enjoy the bright pink and purple color of the packages.Q: Where do you think the association between menstruation and women comes from?
A: I think that the association between menstruation and women comes from the stereotyping of women when they are on their periods. For instance, someone saying, “Well, she’s going to be more emotional, she’s on her period!” or, “Don’t be so sensitive! Did the big red get you this week?” Things like that have pushed a pretty harmful and totally incorrect narrative of menstruation. And again, with the packaging of most menstruation products being highly color coded to fit what most people perceive as feminine colors. I think a lot of people also think of their first period as a ‘right of passage’ for women, and it means you’ve ‘finally grown up, and you’re a woman now’. These thoughts and ideologies are extremely hurtful and problematic to not just women who have periods, but ANYONE who has periods.Q: When you think of menstruation, what comes to mind?
A: One thing that comes to mind when I think of menstruation, in my personal experience, is panic. I panic about what bathroom I’ll have to use. I use the men’s restrooms almost everywhere I go. But when I’m on my period, it makes it a bit harder to go into the men’s. Opening menstruation products is not very discreet and can often draw attention, especially in the men’s restroom. But, some other things that come to mind are strong, powerful, independent, and badass. Not a lot of people can be comfortable with the things that happen during menstruation. I think people who do experience menstruation are extremely strong. There are easy months, and hard months, but we always get through it.Q: Do you wish you didn’t menstruate?
A: Personally, for myself, I do wish I didn’t menstruate. I have painful period cramps, and it makes me feel extremely dysphoric. It has gotten easier over the years, but the stigmatization of menstruation really does not help me feel like a man at all – it makes me feel less like one. Period products are also so expensive nowadays, that I would probably save a lot of money as well.
Q: What daily difficulties do you face when you are menstruating?
A: Some difficulties I face resolve a lot around my outfits. I typically solely wear boxers, however, when I’m on my period, I can’t wear them since the pads do not fit correctly in the boxers. I have to start wearing what a lot of people call ‘grandma panties,’ and it’s extremely awkward. I worry about people seeing me - who looks like a man - then being able to see the outline of my underwear. I can have all my outfits for the week picked out, but if I wake up and see I’ve started my period, I’ll have to redo all of the outfits, which can be extremely frustrating and upsetting. I have to think about what pants I wear and make sure they’re not light colors, and change my sheets more often. I have difficulties with bathrooms as well. I’m not comfortable using the women’s restroom anymore, but when I’m having to open period products in the men’s restroom, I feel like a target.Q: What do you wish could change around the topic of menstruation?
A: I wish a lot of the stigmatization of the topic of menstruation could change. I wish people didn’t have such negative thoughts about it and about the people who do go through it. It’s not something that is easy, and it can really cause pain; it can send people to the hospital often, a place where menstruation pains are NOT taken seriously at all, which is extremely upsetting. I wish I could change that some people view it as disgusting, when in reality, it is a normal human bodily function. I wish people were not so quick to assume that just because you have a period, that automatically makes you a woman.
To support Benjamin, and other folks who are affected by gendered language around menstruation, please sign our petition. If you are a transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or gender fluid menstruator who has their own story and experience, please share on TikTok and Instagram using the hashtag #WeAreMenstruators. Sunny will donate $10 to the National Center for Transgender Equality for each of the first 500 posts using the hashtag!