I don’t use period pads anymore. I still have a bunch of them, sitting in my bathroom cabinet in case I need them, but nowadays my period is a statement of my feminism and trans identity. Nowadays I free bleed into my boxers.
I’m not a woman, but I was assigned female at birth and so I spend a full week every month bleeding from my vagina. Most people assigned female at birth will spend between four and eight days of their cycle menstruating for around forty years of their lives. We can’t escape our periods – or the stigma that the patriarchal society we live in has attached to them.
It’s only since coming out as genderqueer and trans-masculine that I realised how much shame I still have around my period – and begun to challenge that shame.
In the UK, tampons and period products are taxed as luxury items. My un-artistic self has often daydreamed about an art exhibit where knickers are lined with items that are classed as “essential” and thus not taxed – like Jaffa cakes, and pitta bread. Using Jaffa cakes to soak up my menstrual blood sounds like such a powerful, feminist statement, but I was never brave enough to actually try it. The tampon tax comes from the same place as the fact that it takes 7.5 years for a woman or afab person to get a diagnosis of endometriosis: people with vaginas are not listened to about or given autonomy over our own bodies.
Girlguiding’s 2018 Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that 26% of girls and young women between eleven and twenty-one are too embarrassed to talk to people, and almost a quarter have been made to feel ashamed about their period. I will never forget that moment during my first year of university where I told my (male) friend that I needed to pop into the supermarket to grab some pads, and he looked horrified that I’d dared to talk about my period in public.
I’ve lied about having a migraine on days when my period pain is so bad that I can't get out of bed and make it to my lectures. I’ve worn pads for longer than I should when I was working retail, because I was too scared to tell my boss that I needed to go to the bathroom again because my flow was especially heavy. I describe myself as an unapologetic feminist, so I’m embarrassed to admit how long I spent being embarrassed of my period.
Then I started struggling with gender dysphoria around my period.
Stonewall – a charity who campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain and abroad – describes gender dysphoria as the discomfort or distress a person experiences because there is a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. I have always associated my period with part of my womanhood and felt really connected to it, even when I’m curled up in bed crying with pain. Realising that I’m not a woman made me feel weird about my periods: they’re a traditional part of being a woman, but I’m not one.
Since coming out as trans, one of the most important parts of my gender expression has been wearing boxers. However, when I got my period for the first time, I realised that I couldn’t wear my boxers while I was bleeding. I have vaginismus, so I can’t put anything in my vagina or use tampons, and boxers are not made to be used with pads. There are companies who make boxer-style period underwear, but I didn’t want to spend huge amounts of money on a product marketed at woman. I didn’t want to have to acknowledge that I was having my period at all… so I didn’t.
I pulled on a dark pair of boxer briefs and went about my day.
I haven’t used period products since. Free bleeding makes me feel incredibly powerful. I feel gender affirmed, of course, but I also feel like I’m reclaiming my period from the shame I was taught to feel about it. I also feel so much more relaxed: the soft cotton of my boxers against my vagina is so much more comfortable than a scratchy one-use pad. I’ve also found that my cramps are less painful because I’m holding less tension in my vulva and just letting the blood and clots of uterus lining fall out of my vagina. I’m no longer worried about getting blood on my underwear because I intend to get blood on my underwear.
Free bleeding is my personal feminist reminder to the world that not all people who get periods are women – and that society can’t shame me for blood stains on my jeans.
Written by Quinn Rhodes