For many menstruators the cost of bleeding forces them to choose which essential need will be met that month.
“It was that struggle of do I eat that day or do I buy sanitary products, what is my priority right now?” explained Vincent.
Like others who experience period poverty, socks and wadded up toilet paper became regular alternatives to menstrual products that Vincent could not afford. At one point, he was living in his car, utilizing a gym membership to shower, and showering as often as he could when he was short on products.
Not only was Vincent houseless and dealing with the stigma of identifying as a transgender man, but he was a transgender Latino man who menstruates, experiencing several layers of marginalization in addition to the shame associated with bleeding. And according to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty, LGBT-identifying people, who are also people of color “have a much higher chance of living in poverty compared to both white counterparts and cis straight members of their own ethnic or racial group.”
“Every month that it happened, I felt worse and worse about myself just because I associated it with being a woman,” he said.
Period poverty is an under-discussed public health crisis. It is widely considered a women’s issue, excluding many people who menstruate and assuming that all women do. This leaves transgender and non-binary people excluded from accessing products and resources that they may need.
Ryann Kaplan is a 23-year-old in East Lansing, MI who identifies as non-binary. Although they have not experienced period poverty themself, they promote menstrual equity, creating gender inclusive dialogue and education through their work at Helping Women Period.
“I think that education and products are the two big pieces for including other gender identities,” said Kaplan. “So for us, that has been offering menstrual underwear for people who are non-binary or trans. Oftentimes insertion is something that’s wanted to be avoided, so pads, period underwear, those kinds of things can be used in placement of that.”
From inserting products into body parts you don’t feel connected to, to purchasing period products in hyper feminized packaging, both Kaplan and Vincent said that many aspects of menstruation can be triggering and dysphoric.
“In the beginning of my journey, I felt really weird having a mustache and buying tampons,” said Vincent. “Even though I know in my mind that it’s normal for me because it’s my life, in my heart I feel like I’ve learned so many things that it makes me feel like I’m wrong and it kind of gives an imposter syndrome.”
For some, this results in avoiding buying products or ignoring potential health issues.
“From my personal experience, from the experience of my friends and those who I talk to, you are less connected to that cycle, you’re less willing to invest your time and energy into self care around the cycle and I don’t just mean taking a bubble bath, but things like tracking your cycle so you know when things are abnormal and when you find something abnormal you could go get medical care,” said Kaplan.
Vincent says that in his experience, among the transmasculine community, periods are extremely taboo.
“I would say the conversation is essentially non-existent,” he said. “Especially people who go on T, it stops being an issue and maybe in that way it aids the ignorance because you don’t have to deal with it anymore, so it’s not your issue anymore. But there are different parts of the transgender community who still do and I think it’s not fair to shut it out.”
Vincent, now 30, currently takes testosterone or “T”, as a gender affirming masculinizing hormone therapy. Transgender men and non-binary or other gender nonconforming individuals can utilize this therapy to increase male hormones in the body, suppressing female characteristics and causing physical changes similar to what one experiences during puberty – facial hair growth, change in voice, increase in muscle mass, etc.
While being on T has stopped Vincent’s period, this isn’t a simple solution. Not every transmasculine individual chooses to pursue hormone therapy and even if they do the change isn’t permanent.
“If I stop taking testosterone now, it’ll just come back,” said Vincent.
Though there is more push for gender inclusivity in ending period poverty in recent years, Kaplan says that non-binary people are underrepresented in this type of advocacy work.
“I have yet to meet another person who is gender nonconforming really working in this space. I think that that is a part of the stigma too, like not feeling comfortable in it,” they said.
Kaplan says that many menstruation-related organizations are led by middle-aged white women, but there is a shift towards younger people taking the reins, and with that shift the potential for more inclusive measures to fight period poverty.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of high schoolers all over the country and they are considering these things more so than I think older populations are,” they said. “They’re thinking about ‘should we take the products out of the bathrooms and put them somewhere else’ so that regardless of what bathroom you’re going in [you have products]. They’re asking these questions.”
One in three transgender adults in the U.S. experience homelessness, making the threat of period poverty a dire issue for the community and the need for visible trans and non-binary voices in this space.
“People think it’s taking away from women or taking away from women’s rights or what have you but I think it would be stronger to have a collective of people who all experience the same thing in different ways and have different journeys,” said Vincent.
“It’s kind of like the J.K. Rowling argument we’ve seen a lot of like, where by using that term [menstruators] you’re discrediting women,” Kaplan told IL Latino News. “I think there’s always so much room for representation of any queer, gender diverse identity in professional spaces anyway.”
Publisher’s Note: “Period Poverty Transcending Gender” is part of a series of stories on period poverty in Illinois supported by the USC-Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. ILLN Editor, Reporter Annabel Rocha was selected as a 2022 National Fellow to explore challenges impacting child, youth and family health and well-being in the U.S.
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