Taken together, the cis menstruator and trans menstruator terms facilitate analyses of menstruation as phenomena affecting different menstruators in different ways. This terminology means that we should not focus exclusively on the supposed Other but, rather, recognize the power relations and structures underlying menstruation. Josefin Persdotter’s concept of menstrunormativity, (Chapter 29, this volume) makes visible the processes through which certain menstruators (and menstruations) are seen as the ‘right’ ones, whereas others are considered ‘wrong.’ She further states that menstrunormativity could be thought of as a conceptual sibling to cisnormativity and heteronormativity (Persdotter 2020). Heteronormativity builds on the assumption of people being heterosexual and, hence, desiring people of ‘the opposite’ sex/gender. Affecting not only non-heterosexual people, heteronormativity impinges upon societies as a whole (Herz and Johansson 2015, 1012). Considered together, menstrunormativity, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity intra-act, and are mutually reinforcing, in the Othering of trans menstruators within various areas related to menstruation.
One such area is menstrual activism
. Even though the existence of trans menstruators has been raised within activism by trans people themselves—for example, Cass Bliss, who does prominent work spreading awareness through social media—trans menstruators are not represented within menstrual movements in general. As briefly mentioned, Bobel (2010) points out that for many activists, the question of trans inclusion in menstrual activism
comes down to the same question as is present in many other feminist movements, namely: “[w]hat should feminists do about the category ‘woman’? [ . . . ] work within it or destroy it?” (156). If we abolish the category ‘woman’ and thus, detach menstruation from gender, can we still claim that menstruators are oppressed because the meaning of menstruation is shaped by the devaluation of women qua women? I believe that I have already answered this question. Because some trans people do menstruate, they must be recognized within any menstrual activist agenda. The truth lies at the surface of the body. Our menstrual discourse
must include all bodies that menstruate, as well as all non-menstruating bodies that are affected by menstrual norms, regardless of gender identity. It might just be that simple.
Cisnormativity and menstrunormativity as norm systems are both detectable within menstrual activism
. Menstruation as phenomena are surrounded by stigma; menstrual blood is commonly depicted as something that should be kept within the body and, thereby, menstruators are encouraged to conceal their periods (Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler 2013, 11). Menstruating women can feel united through this shared experience of periods as a private matter that should be publicly undetectable (Brantelind, Nilvér, and Alehagen 2014, 611). One of my participants expressed that the menstrual concealment results in ‘female’ rooms becoming a safe space to discuss menstruation, as that is where one is free from the stigmatizing public jargon. Correspondingly, another participant emphasized that, in general, it is only cis women who participate within menstrual activism
. In their own experience, doing menstrual activism has resulted in disapproval from other activists, just because they are not a woman (Rydström 2018, 59, 63). Gender norms and menstrual norms intra-act within menstrual activism, resulting in it being represented by, and representing, cis menstruators.
Public bathrooms constitute a second area wherein trans menstruators are Othered. Public bathroom access is commonly debated when discussing the living conditions of trans people in the Global North (Halberstam 2018, 133–35). Bathroom access is, of course, an especially acute issue for trans and nonbinary menstruators, per se. Chrisler et al. (2016) report that more than 60% of their 150 participants, all belonging to the masculine of center and transgender community, feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable when using a “men’s room” during their periods (1246). One of the informants in Breanne Fahs’ essay “The Menstruating Male Body” (2016) raises the same issue when declaring a fear of changing tampons in public bathrooms as it potentially will “out” him as trans (82). Evidently, the issue is deeper than a dispute over access to bathrooms, it is a question of trans people’s health and safety (Schuster, Reisner, and Onorato 2016). Given that menstruation requires regular visits to bathrooms, it is imperative to include trans menstruators in future discussions on the topic.
Just as within menstrual activism
, cis norms and menstrual norms intra-act in the Othering of trans menstruators within the area of public bathrooms. The lack of menstrual infrastructure within the ‘men’s room,’ such as basins and bins to wash or toss menstrual products, is not only a practical issue affecting the individual menstruator. It likewise materializes the normative assumption that menstruators use the ‘women’s room.’ As a result, trans menstruators who prefer to use the ‘men’s room’ are challenging the binary and risk being seen as abject (Cavanagh 2013, 433–36). An anecdote told by one of the trans menstruators I interviewed, Mika, indicates that the issue is even more complex. Mika once visited a ‘men’s room’ on his period where the menstrual infrastructure actually was in place. Yet, he did not dare to use the bin as he was afraid it would not be emptied, and he feared that his bloody menstrual product would eventually start to smell (Rydström 2018, 61). Generally speaking, menstrual blood
in itself is perceived as dirty/unclean/impure (Bramwell 2001, 90–93) and it seems perceived as even more abject when the menstruator is non-conformant to the idea of menstruation as a female experience.
Menstrual products represent the third area wherein trans menstruators are being Othered. Scholars have critically examined the representation of menstrual products as mutually constitutive of menstrual stigma and taboo; pads and tampons are depicted as keeping the menstrual blood
at a distance (Erchull 2013), protecting menstruators from leakage, and keeping the body in control (Rosengarten 2000, 92–96). The blue liquid in advertisements, supposedly representing menstrual blood
, is a well-known example of such discourses5 (Merskin 1999, 955). To quote Persdotter (2020): “[m]enstrunormativity is built into menstrual technologies” (p. 357) and, as explained below, the business of menstrual products materializes cis menstruators as the normative menstruator.
The Othering of trans menstruators in relation to menstrual products is present on various levels. Firstly, the framing of products reveals who is counted as a menstruator. The term ‘feminine hygiene products’ is commonly applied to label pads/tampons/cups/period underwear/et cetera, while some activists use ‘menstrual products’ as a gender-neutral alternative (Quint 2016). As confirmed by my own research, some trans menstruators feel invisible when looking for information about menstrual products, just because many companies target girls and women. Relatedly, the packaging of menstrual products—feminine-coded colors and patterns—can cause discomfort to people who do not identify with femininity (Rydström 2018, 59–60). The design of the products themselves, specifically the design of pads, is likewise part of the Othering. Pads are predominantly designed to fit to panties and, hence, are difficult to use for menstruators who prefer briefs or boxers (Rydström 2018, 60; The Period Prince 2018). The company Pyramid Seven, with their “boxer briefs for periods, not for gender” (Pyramid Seven, n.d.), offers an alternative. However, they are an exception within a generally cisnormative industry.
The healthcare sector constitutes the final area I note wherein trans menstruators are Othered. It has been shown that some menstruators fear healthcare personnel’s lack of knowledge and transphobic reception (Chrisler et al. 2016, 1239, 1247; Rydström 2018, 62–63) and, at a closer look, this can be intertwined with context-specific concerns. Taking Sweden as an example, the gendering of personal identity numbers6 is a general issue affecting trans people in various societal instances (SOU 2017:92, 173) and testimonies of trans menstruators indicate that the numbers result in healthcare workers having preconceived ideas about patients before they enter the room. This is expressed in transphobic and heterosexist treatments (Rydström 2018, 62–63). Another issue applicable to the Swedish context is the naming of clinics focused on sexual and reproductive issues; the label kvinnokliniker (“women’s clinics”) not only affects trans people seeking pregnancy health services (SOU 2017:92, 724) but it likewise makes some trans people hesitant to contact the clinics with menstrual-related issues (Rydström 2018, 63, 71). Cisnormativity and heteronormativity clearly play an important role in the Othering of trans menstruators within the Swedish healthcare sector, and I hypothesize that this complex of problems is applicable to other geographical contexts as well.
When cis and trans menstruators are seen as binary categories given by nature, the intra-actions of cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and menstrunormativity make cis women the normative menstruator, a standard against which trans menstruators (as in non-cis menstruators) are deviant. In the contexts of menstrual activism
, cisgendered public bathrooms, the design and marketing of menstrual products, and the failure of the healthcare sector to be trans inclusive, menstruation as cis-female phenomena are reinscribed. In other words, trans menstruators are being Othered as their existence challenges prevalent perceptions of menstruation.