If anyone can understand what it’s like to deal with a miserable period, it’s me. When I was younger, my period symptoms felt so excruciating that they would leave me curled up in my home, my mother putting a pillow beneath my head and a blanket on top of me wherever I passed out until I woke up.
My mother did her best to comfort me, but she was clearly distressed watching her son go through this pain and being unable to help.
Yep, you read that correctly: her son.
I’m a trans man, and I used to get a normal period.
This actually isn’t shocking or surprising, as so many trans guys and non-binary individuals deal with this. But it’s a challenge of being trans that often gets overlooked, which is why I’m so motivated to talk about it (and why I was thrilled to be a part of Pink Parcel’s campaign to help normalize periods).
Society in general still views menstruation as strictly a thing that cisgender women experience—which is simply not the case. Not everyone who gets a period is a woman, and not every woman gets a period.
I knew I was meant to be a boy since I was 14. At 15 years old, I started menstruating.
I felt gender neutral until I was around 11 years old. Going to an all-girls school made me realize that I didn't fit in—and when I was 12, I started to use he/him pronouns. By the time I was 14, everyone referred to me by he/him, and I legally changed my name to Kenny when I was 16.
When I was 14, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is the clinical term for the experience of having strong and persistent feelings of identification with a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, and discomfort with your assigned sex. This was also about a year before I got my first period. At that age, I was hanging around mostly boys—and teen boys all had an “errgh, that’s disgusting” perspective on periods, so I never wanted to bring it up. I was unable to come up with the words to convey what my body was going through.
Getting a period made me feel like less of a man, even though my teenage self already identified as male. I, too, used to associate periods solely with cisgender women. In my eyes, a period was the opposite of masculine, and so my ego and internalized expectations of male dominance were enough to convince me to bottle it up and speak about it with no one. How could I explain that this was happening to me? When I think back on it, most of the negativity and stigma surrounding periods that I faced came from my own head. I was uncomfortable in my skin, so I silenced myself.
Fortunately, I didn't also have to deal with the chest pain and swelling that many others experience with their period each month. For trans men, this can be an added challenge that makes you even more hyperaware of the parts of your body that don't necessarily feel like "you."
That's not to say that having breasts didn't affect my day-to-day life back then. Going to the gym with chest binders on (to strap down and minimize the appearance of breasts) was uncomfortable, and it made it a struggle to breathe at times. Getting changed in a locker room afterwards wasn't nice either. I avoided swimming and other activities where someone may see or touch that part of my body more closely. I had top surgery four years ago, when I was 20, and it was another major milestone for me.
The difference between dealing with a period and having breasts was that I could hide my lumps, but my period pain and cramps came knocking on my door monthly like a bill collector, and I could not ignore it. I didn't like having breasts, but they didn't cause me the same discomfort that my period did.
When I was 16 years old, I began the process of medical transition and started hormone therapy, which eliminated my monthly period.
I first started taking hormone blockers (also known as puberty blockers), which can help delay changes that generally happen to your body during puberty. If you're a teenager, it sort of gives you some extra time to decide what you want to achieve during your transition before your body changes in ways you might not want it to. I eventually made the switch to taking testosterone when I was 18, but not before I had a physical (which included getting my uterus examined) to ensure that I was in good health. Hormone therapy can really be tailored to fit a trans person's goals; so some trans people, sometimes depending on what age they decide to transition, may skip hormone blockers and just take gender-affirming hormones. Taking testosterone also typically stops menstruation after a few months (although some individuals just get unlucky and it ends up taking longer).
The hormone blockers dramatically decreased my bleeding during the first two months, and after three months both the bleeding and pain associated with my period came to a complete stop. But, interestingly enough, some pain and discomfort (and a bit of spotting for a little while) started again once I moved onto testosterone a couple of years later. Some trans men do feel pelvic pain even after menstruation stops. (It could be a different case for trans guys who have had bottom surgery, which I have not.)
Now I am 24 years old, and I haven't bled since I was 19. But I still feel subtle period symptoms—cramps and emotional changes—here and there. Who knew that eight years into my medical transition I would still have period pain? Still, today I can honestly say that I am a lot happier, because my mind and body are in somewhat of an agreement, rather than battling each other. And not for a single second do I miss my period. Monthly periods caused me to feel less in touch with who I really was, so I was happy to see them go.
For anyone who might be navigating this right now, I get it. You should know that what you're going through is normal, and that it's OK to not feel like yourself.
A period in and of itself can be uncomfortable for any individual, and being transgender adds another emotional layer to that. So I suggest staying aware of how you feel during your periods, even going as far as taking notes (that really helped me). For example, if you know that being in a public space during your period makes you feel uncomfortable, or you just tend to be more aggressive or irritable around this time, then the best thing to do is take note of that so that next time, before you even slip into these emotions, you can counteract them by doing whatever makes you feel good, like practicing your favorite hobby or talking/venting about what you're going through with someone you trust.
Over the years I've realized that it’s silly for me to allow one bodily function to control how I feel about myself. The body you were given was not your choice. And for plenty of people, whether we like it or not, getting a period is just a part of the anatomy you were given.
One thing we can control is how we react to and discuss matters like this. It's time for open, inclusive conversations about natural bodily functions to become the norm for all people—not just a (sometimes difficult and awkward) discussion that takes place behind the closed doors of a doctor’s office.