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People with periods

Why we talk about ‘people with periods’ instead of only ‘women and girls’

This week is Transgender Awareness Week – a week created to celebrate transgender people and address some of the issues members of the community face. This event takes place the week before Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20th) – a time to honour the memory of the transgender people whose lives are lost in acts of anti-transgender violence each year. So, we’re taking this opportunity to tell you the story behind our gender-inclusive language, and why we stand in solidarity with trans people.

What is a period?

Just a reminder of the basics since traditionally period education has left many feeling confused and under-prepared! A period is one part of the menstrual cycle – a natural, biological function that takes place when an unfertilised egg is flushed out of the body with the lining of the uterus.

During menstruation the lining of the uterus is shed and passes through the cervix to the vagina and out of the body as menstrual blood.”
Lunette Cup

Periods affect people’s lives in totally unique ways – some people barely notice their periods, others experience so much pain and discomfort that everything has to be put on hold. For some people periods are a spiritual or sacred time, for others, it’s simply an irritation that can be easily avoided using contraception. Whatever your period experience is, we respect it and whatever choices you make around caring for yourself during those times.

We’re proud to be a female-led organisation, and we’re also proud to stand in solidarity with the trans community. Bit by bit we can all remove the outdated shame and stigma attached to periods. We can make the world a kinder place when all we want to do is hide under our duvet. And we can spread information and advice on how to best look after ourselves and the planet. We believe in period care and period education for everyone.

Our journey

What we didn’t realise when we first started on this journey is that whilst the majority of people who have a womb (uterus) are women and girls, other people do too. Genders such as transgender men, non-binary and gender fluid people can all be born with a womb and therefore can experience menstruation. Some people are actually born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit traditional sex binaries of male and female. This is generally called ‘intersex’, and intersex people too may have periods. Find out more about gender and sexuality in this short video.

We understand that most people who have a period are women, but there are many who bleed who do not identify as (and are not) women. We believe everyone – women, girls and the communities mentioned above all deserve to feel comfortable whilst accessing products, healthcare and information.

“Our sex, which is physical – male or female – is distinct from our gender, which is psychological and social. What this means is that some of us have a gender which is different from our sex.”
– BBC Bitesize

Soon after starting our #PlasticFreePeriods journey in 2017 we quickly learnt from our community that referring only to ‘women and girls’ didn’t just alienate trans, non-binary and intersex people, it also excluded some women and girls. For a huge number of reasons many women and girls do not and may never have periods. As we mentioned earlier on – everyone’s experience of the menstrual cycle is unique. It became very clear that it makes no sense to make generalisations about a whole gender or sex.

Our decision to use the term ‘people with periods’ comes down to these basic principles:

  • The most accurate term for the community we’re speaking to through #PlasticFreePeriods is ‘People with Periods’ – this includes women and girls who are able to and choose to have periods, trans-men who still menstruate, non-binary people, and intersex people born with a uterus.
  • We believe that whoever you are – whatever your gender, your sexuality, your background, your ethnicity – you deserve access to easily accessible, up-to-date, holistic information about how to care for yourself (and maybe others) during menstruation. Periods can already be a serious pain in the butt (and womb), so where we can we choose to make menstruation that little bit easier for everyone.

The importance of language

Language plays a big role in how we and others perceive the world – so equally, the words we chose to use help to shape the world that we live in. The language we use is especially important when trying to de-stigmatise or change the narrative around a traditionally taboo or sensitive subject, such as that of periods.
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We also began our campaign journey using terminology such as ‘sanitary’ products and ‘feminine hygiene’. Unfortunately these phrases are widespread, without considering that they perpetuate the taboos and myths that periods are unsanitary or unhygienic. The shame that this language creates is a leading factor why people flush their products down the toilet, so we now refer to ‘period products’ and ‘menstrual pads’, etc.⠀

Even now, periods can still be an awkward subject to speak openly about, so we strive to be as accurate and inclusive as we possibly can. So we also avoid euphemisms for periods, such as ‘moontime’,aunt flo’ or even ‘that time of the month’. We seek to call things what they are, because we have nothing to be ashamed of and clear information can make a huge difference to people’s lives. Let’s continue to talk periods, loud and proud!

Learn more from the real experts

Here are some amazing people to follow to learn more about what it’s like to be (and have a period) as a non-binary or transgender person:

‘“I didn’t believe that having periods would be a part of my lived experience… I felt isolated; everything about periods was tailored to girls, yet me, a boy, was experiencing this and nothing in the world documented that. Having a period already causes me a lot of [gender] dysphoria, but this dysphoria becomes heightened when I have to shop for a product that is labelled as ‘women’s health’ and in most cases, is pretty and pink.”
– Kenny Ethan Jones @kennyethanjones

“I bleed and I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of my flesh. I am not ashamed of my functions. I am not ashamed of my process. I am not ashamed of my existence.”
– Rain Dove @raindovemodel

“I began to notice the accessibility issues immediately, especially when I would use public bathrooms. I experienced several issues with just the bathroom. For one, gender neutral bathrooms were hardly offered anywhere I went. Two, men’s restrooms rarely had stalls, but always had urinals. Three, there was no disposal areas for pads in any of the men’s stalls.

By evolving this issue from a “woman’s only” issue to a “people’s issue,” we can begin to dismantle the toxic patriarchy and queerphobia that has created the current period culture.”
– Manpreet Singh @singhisqueer

“Often I still feel bad about my body and invalidated by my period; society’s grain is not so easily dislodged. But menstruation is something that I am trying to reclaim as my own because it is not just a ‘women’s thing’ to me. It is also a trans thing.”
– Vic Jouvert @whatsinaman

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