We, as a society, have moved beyond the binary understanding of gender, and it’s high time we do the same for sexual and genital health, too. Specifically, it’s time we talk about period diversity. Menstruation is often mislabelled as a ‘female issue,’ when in reality, transgender, non-binary and agender people also experience periods and period symptoms.
That point isn’t lost on soon-to-be RMIT advertising student graduates, Riana and Giordy. In fact, it’s the driving focus of their major work and advertising campaign, Libra For Every Body.
“Libra For Every Body is a transformative, integrated campaign that empowers every body, every gender and every identity who gets periods, not just cisgender women,” they tell Syrup. “It aims to increase representation in the period space, educate people on period diversity and cater for those identities who have been excluded from the category for far too long.”
The two-minute long advertisement campaign, a proposed pitch to Libra, a former client they worked on with their mentor and Executive Creative Director Sarah McGregor, opens with a supercut of, as Jo from Little Women would say, “women…” Then, it cuts to a collection of trans-masc, nonbinary and agender individuals detailing their own experience with and feelings towards periods. “The dysmorphia that I feel about having a physical body that menstruates makes me feel separate from my body,” one person said in the video. “Even though I’m a transgender male, I still have it in my head that men aren’t supposed to have their period,” confessed another.
When coming up with an idea for a forward-thinking new campaign for Libra, Riana and Giordy “immediately started researching the category and quickly saw the same stereotype… ciswomen. We were on a Zoom call and just said to one another, “hang on, what about transgender and nonbinary people? Come to think of it, I’ve never seen them in a period campaign.” And we’d be right, there has never been a period campaign spreading awareness on this issue in Australia.”
From there, R&G, who both identify as cisgender, organised a bunch of video calls with advocates and trans and nonbinary community voices across the world—from Melbourne, Hong Kong, Berlin, America and beyond—to educate themselves on the issue.
Periods are not a ‘female issue’
“Periods are often mislabeled as a ‘female issue,’ but transgender, nonbinary, agender also experience periods and period symptopms,” they explained. “A common misconception is once on HRT [Hormone Replacement Therapy], periods stop completely. But this isn’t necessarily true.”
“Some people we talked to did not want to take hormonal therapy or couldn’t for health reasons, others were on HRT and their period randomly came back eight years later. Some lose their period but deal with cyclical symptoms. Some trans women also find cyclical symptoms after being on HRT.”
And, with some ciswomen not experiencing periods either, one thing about all this is clear: “there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to menstruation and there needs to be more inclusive discussions around diverse experiences.”
“A major impact menstruation has on these identities is dysphoria,” they add. “Pretty much everyone we spoke to experienced it in some form, which is why this topic is so delicate and needs to be done the right way. Dysphoria can bring on a feeling that you are not in the right body, that your body is not aligned with your identity, or even that your body is betraying you.”
“This is only perpetuated by social stigmas and the way our society is structured, particularly within the category; language around periods ie. calling them ‘ladies days,’ ‘aunt flo,’ period care being labelled as “feminine hygiene” in supermarkets, not having sanitary bins in male cubicles… Many of these issues people haven’t even thought about, which is why raising awareness and starting conversations about how we can be more inclusive is crucial.”
WHY IS THERE STIGMA AROUND TRANS PEOPLE’S SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH?
“There are many layers to this question, but having difficulties with medical professionals is something which stood out to us when talking to people,” Riana and Giordy admit. “Obviously we are not experts in this field, but from what we have learned, there is clearly misinformation and a lack of education among health workers.”
“We talked to people whose identities and pronouns weren’t respected, and others felt completely ostracised by their practitioners. In particular, problems arose when it came to menstrual health and finding a LGBTQIA+ approved OBGYN [obstetrician-gynecologist]. Many people we talked to felt their identity wasn’t taken seriously by health workers, and they weren’t educated enough on dysphoria to act respectfully. It was infuriating to hear so many stories like this.”
“In terms of the ‘why there is a stigmatisation,’ well, where do we begin? We found many people have troubled distinguishing the difference between sex—and the genitalia you were born with—vs gender expression and identity. When it comes to health you need to have a holistic view to respect your patients, otherwise many health issues go ignored and can be dangerous.”
“Whilst society is slowly but surely getting on board, having no representation—not just in media and advertising but in health and STEM‚—causes so many difficulties for people who aren’t cisgender. Our campaign aimed to guide people to inclusive medical professionals so LGBTQIA+ people can feel comfortable and safe. Educating people on LGBTQIA+ health is just so important because we all deserve to be given equal treatment.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP CHANGE ATTITUDES TOWARDS MENSTRUATION THAT TRANS MEN AND NONBINARY PEOPLE FACE?
“After years of taboo, society is finally becoming more comfortable with talking about periods. We are seeing trends where cis-women feel liberated in talking about menstruation. The language has changed from “keep it discreet” to “you do you.””
“We also finally saw period blood in advertising—btw, what took you so long?! We are in a time where the conversation around menstruation is evolving and creating a comradery amongst ciswomen, which we need to continue doing.”
“But, in the wave of liberating ciswomen and their periods, we are in danger of leaving behind all those who menstruate but don’t identify as such. Big or small acts are important to make sure we are being inclusive and open minded, but here are a few:”
“There are so many great articles and YouTube videos out there which really helped us to understand the problem. Clue has some amazing articles and Jammidodger on YouTube is a great place to start. Be open to learning new things and expanding your perspective.”
Use more welcoming and open language around menstruation
“Be aware of your language around menstruation and don’t be afraid to correct others and educate them. Now that the conversation around periods is becoming less taboo, you might hear your cis-friends and colleagues slip up every now and again and refer to periods only being a ‘women’s issue’. These are the exact moments where we need people to speak up and politely correct and educate others.”
“Dear cis-males, please educate yourselves”
“Dear cis-males, please educate yourselves. To all others, please educate your cis-male friends. A lot of stigma around menstruation lies in the binaries of “what it is to be a man or a woman.” Through our research, we were told male bathrooms were a particularly unsafe environment for those menstruating. They were afraid to be ‘caught out.’ If cis-men knew more about the diverse menstrual experience, we can hopefully all meet in the middle and not feel so ostracised.”
Don’t judge someone who’s carrying period products
“Don’t judge anyone in the period aisle or anyone carrying period products. When we talked to those in the community, many said, “it would be so much easier if everyone was normal for buying period products!” That’s certainly true, we shouldn’t need to put people under a microscope for having them in their shopping baskets or bags. When you see someone in the period aisle, don’t start questioning things like, “Is it for them? Their daughters? Their girlfriend or wife?”
“It’s this kind of thinking which makes every identity uncomfortable to be in the period aisle or carring period products around. So, let’s widen our perspectives, make the aisle a judge-free zone, for all our sakes!”
Support period diverse brands
“Support brands, causes and creators who are making a conscious effort to be inclusive to the diverse period experience. The more support we can show towards this issue, the more we can normalise it.”
How can we make period products more inclusive towards people beyond cisgender women?
“Well firstly, period brands should be more informed and aware of their market being wider than just cis-women,” Riana and Giordy say. “Hopefully once they do their research, the rest will come naturally. A big area to improve on is language. Ditching words on their packaging such as ‘for women’ and ‘girls-only’ would be a start. Flowery pink packaging is another area to progress in—we should focus more on gender neutral and inclusive colours.”
“Brands also need to expand their product range and offering to those of all genders and identities. For example, tampons can create dysphoria for trangender and non-binary people, but then pads aren’t an option either because they don’t fit in boxers. In saying this, no brand should be inclusive just to ‘hop on a trend.’ People will see straight through it. Brands need to be empathetic and ask themselves how they can be more innovative so they can cater to everyone who experiences periods.”
You can learn more about the fight for period diversity for trans, nonbinary and agender people and the Libra For Every Body campaign, here.
Header image source: Chella Man.