Cleanclusivity: Menstrual hygiene and the trans community
Earlier this year Harry Potter author JK Rowling gained global attention for her infamous opinion when she took issue with an article which used the term “people who menstruate”. Taking it to twitter, she said: I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?. This caused widespread outrage amongst the people.
The idea that womanhood and menstruation are intrinsically linked is untrue. Contrary to Rowling’s and many others’ conception; trans men and non binary people get periods too. Although trans women don’t really menstruate, they can experience PMS symptoms and other likewise syndromes.
The locus of the menstrual movement in India has mainly been the Womxn and a major chunk of population has been left underrepresented in the discourse. The place of the trans community as equal participants in the menstrual experience, the challenges that come along with it, as well as accessing sanitation facilities as a part of menstrual health initiatives has been completely neglected. The term transgender includes individuals whose lived gender identity doesn’t conform with the gender they were assigned at birth. Their feelings of embarrassment, alienation and exclusion are a lot worse as their menstrual issues are rarely, if ever recognised as legitimate. There exists a gender ambiguity in India in almost every social, political and legal spheres further worsening the scenario.
Even as an aspect of amplifying positivity, the mainstream media advocates heavily on accepting and embracing menstruation as a part of womanhood, leaving the transgender in exclusion and dysphoria. The period positivity movement aims to de-stigmatise and normalise menstruation by dispelling the shame associated with the same. It seeks to share the unpleasantness of the experience as a whole in an open way. This discourse has a backdrop of heavily gendered society. The trans community has often questioned the womxn centric approach to the issue and has often voiced its concern about its invisibility.
Trans inclusive sanitation facilities are extremely important. For trans men, buying sanitary products from the chemist is riddled with societal judgement. A huge part of the population already lacks basic sanitation facilities, adding to that is the lack of public toilets and their poor infrastructure. However, even if they are provided, they are heavily sex-segregated. Since being gendered, Menstrual products are nowhere to be found in men’s restrooms. Disregarding public product availability and absence of trash cans completely abjects the idea of menstruation in its entirety. Hence, these washrooms lack observable signs of menstruation/menstrual disposal but the trans or the non binary apprehension about using these washrooms is complemented with the audible symbolism of menstrual products. Even if a menstrual product seems to be gender neutral, the sound of pads/tampons can pose a risk that they might reveal their status as someone who menstruates and thus someone who doesn’t adhere to the gender alignment. All of these with addition of several other factors further exacerbate their menstrual experience.
The access to proper sanitation and hygiene has to be a part of a larger effort, i.e, not to be an end in itself but a means to further other forms of inclusion. Merely providing them with a restroom facility is not suffice. Clinging to the theme of menstrual hygiene in mind, it is important to sympathise with them, if not more, owing to the dysphoria they repeatedly undergo, triggered by the gendered message around menstruation, sense of alienation and other stigmas.
Written by: Devanshi Pandey
Graphics by: Rachel Alexander