Periods, Gender Association and Gender Roles

(CW internalised transphobia, menstruation)

Yesterday morning I was in the kitchen doing dishes when I felt the familiar feeling of period pain. I lent over the sink, holding my abdomen until the pain subsided. Blessed to have only had a handful of periods over the last 2 years due to having an implanon, I carried on with my day,  expecting nothing more than a few cramps throughout the day. A few hours later I went to the toilet and was shocked to see my underwear was stained with blood.

I have been struggling with my gender for the last year or so. It has been a journey of varying degrees of acceptance and generally high levels of fear, culminating in me completely avoiding thinking about my gender. If I don’t think about my gender I can avoid the anxiety and depression that accompanies it.

Sitting in the toilet with blood-stained underwear around my ankles I was suddenly confronted with my gender. I felt betrayed by my body, it was like it  was saying “you are female”. Anxiety ensued. I curled up in bed with baggy clothes and cried. Cried that I was female and that I didn’t want to be. Cried that my body was female. Becoming more and more distressed I knew I needed to talk to someone. I caught up with my worker and from under a blanket hiding, my body that felt so wrong, I repeated over and over “I need it to stop, I need my period to stop”.

I ended up going to the doctor to see what could be done. My anxiety was getting worse as I sat in the waiting room. How was I going to tell the doctor what was wrong. I wasn’t out to her and coming out wasn’t an option. When I went into the doctors room and she asked what was wrong, I was overwhelmed with fear. My whole body was shaking. I couldn’t tell her. I shook my head, repeating “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”. “You’re having a panic attack, take as long as you need” she told me. We spent 15 minutes talking about my sprained ankle and my medications before I was able to say “Ive got my first period in five months and I can’t deal with it, I need it to stop”. I was a blubbering mess. I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t deal with my period and was embarrassed that it looked like I was making a big deal over just having my period. She prescribed me the pill and said that my period would stop in two days. Relief. Relief I don’t have to go through a week of this.

The other day I saw a post on Chaupadi, a horrible Nepali tradition where girls are banished to cattle sheds while they are menstruating. Based on the belief that menstruating women are impure and their touch contaminates others, resulting in doom, for family, neighbours and animals, these women are forbidden from using public water sources, cooking, touching men or anything in the house. Chaupadi exposes these women to the elements and animals, sometimes resulting in illness or death.

I woke this morning feeling filthy and disgusting. I felt like I deserved Chaupadi. I felt like I should not be near anyone or have anyone touch me. I needed to shower. Alas the bathroom was filthy. The bathrooms have recently been changed to gender neutral (yay!), going from a boys bathroom and a girls bathroom to two gender neutral bathrooms. I had been assigned what was previously the boys bathroom. My newly assigned bathroom with filthy. There was a layer of what I can only describe as  Revolting Brown Gunk on the sink and hair everywhere from the boys shaving. The shower appeared to have not been cleaned in weeks and the bins were filthy. I spent the morning cleaning the bathroom before I could even shower. I spent the rest of the day doing grocery shopping and cleaning the equally disgusting kitchen bins that could be smelt from the other side of the dining room. I felt like a housewife. I felt like all I was good for was cooking and cleaning. Despite the untruth to my beliefs, I felt like my housemates left their dishes because Grace is a woman, she will clean them, it’s her job. It felt like everyone was telling me I was female because all I am good at is ‘female jobs’.

Despite an rough few days full a gender dysphoria, I want to start the new year feeling positive so I’m calling bs on on my thoughts and reminding myself that:

  • Periods have nothing to do with gender – some women have periods some women don’t, some men have periods, some men don’t
  • There is nothing wrong with periods, it’s not filthy or disgusting and it doesn’t mean I need to isolate myself
  • Cooking, cleaning and shopping do not define my gender. In fact they are life skills that I’m improving every time I do them.