Why Trans Male Model Sawyer DeVuyst Starred In A Period Underwear Ad

Photo: Courtesy Of THINX.
Sawyer DeVuyst would like to set the record straight. Thanks to hormone replacement therapy, he no longer gets his period — but he was still enthusiastic about the opportunity to model Thinx period underwear online and in ads that are taking over New York City's subways.

"I don’t use Thinx, so I can’t review them," the transmale model, actor, artist, and activist tells Refinery29, "but with the subway campaign...just getting an image of a trans man out into a public space was very exciting."

DeVuyst lent both his likeness and his words to Thinx's People With Periods campaign, the first period-related campaign to feature a trans man, and starred in a video in which he explains trans men's unrecognized, yet urgent, need for menstrual care.

"I didn't start hormones at all until I was 27 or 28, and so that leaves me with five-ish years of identifying as a man but also getting my period," DeVuyst says in the video. "I would wear multiple pairs of underwear with a pair of boxers on top of that just to make sure I didn't leak anywhere, or that no one knew that I had my period."

"I never felt like I was in the wrong body, and I still don't feel like I'm in the wrong body," he continues. "I think I'm in the wrong society."

Refinery29 sat down with DeVuyst to talk intersectionality, Twitter trolls, and the importance of drawing trans men into the period conversation.
How did you connect with Thinx?
"Thinx sent me a message through Instagram. I have a photography project I’ve been doing called Mine, and it’s daily fine-art self-portraits, and I do one every day. They had found me through some hashtags of top surgery or scars, something transmale-related. They were looking for someone transmale, and they said they fell in love with the style and the look and the feel of Mine, and called me to come in [and speak about trans men and periods]. I originally was kind of skeptical about it, because [menstruation] is an uncomfortable subject for anybody to talk about, let alone a transgender male.

"But then I actually thought, No one else is bringing this into people’s attention and maybe I should just go for it, even though it did make me really uncomfortable at first. Before the shoot, I went in to their office and did an hour-long AMA where their entire staff of 30 or 40 people just got to ask me any question they wanted. It was a little scary, [but I did it] so they would understand and be able to serve their clients in a better way. I was like, 'I will not talk about my birth name, but anything else, feel free to ask me questions.'"

I don't feel like I'm in the wrong body — I think I'm in the wrong society

So how can the period underwear movement include more people?
"A human with a uterus and ovaries that work is going to get their period — it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. And there are also women who don’t get their period. And trans men, there’s a whole spectrum of trans masculinity, and some people do get it, [but] some people don’t even have that anatomy anymore — it’s complicated.

"It would be good to get more into the spectrum of trans bodies and understand what that looks like, and what those people want, and what makes them feel good. For a trans man to have a period is usually pretty dysphoric, it makes them very unhappy, so knowing what could alleviate some of those things, [for example] a waistband that’s a little wider so it doesn’t squeeze their hips as much... I am very dysphoric about my hips. I know that I’m pretty blessed to not really have that big of hips, but for me, it is something I notice, so having a pair of underwear that doesn’t squeeze your love handles or your hips is something important…. [Also asking,] ‘What underwear do you wear normally? Is it a Uniqlo boxer brief? What is it about that pair that makes it good for you?’ That’s what I wear. Just finding out what would make [trans men] feel good in a pair of underwear [would help]."
Photo: Courtesy Of THINX.
How did you feel about publicizing your identity by modeling for this campaign?
"Being out as a trans person is something I did worry about with the Thinx subway campaign specifically. With the first thing I did with them, it was an online campaign, it was the launch of the boy short [and] it was kind of contained...but now it’s very public, where my landlord could walk by it — because my landlord doesn’t know I’m trans. That was a big worry for me — people recognizing me on the street."

Have they?
"Not my landlord!"

What has the response to the campaign been like?
"I try not to read the comments, because they can be really brutal. I did go down a little rabbit hole; I had like two glasses of wine the other night and went down a little comment rabbit hole on Twitter, which was not good. It’s the worst of the worst — they’re commenting on your body and your identity, the whole thing. It was a situation. But [the response] has been overwhelmingly good, and the press articles have been great, and they’re writing about it in a really great way, a very respectful way."

Have you seen any misconceptions you'd like to correct?
"I think people in general have the idea that I do get my period, and I don't. I could in the future if I were to go off hormone replacement therapy, which I very well could at some point. I would then get my period back, and that’s something I wanted to set the record straight [on]... I did give Thinx to my little sister, and she loves them. It seems like a great product, and I do wish it were around when I was a teenager. It’s something that I would use and I would definitely recommend to anyone, like a gender-queer person in their teens or a parent who wants to help their little queer kid who is having problems with getting their period."

It’s something I would recommend to anyone — a gender-queer person in their teens or a parent who wants to help their queer kid

What's next for you?
"The photo project [Mine] is still going strong. I’m planning on an exhibition of all of the photos. I also started a secondary project [called Theirs] where I’m photographing other trans men, specifically on the masculine end of the spectrum, so they could be genderqueer or whatever. It’s a way for other trans men to also be visible. I’m trying to be very aware of race and identity — I don’t want to just have cisgender-passing trans men. I want to have the whole spectrum represented.

"I would like to see more trans men out there, and not just in front of the camera but also behind the camera and being able to tell their own stories. The best way to get an authentic take on different lived experiences is to have those people actually tell their stories and not just be in front of the camera, and have a larger say in what’s being represented."

What do you hope people will draw from your work with Thinx?
"In general, I think people don’t really know that trans men exist because we’re not really visible, and we’re often confused with trans women. People don't see us out there. My biggest thing with working with Thinx is, I’m not that passionate about people’s periods. It’s not something that I want to talk about all the time. I’m an anti-shame activist. I don’t want anybody to be ashamed of anything. I don’t think anybody should be ashamed of their period, I don’t think anybody should be ashamed to be trans, or queer, or gay, or a woman, or anything. So that’s more why I wanted to work with them, is to break [down] shame about something that is often taboo... With the subway campaign, I don’t think most people would even consider a trans person — and now they’re just walking past [one] on their way to work."

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