On the way back from a recent camping trip, period activist Cass Bliss stopped at a gas station to change their tampon. But first, they counted the cars in the parking lot. Then, walking into the station, they glanced at the checkout counter (was a man or a woman manning the register?). And then, they scanned the store, looking for signs that anyone would be hostile. Then, finally, they checked the bathroom situation. Was there a single stall bathroom that everyone used? Or multi-stalled men's and women's rooms? The latter could be dangerous for Bliss.
As a non-binary person who presents masculine, the possibility that someone might harass them in a public bathroom is always on Bliss's mind, but it's especially pressing when they have to deal with their period. "You always have to scout out exactly what the scenario is before you can even think about going to the bathroom," Bliss says. Because the fear of violence enacted against a transgender person for using the "wrong" bathroom is still very real. Bliss, for example, has been told to leave both the men's and the women's bathrooms because someone clocked them as a woman or a man, respectively, and decided that they shouldn't be there. That kind of violence and misunderstanding makes it even more difficult for trans men to deal with and talk about their periods than it is for cisgender women, who still deal with plenty of shame and stigma about their monthly bleed. (Be honest, how many of us are still sneaking tampons into the bathroom?)
But, the shame cisgender women feel when they sheepishly bring a package of tampons to checkout is compounded for transmasculine people who menstruate. Many cisgender people don't think that a man (or masculine-presenting person) can have a period. And that ignorance leads to many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that trans men are told their bodies don't belong. So, with a new parody video that's equal parts funny and serious, Bliss is trying to shed some of that shame and educate people about what it's really like to bleed while trans. In the video, Bliss sings along to the tune of The Beatles' Let It Be, but changes the words to Let Us Bleed.
While the tone of the song is lighthearted, the words point to several problems transgender men experience in public bathrooms while on their periods. In one scene, Bliss changes their pad in a men's restroom and then has to roll it up and put it in their pocket because there aren't trash cans inside the stalls. And in another, they walk down an aisle full of pink and purple period products, lamenting how everyone who makes and markets pads and tampons assume that only women use them. "It's literally called the 'feminine' hygiene aisle," they say. "And walking through that, even though I don't completely pass as a man, I still get a lot of weird looks. People think that I'm buying period products for someone else, and they don't really want me to be in the aisle with them."
People have actually swerved away from the period aisle because they didn't want to stand there while Bliss was looking through the menstrual products. And buying products is only one concern. Once trans men and masculine-presenting non-binary people have tampons, pads, or menstrual cups, they have to find a way to carry them around. "I’ve heard of transmasculine folks who made a point to always wear darker coloured trousers or cargo pants to conceal needing to have hygiene products on their person, and even layering clothing," says Emmett Schelling, Executive Director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
Feeling the need to conceal tampons and pads is a worry cisgender women can probably relate to, as is the worry that someone in the stall next to you will hear the crinkling of a pad or tampon wrapper and know that you're on your period. But, again, that kind of shame is multiplied for transmasculine people, especially if they're using a men's restroom. "There's a paranoia attached to the noise that hygiene products make, as well as how to dispose of it, and the constant fear of having an accident or leaking through clothing," Schelling says. Before he medically transitioned (testosterone often causes trans men to lose their periods after a few months), he would avoid leaving his house while on his period, just in case he had an accident.
For cisgender women, bleeding through your trousers can be embarrassing. For transgender men, it can be dangerous. Because most of the cisgender men they share bathrooms with don't expect to see someone carry a tampon inside the stall, or hear the distinctive sound a pad makes when you rip it open, or throw period products into the trash can outside. Seeing any of those things inside a men's bathroom immediately outs a transgender person, which can open them up to harassment or physical violence.
Many of these problems would be alleviated if men's bathrooms were made with menstruation in mind, but we may still be a long way off from that change. For now, Bliss is hoping this video brings some awareness about what it's like to be a menstruating man. "There's only so much that just knowing men can menstruate too is going to do," they say. "But actually knowing what it's like is essential. For all the barriers you can imagine for someone menstruating, it's often going to be two or three-fold if you don't identify as a woman."