The Strange Little Things That Help Us Belong
My periods sneak up on me. My physical symptoms are minimal - bit of bloating and tenderness at the height - and after the third month in a row of losing it at someone, reflecting, and realising what the time of month it was, I decided I should probably see if I could get some warning. A friend’s screenshot of her period tracker sprang to mind, so I started searching through apps.
The sheer variety of apps surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. Several offer premium services and predictions for a subscription - baffling, the idea that people would pay £3.99/month for a premium period tracker. I might have to try for a month or two just to see what the fuss is about. In the end, I asked my friend what app that was and used that one; it’s called Eve.
Eve is more basic than several of the apps I tried, but for transgender people it’s helpful for exactly that reason: it doesn’t try to predict anything but periods. Others have a lot of fertility information that could trigger dysphoria (it did for me) and it insists on marking bleed days that I obviously don’t get. It lets you log how you’re feeling and it does assume you have a vagina but it’s easy to ignore those bits and focus on what’s happening to you. The articles and chat is largely without judgement: it offers things about what is logged as your experience and doesn’t make assumptions. Probably the most trans friendly app of its kind, and it should give me some warning before I cycle back and blow up in someone’s face.
I was quite pleased with this, and it helped me feel feminine. For the last few days, I logged how I was feeling and skimmed over girl stuff about health and moods. I don’t spend more than five minutes on it; it’s a wonderfully affirming experience from such a little thing.
Naturally, I shared this with my friends. It’s fun! I didn’t expect them to download it, but it was a neat little widget that I was enjoying. Most had a laugh at me getting volatile, some had a bit of a sesh with me moaning about hormones and periods. Some just gave a nod. One or two started questioning me.
I’ve talked to people about my periods before. Most months. Usually it’s just a comment, a bit of a lament, about how something went tits up in a conversation and I think I’m coming on. Cue commiseration, move on. A basic exchange women have all the time; it happens almost automatically.
"SOME FOLKS DON’T REALISE I GET PERIODS, BUT AFTER A VERY QUICK EXPLANATION THEY GET IT AND HAVE THE NORMAL EXCHANGE WITH ME."
Some folks don’t realise I get periods, but after a very quick explanation they get it and have the normal exchange with me. Some might not have realised but just have it anyway without that questioning moment. Cisgender people are particularly accepting and unquestioning about it: it’s just part of life; we’re talking about a body function that we all understand. Often we’ll compare notes, especially if they're curious (I’m out to everyone in most situations), and the whole conversation is quite inclusive. There’s a baseline understanding that periods are pretty variable anyway and mine are unique same as every other woman’s.
The transgender people are the ones I need to watch out for. They will often want to know what’s going on with my medication and start talking about medical definitions of the word ‘period’. Many have the good grace to not challenge me over calling my periods what they are, but often enough I get quizzed and lectured about my use of the word. It’s almost as though they are so hung up on the transgender experience that they can’t allow me this bit of affirmation. That actually, my participation in how my body works is a thing I need to justify.
Even when phrased carefully, it’s a challenge to my identity. My hormone cycles result in a period: I bloat, gain weight, crave whatever food I don’t have, burst into tears, get angry, excited, or anxious at random. My breasts get sore. I don’t bleed, of course, but the rest of me is having a grand old time and it fits the description of what many women experience during their periods. And that makes sense: I’m a woman on her period. That’s what happens.
"THAT SIMPLE TALK WAS ONE OF THE MOST AFFIRMING MOMENTS OF MY LIFE."
I even got the period talk from my mum, some twenty-five years after most. She always said I was a late bloomer growing up. I thought I was going crazy and panicked about it, so she sat me down and just told me that this is what happens and it’s normal. Not only normal, but to be expected and I can expect to feel like that again and again. It was a quick exchange, barely a couple of minutes, but this is basic information that doesn’t take much explanation. That simple talk was one of the most affirming moments of my life.
It’s a terrible irony that I find acceptance with the cisgender community and anticipate rejection from the transgender community in this regard. When I first got opposition, I was stunned: transgender people should know better. We should know that our choice of words about our bodies is meaningful. We should understand that we frame ourselves in ways that help us cope with the intolerable state many of us are in. Policing our language in that way is incredibly harmful and triggering to many, yet even those who have been victims of policing still do it. We should know better.
Ultimately, it will be the policing of the word period that will detach me from the transgender community as a whole, at least on a personal level. Professionally, it’s unlikely I will ever walk away completely. I’m content to be a woman with a transgender past and I find my work in the community fulfilling. But I also want to talk about my body without fear of censure, and something so basic to my month to month existence isn’t a thing I can tolerate being questioned. I’ve already started to pull away because of it, and I see no sign of the disagreement stopping. It’s unfortunate that the community I hold dear is less able to affirm my identity than a phone app.