“What ya got here is a tarp”: On Manstruation

*This is a joint post with the amazing, brilliant Phonaesthetica
*TRIGGER WARNING: Super-long post

We love watching “Hoarders.” One thing we especially enjoy about the show is the occasional character break of the therapists, wherein they drop their clinical reserve and TOTALLY PASS JUDGEMENT on the hoarder, e.g., This house is hoarded and disgusting or Look, it doesn’t matter if this magazine “smells” or not: A mouse has pooped on it!

During a recent “Hoarders” binge, we viewed an episode where the hoarder had allowed termites to devour her home to such an extent that one entire wall of her kitchen was gone and in its place, a flimsy blue tarp.

Even the psychologist was shocked by the neglect, and in his shock, lapsed into inadvertent profundity:

This used to be a . . . where there used to be a wall, he stammered. Where there was a wall, now what you got here is…a tarp.

We laughed, both at his abject horror and at the implicit metaphor in the observation: “You once had a wall, now what you’ve got is a tarp.”

But to the hoarder, it was perfectly acceptable to have a tarp as a wall. Hell, to the hoarder, the tarp was a wall. Both of us gender-critical feminists, we lapsed into po-mo speak: “Not all walls are stationary, some walls flap in the wind.” “Just because this wall is a piece of plastic purchased in the sporting goods section at Walmart, not intended at all for use as a wall, doesn’t mean it’s not a wall, damnit!”  And, naturally, “This tarp has always felt like a wall.”

Really, if you apply queer speak/po-mo rhetoric to any other area of actual life outside of “special identities,” it becomes hilarious. However, it is not at all hilarious when applied to women. On the contrary, it’s deeply damaging.

One thing we talk a lot about is how lucky we were to have come of age prior to the rise of queer/trans rhetoric that asserts predilections, preferences, presentation – and not biology – dictate whether one is actually male or female; to have come-of-age prior to the ubiquity of anti-intellectualism and junk biology. As young dykes with a fondness for fishing, dirt bikes and our dads’ flannel shirts, we would have no doubt been convinced by the culture that we were, in fact, male.

Instead, we learned to accept ourselves as we are; we learned to be unashamed of our female biology, and to know that our unique interests and “fashion sense” (if one could ever call it that) had precious little to do with our female anatomy – in a woman-hating culture, we were lucky enough to learn and internalize the notion that we could be both human AND female.  Thanks to our moms and dads for not caring one whit about our “gender presentation.”

So we were very sad to see an article on EverydayFeminism.com in which a “trans guy” (female) wrote extensively about her disdain for her own biology – particularly as it related to her menstrual cycle.

***

Before we get into the particulars of the article, let us say that we find it tragically ironic that a website touting the name “Everyday Feminism” would publish a piece that so screams of internalized misogyny, that espouses the sort of antiquated (we thought) disgust surrounding the female body that second-wave feminism (derided by the much cooler, hipper, queer set) worked hard to help women overcome.

In any case, in a world where a tarp can, in fact, be a wall, Everyday Feminism gave space to this young woman so that she could work out her very female dysphoria by applying queer double-speak to call menstruation – of all things! – a male experience.

It is not our intention to mock the writer of this piece, because we feel a great deal of empathy toward her. We do not know what it must be like to be a gender non-conforming dyke at a time when so many are convinced that gender is inextricably linked to biology. Our intention is, rather, to highlight the rhetoric – not unique to this writer – and engage that rhetoric as a way of illustrating just how harmful it is, particularly to lesbians and young women.

The article is titled “My Period and Me: A Trans-Guy’s Guide to Menstruation.” (She will use the word “guy” over and over, connoting as it does EXTRA manliness.)

The writer starts off by explaining she hasn’t had a period in a while, but has suddenly started menstruating, and adds:  “This might be a good time to mention that I’m a dude – one with a uterus. A very, very excitable uterus.”

She’s not only a “guy,” but she’s also a “dude” and she has an “excitable uterus” – the latter term sounds like something ripped from the pages of Freud’s earlier writings. “Excitable uterus” is, in fact, an iteration of terminology used for centuries to explain women’s ailments, women’s disenchantment, and to justify women’s subjugation – those pesky “excitable uteri” prevent us from making rational decisions, caring for ourselves, voting in an informed way, etc. An especially “excitable uteri” could get a woman locked up in an asylum for the rest of her life; could lead to a doctor surgically removing her clitoris. You’ve got to calm that uteri down before it wanders off, you know?

After introducing us to her dude-uterus, the writer goes on to say that there are dude-like elements of her body that she’s satisfied by: “I actually did okay when the Great Body Part Mechanic in the Sky was handing out body parts. I have broad shoulders; fat settles on my belly instead of my thighs; and I have narrow hips.”

We’re guessing this physical build reaffirms for our writer that she is, in fact, male. As we read her description, we read it in relation to our own bodies. Hypotaxis has broad shoulders, plenty of belly fat, and hips so narrow that she can scarcely keep a pair of pants up without assistance from a belt. While she has never been a fan of how fat accrues across her midsection, she’s never interpreted her build as being “male” or as having any bearing whatsoever on her biology. She’s female whether or not she has the broad hips of her female cousins or the belly fat of her father. This is simply a fact. Phonaesthetica, on the other hand, is built like a spider monkey or one of those hyper-alert miniature greyhounds, with ropy, muscled arms and legs and not much of a bustline to speak of. She’s female, too.

But this writer’s article is not really about her build. It’s about her menstrual cycle. And she discusses this normal, healthy occurrence with all the revulsion one might reserve for waking up with a tarantula in their mouth.

“Every once in a while, I have a full-blown period attack,” she writes.

This is not the only time she pathologizes this perfectly natural female function. Throughout the article she refers to her period as an attack and a “medical condition.” Again, we can’t help but notice that there is something decidedly Victorian about this approach to menstruation – only furthering our belief that the queer/trans ideology is not progressive, but rather quite regressive. A hundred years ago, when women didn’t necessarily know what their periods meant – e.g., a sloughing off of the lining of the uterus because no pregnancy has occurred during this particular cycle – they often did consider it a medical condition, and an upsetting one. It was only after a wave or two of feminism, that women understood what was happening and went about their menstrual days without requiring a fainting couch.

“It’s not easy. Everyone in the world thinks periods are the ultimate expression of femininity. Sometimes it makes me feel very, very feminine.”

This was curious to us. Here we were, thinking pink parasols and floral perfume were the “ultimate expression of femininity.”

Femininity is an affectation. Female is a biological reality. Our periods are not an “expression” any more than cancer, a bulging lumbar disc, or seasonal flu is an “expression.” And if menstruation is supposed to make us “feel very, very feminine” it has failed on all counts. Phona wears high heels every once in a while, which can make her feel “very, very feminine” in a performative sort of way, but she never feels “very, very feminine” due to bleeding from her vagina. She needs a cute tiered skirt from Prana for that.

Because, see, our bodies are not a feeling. Our bodies’ natural functions are not “expressions.”

And yet, in a weirdly self-aware moment, the writer acknowledges this: “The truth is: there’s no reason [my period] makes me ‘feminine’” – and she’s right. It absolutely doesn’t make her “feminine” because “feminine” is a conceit, an invention, a bit of theater. Enjoying a walk through the woods doesn’t mean we’re Walt fucking Whitman, but enjoying our walk while walking upright in the woods means we’re human. Having a period doesn’t make you feminine, but it does mean you’re female. See how easy that was?

One of the reasons we feel for this writer is that she’s clearly working something out, having a moment of catharsis on Everyday Feminism, as evidenced by moments like this:

“Because gynecomastia doesn’t make men women, my period doesn’t make me one either.”

Oh, the logic fail (unsurprising – queer/trans rhetoric is full of them): Because biologically-abnormal breast development in men doesn’t make them female, my biologically-normal female menstrual bleeding doesn’t make me female either.

Can we, for a moment, defer to de Beauvoir: “One is not born a woman.” What Beauvoir meant was NOT that “female is a feeling,” but that the whole concept of “woman” is built on a male foundation comprised of oppressive notions about how female persons should present and conduct themselves, as well as what kind of status and treatment they should expect from society. If we are to subscribe to Beauvoir (and we do) then no, your period doesn’t make you a woman (if you don’t want to live as a woman, don’t! you be you!) but it certainly makes you female.

And female reality is uncomfortable, because to be treated as a woman is uncomfortable. The author, continuing her catharsis, writes at length about how “a lot of trans guys are …ashamed” of their periods.

Well, sure! A lot of females have grown up internalizing that female is shameful, that bleeding is an embarrassing thing to do. Bleeding, in nature, is a sign that a creature is weakened or wounded, vulnerable.  If something is bleeding on the plains or in the ocean, it’s much easier for a predator to come along and eat it.

“This shouldn’t be a shameful thing. We should be able to talk about what our bodies are doing and help each other out with tips and support.”

We thought this was something women had been doing since time immemorial? In women-only space? Or at least in the letters section of Seventeen magazine?

But the sad crux of the article lies here:

“I’m trying to start a conversation about why menstruation isn’t an inherently female thing – if trans men experience, it can’t be truly female, can it? – and how talking about our bodies is sometimes the best way to fight dysphoria and learn new things about how to improve our lives.”

Wait. What?

Read that again: If trans men experience it, it can’t be truly female, can it?

We posit that the first thing you have to do to improve your life is to accept reality – what your life actually is is, in the Bill Clinton way. In order to improve your life, you have to SEE it first. You can’t improve something in the dark, or when your eyes are willfully closed against the clear, cold light of day. You can’t write a symphony with ear plugs in. It may be painful and difficult to admit that “if biological males don’t experience menstruation, then menstruation must be female,” but if you’re going to fight dysphoria; if you’re going to improve your life, this is something you must face.

Dysphoria doesn’t fight dysphoria.  Like doesn’t cure like unless you’re doing homeopathy. Holding your breath doesn’t fight unconsciousness. You cannot destroy the village in order to save it.

“Periods happen to lots and lots of people. Many of them are women and girls, but those of us who are something else should have a context for our experience and a way of talking about it without being misgendered.”

Sigh. Tell that to the girls in Africa and India who can’t go to school when they’re menstruating because they don’t have hygiene products. We don’t see any boys in these locations being denied an education because they’re menstruating. We’re thinking probably all the people in Africa and India whom periods “happen to” are female, since no one there has enough time to gender navel-gaze.

“I like not to wear pads or tampons or any sort of quote-unquote ‘feminine product.’”

Us, too! Because little wads of cotton in our vaginas or stuck into our underwear are uncomfortable! This doesn’t make us male – although it IS sort of fun to hold a tampon up in front of one’s face and tell it, in a deep bass voice, “I don’t like the gendered message you’re sending, tampon!” (Also, what else could you use for menstrual hygiene? What would be manlier? A Super Bowl program? Some shards of brick from a construction site?

“This is not possible for everyone.”

Exactly. That’s why African and Indian girls miss so much school.

“But when it is possible, it makes me feel more like myself experiencing a medical condition and less like I’m a lady flower experiencing lady uterus ladyship.”

The mocking self-hatred here makes us want to cry. The misogyny does not surprise us.

“(I) treat it with a sense of humor…I call it a “man period’…I make it silly so it’s less likely to upset me. If I make light of it, it has less power over me. Silly things don’t cause deep emotions.”

Being female! Such a silly thing! And yet, she’s not taking this lightly at all.

“Remember, anatomy is not a binary…I’m not going to get ejected from the realm of masculinity because the gonads I have produce blood.”

Yes, you are going to get ejected by the realm of masculinity, but it’ll be by men. Men have a funny way of not backing down from the visible, tangible truth when it has a vagina. See also: Teena Brandon. Men aren’t interested in semantics or in the tortured mental gymnastics of the queergendered. You have a vagina? Rest assured, they’re going to treat you like you have a vagina. That’s why female reality is uncomfortable.

“I just developed a little differently from some guys.”

Woman is a man without a dick. How novel! Wait…no…

“We all have the same basic stuff. My junk just got a little confused.”

Female anatomy is confused, male junk.

“We have the idea that there are male genitals and female and nothing in between, and that they are polar opposites.”

No, we don’t. Stop it with the intersex argument. It’s old and tired and everyone’s got the Discovery Channel, so we’re well aware that a certain percentage of infants are born with ambiguous genitalia.

“Human sexuality is a glorious mess”

Hells yeah!

“and it makes me feel better to know that I’m not at the wrong end of the binary.”

The wrong end? What? Like a woman?

“Talk to other trans guys about it.”

Why are they always “guys”?  Is male adolescent arrested development the goal here?

“A lot of trans guys have periods for whatever reason.”

THIS IS THE BEST. For whatever reason! Such a biological mystery! It’s the year 1436 and someone sneezed on me and now I have the Plague for whatever reason…I don’t get how it happened…can you put on this bird mask and wave a crucifix above me; I don’t know. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west for whatever reason. When you drop things, they fall to the ground, for whatever reason. There’s just so much we don’t understand yet!

“I have some male friends who still get their periods.”

No. You don’t. You just…really, really don’t. Unless you’re hanging out with seahorses.

“I find it’s easier to put things in perspective when I feel like I’m not the only one experiencing something.”

Look! Over here! Billions of other women are experiencing menstruation right along with you! Which was, of course, part of the impetus behind feminism – to help women realize they are part of a class (not living some rogue reality in a vacuum) and organize together for their best interests. Go ahead, change your name and wear what you want and live as a man – you do you! – but live happily in the knowledge that you are NOT alone, as a female, in this world.

“Talking about your reproductive organs as a masculine identified person is a political act. If there’s less shame, there’s less pain.”

And yet, this person is deeply, powerfully ashamed.

“Lastly, and most simply, I try to let go of my expectations…I may have to remind myself over and over again that having a period doesn’t make me female, the same way having nipples doesn’t make me a mother, but someday I’ll overcome my conditioned ideas of sex and gender and be able to fully accept that men can have periods.”

The more you have to tell yourself something, the likelier it is that what you’re telling yourself is a lie, and the likelier it is that you know it. Also, “expectations?” Like the ones that can be found in any middle-school biology textbook?

Conditioned ideas of gender are what feminism seeks to dismantle. Conditioned ideas of gender torment this young woman to such an extent that her normal menstrual cycle causes extreme cognitive dissonance and mental anguish.

“The amount of pain I hear from trans men related to their periods is substantial. But by talking about it and degendering it, we can lessen the pain. Menstruating doesn’t have to be a girl thing.”

It’s very sad when women feel pain related to their inescapable female biological reality. The way to deal with that pain is not, however, to pretend that one is other than what one is. A tarp is not a wall, no matter how much you’d like it to be.

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3 thoughts on ““What ya got here is a tarp”: On Manstruation

  1. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:
    Wow Im blown away by this blog!!! Well written! And for me as a young Butch Dyke in the early ’80s I was taught our menses were our greatest Female mystery tying all Females together throughout time!!!

  2. I’m a rad fem newb and I hate my periods as well (mainly because of the pain/feeling like crap and the inconvenience of bleeding for days on end), but, yeah, the delusion that periods =/= female is very scary. Thank you for bringing this all to light.

  3. I’m a hetero TERF mother of two, also, thankfully, educated in the 70s and 80s, before it was all destroyed. This blog is f-ing awesome. Just when I think you can’t be more brilliant the next paragraph is even better. Thank you.
    A friend of my daughter’s is a counselor at an eating disorder clinic. I tried to talk to her once about trans in terms of body dysmorphia, and she refused to listen. This essay says it so well, I will try to get her to read it. The indoctrination is so thick, as you respond to here.

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