Trans Field Guide
Aunt Flo's Monthly Shark Present - Trans Men and Menstruation
Visits from Aunt Flo, Mother Nature’s monthly present, Shark week. You know what I’m talking about. Periods. They’re terrible, hashtag scientific fact. They can be especially terrible for people who are trans masculine, as this monthly event of nature is considered to be so purely female, and experiencing this can potentially cause a lot of dysphoria. Putting that on top of the emotional roller coaster of pms and menstruation, and it can be quite the mess of depression.
So what are we supposed to do? Well, for some people, simply starting testosterone completely stops your cycle. There are some people who believe that having a monthly period is necessary for health, but an increasing amount of research and coverage is coming out that shows that this is actually not necessary. Please see the show notes for sources. Due to this, there are some people who go on specific birth control medication that stops the menstrual cycle completely or limits bleeding to a few sparse times a year. If you are considering any kind of medical or herbal methods for ceasing your period, please consult a medical professional.
If you either do not have the ability to have your period stopped, or choose not to follow that option for any reason, don’t fret. In today’s world you have a much larger pool of options for dealing with the monthly visitor that we’ve ever had previously.
Let’s start with the basic, but important topic of the collection of menstrual fluids. There’s a growing camp of people who are not fond of the idea of tampons, in part due to the discomfort of shoving a wad of cotton there, and in part due to the risk of toxic shock syndrome, from shoving a wad of cotton there. Before the only other option that was commonly available was disposable pads, which have a tendency to be uncomfortable, make noise when you walk, get stuck to places they shouldn’t, and are not exactly made to fit in men’s underwear. Now we have some other options available to us.
First, there’s period pantie, a la Thinx. This brand specifically makes period underwear that has an absorbant liner for catching menstrual fluid, and comes in a variety of styles ranging from bikini cut to boy short. While the styles are still considered to be “women’s” styles, the boy short style can be potentially less dysphoric than some of the others, as they mimic boxer briefs. The biggest downside I’ve found to this option is that it’s only good for light flows. The website shows you approximately how many tampons’ worth each style can hold, but most can only hold one to three tampons worth. If you have a flow like a waterfall, it not a good choice for the whole day.
That’s where this other option comes in handy: the menstrual cup. This is a reusable silicon cup that you position in the same area in which you’d use a tampon, and it just catches everything. Every time you go to the bathroom, you can empty it into the toilet, wipe it down, and re-insert it. You can disinfect it in boiling water, and if you take good care of it it can last years. It takes a couple cycles to figure out the perfect positioning for comfort and leak avoidance, but once you’ve got that down you barely know it’s there. Unless it’s full, then it tends to shift and you make an awkward walk to the bathroom to empty it. There are also disposable versions that can still be reused the whole day, that sit much closer to the opening, but are more messy when you are emptying it. You will get blood on your hands. Especially the first few times you use this. However, for the rest of the day you don’t have to worry about things like smell, sounds, etc that could “give away” the fact that you’re dealing with shark week.
Christophe, my resident herbal reference, has the following advice for managing the physical symptoms:
“Physical symptoms like cramping and the mood swings can be alleviated with using Vitex aka Chaste Berry, but I only recommend that for those who want to maintain cycles. It is a hormone balancer so will interact with hormones.
Also vitex increases the chance of pregnancy, so if you do choose to use it, be aware.
The choice of herbals past that depends on individual factors to which I cannot generalize, including whether or not they are taking hormones, their transition goals if they have any, general lifestyle conditions and personal bodily chemistry.
But for pain/cramping management without using herbs that affect hormonal outcome: meadowsweet or willow bark offer fairly fast relief. They contain salicylates (precursors to aspirin) and can be prepped as a tea. Meadowsweet has an almost mint flavor and is not as bitter as willow, but it is not as strong either.”
Many people also take a daily supplement of evening primrose oil for hormone balancing and symptom management.
There are, of course, over-the-counter and prescription medications for managing symptoms of periods. The main one that people generally think of is Midol, which, fun fact, has almost all of the same ingredients as the average migraine medicine. The only difference is that the menstrual medicine include a diuretic to make you pee a lot and decrease bloating. If the bloating is not one of you main concerns, you could realistically just take the migraine medication instead, which will raise fewer eyebrows if a stranger sees you with the bottle.
Your doctor may recommend prescription medications if specific symptoms are bad enough. This could include prescription pain medications, diuretics, antidepressants, etc. Always make sure to discuss risks and interactions with your doctor before starting any new medical regimen.
There are non-medical things you can do to alleviate the mood swings and dysphoria during this time. You can make and keep a plan to handle when this time comes around every month. This plan can include things that you know you like to do, that don’t cause any extra strain on you. You can also add self-care activities to this plan. One thing you can do is keep a stocked kit available for dealing with this time emotionally, and include non-perishable treats, a list of favorite movies or shows to watch, a playlist of songs that make you feel better, and a list of people you can contact when you need support.
What do you think? How do you manage this time of the month, and everything that comes with it? Let us know on facebook, instagram, or via email.