(Sawyer DeVuyst in Thinx period underwear. Photo: shethinx)
When Thinx launched their line of absorbent underwear for periods, they used a slogan that seemed to make sense: “For women with periods.” But as they heard from more and more customers who felt left out by that branding, they realized that women aren’t the only ones who menstruate.
“We kept getting gentle reminders from people that it’s not just women with periods,” Miki Agrawal, founder and CEO of Thinx, tells Yahoo Canada. In response, the company spent a year developing a boyshort product in consultation with trans men and non-binary people who might use it. The resulting underwear, which resembles men’s boxer briefs but has the same absorbent fabric as their more traditionally feminine underwear, is meant to be worn instead of pads or tampons, or as back-up for those products.
Now the new slogan for Thinx is “For people with periods” and one of their campaigns features model Sawyer DeVuyst, who is a trans man. And the company is working on introducing more gender-neutral products in the future, Agrawal says.
The Thinx campaign is one of few acknowledgements from the sanitary products industry that menstruation doesn’t just happen to cisgender women. There are trans men who have to deal with their periods as well as non-binary people who menstruate.
“We’re inclusive of everyone with a period—men, women, it doesn’t matter. We wanted to have it be expressed in a ten-foot poster,” Agrawal says. “If you have a period, we’ve got you.”
Periods are having something of a cultural moment right now which has led to developments like a commercial for tampons that shows actual blood. But many people in the LGBTQ community are still being left out of the conversation.
There are some signs of wider cultural realization that periods don’t only happen to cis women. For example, some universities in the U.K. are considering installing sanitary disposal bins in men’s bathrooms as well as women’s, to cater to people who have periods but aren’t using the women’s washroom.
(Public restroom. Photo: Getty)
Not having those bins is one of the ways that menstruation could actually out someone, along with a leaky pad or tampon or simply the presence of menstrual products in a person’s bag, home, or office. This can be risky, considering that protections for gender identity and gender expression are not yet part of Canada’s laws, and that trans people are over-represented as experiencing hate-based violence.
And in the United States, where some states have introduced or attempted to introduce laws that restrict bathroom access for people who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, the act of changing a pad or tampon could have particularly serious legal and personal ramifications.
A few smaller companies like Thinx and Lunapads, which has policy of inclusion for its reusable menstrual products, are starting to make efforts to market to trans and non-binary customers. But by and large the sanitary care aisle at the local pharmacy or drug stores remains pink and flowery, and commercials for pads and tampons feature cis women talking about their periods in euphemistic terms.
Josh, a trans man, didn’t continue menstruating for long after starting to take testosterone - about one cycle, he says. But though he didn’t experience serious dysphoria as a result of menstruation, he was fine with seeing it go.
“I was just happy to be done with it and didn’t really have to deal with going to buy tampons while my body was getting more masculine,” he says.
And like many cis women, trans men, non-binary people, and those in various stages of transition can experience menstrual problems that interfere with their lives and even their health.
Yuli, a non-binary person, was initially excited to get their period at age nine but undiagnosed PCOS means that sometimes they only menstruate once a year now. Coming out as non-binary helped them make some peace with that irregularity, they say.
“With coming out the pressure to pass a female stopped being so important, and regular periods and those worries become less and less,” Yuli says.
(Tampons. Photo: Getty)
And while Josh didn’t experience gender dysphoria because of menstruation, it still affected his day-to-day life. “It was painful, emotionally draining the first couple days,” he says. “I’m thinking that’s pretty typical physical reaction to menses and not due to the fact that I am trans.”
Continuing to address the health issues that can come with menstruation can be difficult when trans and non-binary people often lack access to supportive health care.
“It needs to start being framed as something anyone can have,” Yuli says of menstruation. “Just as some men need Pap smears, they might also menstruate. The way we are taught, and subsequently talk, about menstruation really hammers in that it’s a ‘lady problem.’ This actually is so overlooked that people are excluded from health care, not to mention the stigma of anyone having a period.“
Agrawal says the response Thinx has received from the trans community reinforces their decision to develop a product for their needs. “People just loved it,” Agrawal says. “The trans community feels seen, feels heard, feels understood.”
But others say that dealing with periods was less significant than the many other barriers that come with living as a trans man.
“I know some guys have a really hard time with dealing with their menstruation. I just can’t relate to it,” Josh says. “They were never the evil reminder that my body was not connected to my brain properly. I had plenty of daily reminders of that. Menstruating or flowers on a box was no worse or triggering.”
Ultimately, Agrawal says, their gender-neutral product is one more way of accomplishing their mission to reduce period stigma–for everyone.
“Our whole thing is we’re trying to eliminate shame from the period conversation,” Agrawal says. “We’re trying to eliminate all of the stigmas from having a period.”
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