Menstrual hygiene. What comes to your mind when you hear the term menstruation? Highly likely it’s a girl experiencing her days or is it that red patch visible when a girl stands up and is not aware that she is on her days? Are we done with the stigmatization yet? Has society embraced menstrual hygiene? Are there readily available products such as sanitary towels? This year’s menstrual health day was celebrated on 28th May, let’s talk about menstrual health among men.
Most transgender men experience monthly periods but are not comfortable talking about their periods. It’s often a source of dysphoria and discomfort, but it is a health and hygiene issue that people need to know more about. Not all women have periods, and not all people having periods are women.
Maurine Ochieng, 32, who prefers Mauricio Ochieng is a second-hand clothes and shoe businessman and leads an organization called Trans support, which aims at supporting transgender and intersex in the Western region sat down with a local media station and narrated the ordeal he deals with as a man experiencing periods.
“Recently, there has been a shift in menstrual health activism, which has sought to include everyone experiencing menstruation. I am a biologically born female. As such, my transgender identity is from female to male. I started medically transitioning in March 2019.
Growing up, my mother used to tell me that I never conformed to what society defined me as. I was in a scary middle ground, lost between the two genders. But, if I were to re-live my childhood, my memories are of me running around bare-chested, climbing trees and playing football.
In my teenage hood, I didn’t “grow out” as people commonly say from the fact that I didn’t feel like a female. There’s no word to describe whatever I felt but whenever I could see my genitalia, it felt like it wasn’t mine. At one point, still in adolescence, I moulded something that resembled a penis and put it inside my pants. My breasts grew, my behaviour was outlandish and I was mostly a loner. I am the sixth born out of eight siblings.
My periods were delayed and it was until later into teenagehood that I got them. I cried at the death of my freedom. I couldn’t even muster the courage to ask for sanitary pads so I relied on what was available —cut mattress pieces and vests. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was having periods.
But, there were days when out of frustration, I would just let it flow because I used to wear men’s underwear. I didn’t want to have a pad on them. Each time I had the periods, it was like I was shedding my gender identity and back to what I was running from.
At one point, I had to buy a few panties and some sanitary pads. I was later advised to use tampons. It is not easy being a man who’s having periods. First of all, there are no sanitary bins in most male toilets so you have to figure out what to do with the tampon. Then you go to the supermarket and the aisles are labelled as feminine hygiene products. On most occasions, I would pretend that I was buying for someone so I’d make pretend phone calls, “what size did you want?” I would ask, as I nodded in agreement.
I started getting cramps when I started transitioning. And there is nothing as painful as cramps without blood. For the past two years, I have had my periods until sometime this week. I have been unwell and did not go for my monthly injection last month.
I remember seeing that red dot and I was like, “again, back to this thing?” it is too much for my mental health and it makes me feel sad. Largely not because it’s happening but the fact that I cannot openly talk about it.
It’s a big battle between my mind and body and in some instances, I let it flow. It’s sad. Despite my transition, I still acknowledge that I was born a female and have my womb. I ask myself, “what next?” These are conversations that people don’t hold and when they do, there’s a limit to how far they can reach. It’s the same challenge with matters of mental health. Importantly, people need to know that periods are not always a woman’s affair.
Even in our spaces, these conversations are hard to have. Some transgender people feel that you are not one of them because you still have periods.”
During this year’s World Menstrual Health Day, it sort to seek solutions to break the silence around periods, tackle the stigma often associated with them, and raise awareness of the importance of menstrual hygiene for women, girls and people who menstruate around the world.