Language does matter: menstruation is not “transphobic”

UCLA student Zoey Freedman weighed in on the global debate around taxing tampons. Normally, I’m a huge supporter of any publication willing to print this: 

Aside from some forms of birth control or medical complications, nothing will stop a woman’s period. It’s a natural part of having a uterus that just can’t be helped.

Health care currently covers services such as sexually transmitted infection testing, birth control, abortion and even access to erectile dysfunction treatments such as penile implants.

Although erectile dysfunction is a problem, it is not one that all men are inherently born with. Menstruation, on the other hand, is something almost every woman deals with at some point in her life. It’s a bit ridiculous that surgeries for sexual needs are covered before everyday feminine hygiene products.

Unfortunately, the editors felt the need to include this statement:

This blog post refers to individuals who menstruate as women because the author wanted to highlight gender inequality in health care. We acknowledge that not all individuals who menstruate identify as women and that not all individuals who identify as women menstruate, but feel this generalization is appropriate considering the gendered nature of most health care policies.

It used to be that we couldn’t talk about women’s biology because it grossed men out. Now, we can no longer talk about women’s biology because it’s transphobic. Menstruation, FGM, vulvas, breasts, birthing a child, breastfeeding, infertility, menopause, and hysterectomies have all become banned topics for fear we cause transwomen ‘violence’. Oddly, I’ve never seen viagra, something widely available on health insurance in the US whilst birth control remains controversial, deemed ‘transphobic’. Vulva cupcakes, on the other hand, constitute ‘violence’.

Women have been fighting for hundreds of years to end real gender essentialism that is predicated on a hierarchical construction of sex. Now, we’re seeing a resurgence of reifying gender through an obsession with labelling brains ‘male’ or ‘female’. Recognising that a uterus exists only in a female body makes you transphobic and guilty of the murder of transwomen (despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that men are responsible for the physical violence that results in the murder of transwomen – not women’s words).

Women have been actually dying for thousands of years because of the denial of the reality of our bodies. Childbirth remains one of the biggest killers of women worldwide. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, but we aren’t allowed to point that infections pass more easily during penis-in-vagina sex or that the vast majority of urinary tract infections are caused by a penis that isn’t clean. Instead, young girls are denied an education because menstruation is considered ‘unclean’.

Viagra is a medical necessity to ensure erect penises aren’t denied sexual pleasure, including ‘female’ penises. Tampons are classed as a luxury despite menstruation being a biological necessity.

The liberation of women from male violence and other causes and consequences of the white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy will not happen whilst we are banned from talking about the biological realities of women’s bodies. Discussing menstruation is not transphobic and it will not cause the death of transwomen.

12 thoughts on “Language does matter: menstruation is not “transphobic””

  1. 1) Yes exactly! publications need to start ignoring the crabbing of people who conflate words and violence, when those words are not even “hey let’s kill them” and words to that effect.

    2) fun fact: in Canada this year the tax was removed from all menstrual products. Some activists went to an MP who sponsored a private members bill. And when it was voted on the vote was unanimous. It can happen.

  2. Female humans might or might not menstruate, males DO NOT menstruate. And while men have always hated women talking together, at least women were always able to talk about it amongst themselves and speak out about the issues, especially when advocating for better gynaecological and obstetric care. There are plenty of women who don’t menstruate, or used to or not any more and not one has said to others that do experience it to shut up like this, or that women had to apologise for existing before they made any statements about their biological reality. Same with pregnancy related issues, you don’t see women with infertility issues shutting down people talking about that or vice versa. Women just didn’t do that, and shared sympathy with other women dealing with difficulty.

    Not any more. First they claimed woman, they said it’s just a social construction so women tried using female because they were told to shut up. Then they claimed they are literally female, and again women were told to shut up and they weren’t allowed to talk about female specific issues because some of these claimed “females” weren’t happy with that. Women were told to use person with uterus and vulva, but now even trying to talk about that, and about things like menstruation even if you don’t mention the words “female” in association with anatomy is now off the table. The pre-emptive apology isn’t enough for these guys, they’ve got to erase women entirely and make everything and anything about them and make sure they are the only ones catered to in this world. Woman is now defined as any male that says he is one. Women need not apply.

    I think after saying all of that what response was really needed was a resounding “F*** off arseholes”. I’m just hoping that women are finally getting this, that this is done as a means of controlling women and shutting down their voices so only men get heard because the fact is that it is not phobic at all and could not possibly be, what the crime is that women are not making men the centre of the world.

  3. I really hope you read my comment and consider what I’m saying, because I think it’s very important that you consider the issues I want to bring up.
    Taking care not to exclude trans women from the category of “women” when talking about issues regarding biologically female bodies is in no way the same as silencing talk about women’s issues because “it grossed men out”. No one is saying menstruation is transphobic. No one is saying we can’t talk about periods or vaginas, and no one is trying to shut down the debate about free tampons. All they are saying is that, WHEN talking about these issues, it is worth taking the time to consider trans people and not needlessly claim that every woman has the same genitalia. Would it really have diminished the power of the original blog post so much if this claim had been politely left out? Does the caveat added by the editor in any way contradict what the post is saying about tampons, or is it merely being careful that its language is not exclusive?
    Yes, cis women die because of the stigma against talking about menstruation. This is bad. Trans women also die, in terrifying numbers, as a result of violent and widespread discrimination, which which stems directly from their not being “accepted” by cis people as true women (which they are). I’m struggling to understand how anyone could take such offence at a minor attempt to rectify this, to counterbalance the transphobia rampant in feminist discourse, by clarifying the wording – not the message – of a slightly carelessly written post. As feminists, as proponents of equality for ALL genders, we should be doing everything we can to fight for trans lives, which includes listening to trans people and seriously considering suggestions that we might need to modify our own language to make the world a better place for everyone.
    The reason why cis women’s issues are most often subjected to this kind of scrutiny is not because of sexism, it is because they are commonly already areas of feminist discourse and therefore are likely to want to be careful when it comes to the nuances of language and the problems it can cause. This is a Good Thing. Embrace the fact that feminist discussion and debate gives everyone the chance to examine their own language and unchecked privilege.

    1. Firstly, 5 minutes on google would find you numerous examples of transactivists insisting that its transphobic to talk about menstruation, abortion and everything else I have listed above. I suggest you google Juliet Jacques’ statements about birth control discussions online, Sophia Photos who stated that lesbians and gay men are transphobic for being lesbian and gay, as well the response to Martha Plimpton’s campaigns for access to abortion for women in the US.

      Transgender people are absolutely murdered for being trans, but it’s worth looking at which transwomen are being murdered: the vast majority are BME, young, and engaged in sex work due to poverty. I’ve yet to see a statistic that suggests that older, white and wealthy transwomen have an equally high rate of murder. Having looked at various pieces of research (including that of transgender organisations), I’ve yet to see evidence that proves that transwomen experience violence at rates higher than cis women. The ones I have seen demonstrate similar levels of violence due to specific vulnerabilities associated with racism, classism, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and the commercial sexual exploitation industry. The vast majority of people who are exploited in prostitution and the commercial sex industry are forced into this position. They are not their by choice but as a direct consequence of the white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy which views women as disposable objects. The MSM frequently fails to report on the brutal assaults, rapes and murders of vulnerable people, the vast majority women and children, forced into survival sex because people just don’t give a shit.

      We need to hold violent men, and well over 95% of perpeptrators are male, responsible for the crimes they commit against all vulnerable people. We also need to be very clear about who the victims are in order to assess appropriate support for them.

      This from Parker Molloy on the 1 in 12 stat is worth reading. I would suggest reading Kay Brown on why she came up with the 1 in 12 statistic and why it’s wrong to continue using it. I also recommend this article “The Murder Statistics of Transgender People”. This map is also important: http://www.transrespect-transphobia.org/uploads/downloads/2014/TDOR2014/TMM-TDOR14-map-all.pdf

      1. I did survival sex from age 18-20. I am a slender white female, I understand that feminism considers me as the “privileged elite.” I feel like my trauma from survival sex (prostitution) is an irrelevant and I am very small, worth very little because of being a white American young lady. I am 22 now. These thoughts are part of the reason I feel I hold no place in the feminism movement. FYI, now my current life is I’m in nursing school and do nude webcams..anything to never do survival sex again. I live in a federal minimum wage state with little opportunity for unskilled workers..I’m not seeing much alternative until I finish my education.

        This brings up the fact that women involved in any aspect of sex industry (even webcams!) are at risk of NEVER finding employment, I wish more women knew that even the smallest shred of a trail can lead back to their past. Lots of medical professionals and teachers have had their licenses revoked/marked 🙁

        1. Hi, I’m so sorry you feel excluded from the feminist movement. I don’t know if this helps but I run a blogging network called A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network which publishes writing and art from feminists across the spectrum. There might be things on there which speak to you.

          I agree completely with the issue of the sex industry. I’ve written about the case in California where a teacher was fired for acting in several pornographic films whilst poor. She was fired for ‘distracting the students’. No one discussed why 12 year old boys were accessing the material or why she was bullied by staff for doing so or why members of the community shared the films with the express purpose of shaming her. The court found for the school board because they ignored the issue of structural poverty. We need to smash the patriarchy for punishing women for the sole crime of being poor.

      2. Ms. Pennington, thank you for the shout-out and link to my page regarding the one-in-twelve statistic. Indeed, it does NOT apply to “transgendered”, but only to the tiny subset of the population that have been culturally subsumed under that embrella term, specifically, exclusively androphilic early transitioners (previously, decades ago, termed “true” or “primary” transsexuals), who, because of their specific cercumstances, are at greater risk of violence from homophobic straight men.

        As to this sillyness regarding the accusations that discussing issues surrounding menses, ‘sanitary’ products, and other biologically related concerns that women (yes ‘women’) have… Even if we grant “womanhood” to MTF transfolk, 99.999% of women are natal females, period (no pun intended). Suggesting that speaking of women as females is transphobic is just plain silly. Let’s go further, when refering to natal female people, it is NOT neccessary to use the term “cis”. If we are speaking with a context of differences between MTF transfolk and natal female folk… we can simply state, “non-trans-women”. The term “cis”, in the context of the larger transgendered population, wrongfully privileges trans-folk and even causes serious confusion as to behavioral and identity groupings. For instance, part-time cross-dressers (heterosexual males) are usually included in the trans* rubric… but couldn’t they also be called “cis-men”? Thus, the term loses any useful meaning. Best to avoid it and to hell with militant “transgender” folk who object.

  4. Thank you. Why should such a tiny percentage of the population ie transgender women get to redefine what it means to be a woman? And unlike the general description of a terf as being a white, privileged female, I am a middle-aged Chinese woman.

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