Mensturation and Body Image as a Queer, Non-Binary Woman

The Intersection of Menstruation and Body Image as a Queer, Non-Binary Woman

When I was 10, I faked my period. I planned it out—a seemingly nonchalant trip to the bathroom with an ‘unexpected’ turn, a scary but exciting moment of womanhood. I am sure my school nurse knew I was lying, but she played along with my absurd obsession with getting my period. After my visit to her office, she gave me extra pads, which I carefully placed on the top shelf of my school desk for everyone to see. I didn’t brag, but I told my friends in a hushed voice, so no one would catch on to my obvious lie. My performance of femininity felt powerful. I knew this wouldn’t last, but the brief charade of wanting my body was exhilarating.

I desperately wanted my body to show any type of development. My American Girl book, The Care and Keeping of You, became a bible; I obsessively read and reread it into the late hours of the night. If I could just do everything right, I might not hate my body. I wanted a body I could understand.

I didn’t get my period until three years later. When I looked down at my underwear in the bathroom stall, I finally felt a sense of accomplishment. My body was going to change for the better, and I would finally be happy with myself.

This, of course, did not happen. I waited. I started growing breasts. I still didn’t like my body. My hips extended. I still didn’t like my body. I watched others grow comfortable in their own skin. I still didn’t like my body.

Identity without a language

I had physical validation that I was a woman, but I never felt at home. It went beyond insecurities, even though I wrote off my feelings as just that. I went through many different phases, none of which I could classify with one label, but all of them aimed toward the same goal. I was getting closer, but not close enough. There were few people who mirrored the look I wanted, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never be them. Womanhood felt like a lie, as if I weren’t allowed the comfort of a label I was entitled to.

In college, I worked on a project regarding punk music and violence. Paging through my collection of documents, I kept pausing on Patti Smith. Her look was revolutionary because it was impossible to label. As a high deity of androgyny, she helped introduce a look so her own and at the same time, so incredibly relatable to how I viewed myself. Best of all, it flourished out of her own being. I am critical of overarching claims of who started what, because there were androgynous folks before Patti Smith, and you bet like hell there were after without her influence. She did not create androgyny. But for me, Patti Smith was the first person I looked at and saw myself.

Androgyny is often used to describe a style that is in between masculine and feminine. It is an umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t fit cleanly into one category. But now, it is used to describe more than just style—it expands into the murky world of gender expression. The body has become a source of expression beyond the clothes we put on it. Learning that gender isn’t a binary of male or female was liberating. I no longer felt I had to be either masculine or feminine. But searching for terms to explain my identity and style was difficult. I was trying to find the power to extract identity out of what seemed like a non-existent space. How was I supposed to form an identity without a language?

Identifying as non-binary

My body started to feel alien to me in a way I couldn’t understand. My 34B chest felt too big, an issue I never thought I would have as a young girl growing up in Southern California. My period, which came with a heavy flow with unending cramps, was tolerable for most of my life. But now it felt a mismatched puzzle piece, like it didn’t belong. I felt like a series of conflicting signals, unable to understand where the feminine ended and the masculine began. Or was it masculine or feminine at all? What do you do with this large gray area labeled “androgynous”?

About a year ago, I started identifying as a non-binary woman. My gender is outside of the binary, but growing up in an environment where I was always labeled “girl” created an experience from which I can’t detach myself. This is the closest I can get to understanding where I am. There is no gender spectrum. It is a large, messy color wheel containing both colors we can and can’t see. How I work with my body and what feels right is never one rigid idea.

I don’t bind my chest to make it flat, but I purposely get well fitted or sheer bras so my chest isn’t emphasized in any way. I like to wear makeup. My hairstyle is a battle of masculine and feminine, never hitting a middle ground that feels comfortable to me. I wear loose fitting shirts and well-fitted pants. I take birth control so I don’t have a period. This traditional idea of womanhood I so desperately wanted as a child never made me feel at home in my body. I never feel like one consistent person, but instead an assemblage of different pieces of identity that come out on different days. Piecing together an identity isn’t exclusive to gender. But trying to understand yourself without having a foundation or language makes it much harder.  

Forging my own path

My gender and my body are a confusing, untidy collection of haphazardly piled characteristics. So, what do I do with this shell of a body? This accumulation of experience—joy, sadness, pain, misunderstanding—is beyond any words I know. My 10-year-old self knew something was missing in regards to my body. If my body could just develop into a ‘proper’ woman, I would finally feel comfortable with myself. But my desire for my period was just a placeholder for an unidentifiable discomfort with my body that was beyond the awkward years of puberty.

My gender and body are related in complicated ways, more complicated than most mainstream narratives of trans identity want to admit. There is no simple ‘fix’ or ‘transition’ that I, or most other trans people, could make to feel 100 percent comfortable in their bodies. Understanding our gendered bodies is a constant process of reevaluating what gender means for ourselves. For now, I’m searching without a path, a search so personal that it inherently can’t have a predetermined route. I’m somewhere between almost and not enough.

Featured image by Kayla Harper
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