My name is Abigail Jamison Clark, and I am a trans woman. I’ve enjoyed a feminist upbringing. My mother is a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), which includes being an OBGYN. Before becoming a midwife, she taught the Bradley Method of childbirth to groups of pregnant people and their partners in our basement when I was growing up. From before the age of five, I learned about the rights of women or the person giving birth in the birthing room. They can be taken advantage of and abused by nurses, forced to be induced, forced to have an epidural, or forced to have an unnecessary cesarean section just to expedite the process. It’s so important that pregnant people create their own birth plan that sets expectations and boundaries for the birth and communicates them with their birth attendant (midwife, doula, nurse) and partner(s). I grew up watching childbirth videos with my mom’s Bradley Method classes. I would be a woman inside no matter where I was born, my parents, my milieu, or any other variable. It is an inborn trait. The question is, would I have the privilege of taking action on my inherent qualities and coming out as truly being a sex and a gender that differ from those assigned at birth? In reality, I wouldn’t have the luxury of coming out in many scenarios of me being born to a different set of parents.
I’m grateful for having parents who accept me for who I am.
All people are miraculous and divine. Since I can remember, I’ve seen women, females, and people that give birth as especially divine and miraculous. The same has been true of people who menstruate. The vagina and uterus have always been natural, dinner-time appropriate subject matter in my house growing up, and still are now. And thus, I grew up seeing and still see these things as natural human occurrences rather than something gross or sexualized. I think of menstruation and ovulation as renewal and rebirth. The lining of the uterus was full of blood and nutrients, ready to receive a fertilized egg from the fallopian tubes. The uterine lining will shed if you don’t need it to support a fertilized egg that will become a zygote that will become an embryo and then a fetus and then a baby. The body is incredibly intelligent and retains only what it needs. So when that uterine lining sheds, all of that glorious blood and nutrients head south. And poof! Just like that, period time! Then, like clockwork, the uterine lining starts to build up again!
I think it’s incredibly rad, super cool, and astounding that human bodies do such magical things. I definitely nerd out on the topics of menstruation and gynecology, furthermore I am a robust intersectional feminist. When I discovered the movement for menstrual equity around the world, I knew I had found one of my callings. It is a natural continuation of my upbringing and activism. I was aware of menstrual shame, but I didn’t realize the extent to which a lack of access to menstrual products affects people worldwide until I saw “Period. End of Sentence.” Now, I’ve gotten in touch with The Pad Project and I am excited to contribute to the movement however I can! I’m set to become a Pad Project ambassador later this summer! I am incredibly inspired by the mass of grassroots organizations and the endless chapters that are making change. With the sheer volume and incredible intelligence of the global movement, I know that we’ll win.
Womanhood and manhood are constructs.
Culturally, the first period is an essential part of womanhood for many, and nothing can diminish that. But not all women menstruate. Trans women are women and don’t menstruate. Postmenopausal women are women and don’t menstruate. Even some premenopausal women can’t menstruate or only experience sporadic periods. Women who can’t menstruate can still experience womanhood.
Furthermore, not all people who menstruate are women. Trans men are men, and many still menstruate. Your first, and all of your periods are important, no matter your gender. My womanhood is secure, and it is without menstruation. Some intersex people can menstruate. Some genderqueer people can menstruate. Some gender nonbinary people menstruate. Some agender people can menstruate. The list goes on. I can assure you that many people menstruate, and it is not caused by being a woman. It is merely correlated to being a woman within the popular gender binary based on genitalia. There isn’t enough space in this essay for she who shall not be named. However, suffice it to say that someone should send the deplorable, obdurately transphobic writer a copy of Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble.” The magic of periods is for anyone who menstruates. The magic of womanhood is for anyone who identifies as a woman and, in truth, anyone who chooses it. Manhood is also inclusive of menstruation. The human condition, life along the gender spectrum, is also inclusive of menstruation. Menstruation is one of the most essential and fundamental elements of life, pivotal and chronic as the moon and ocean tides.
Gender is performative, and gender is a cultural construct. I would postulate that sex is also a cultural construct, given that there are several innate traits other than genitals that can be considered to determine biological sex. The sex binary that we commonly encounter today is an oversimplification based on the medicalization of human anatomy as a binary of what is really a sex spectrum. A symptom of the failed sex and gender binary is its failure to be inclusive of intersex people. When we take intersex folx into consideration, it further supports that sex is a cultural construct of a spectrum of possibilities.
The sex binary of male and female isn’t inclusive of the vast number of combinations of sex traits that intersex people posses. Traits, including genitals, a uterus, chromosomes, hormones, and what I would posit is what the person feels like they are. An intersex person is born with a mixture of traits that would be considered both male and female—for example, someone born with both ovaries, some aspects of male genitalia, but no testes. Or, athlete Maria Patińo, who was AFAB (assigned female at birth) based on her genitalia but was banned from competing in women’s sports after it was discovered that she has XY chromosomes. The popular cultural construction of sex made from only the genital variable can be defined as the normative sex binary, in contrast to the proposed constructed sex spectrum composed out of all of the variables.
“If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.”
(Judith Butler 1999, 10-11)
Judith and I aren’t the only ones that think this way. See also: Antony 1998; Gatens 1996; Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999.
You belong to a long inborn tradition of people with uteruses that bear the excruciating pain of menstruation to have later the option to bear the excruciating pain of giving birth. It may sound odd to say, but I would give so much to be able to menstruate. Just as much to give birth. Two beautiful natural callings that some may find burdensome but which I find heroic, and would gladly take on. Opting out from them is just as valid. You can, of course, choose not to give birth; no one should be deprived of the right to say no. It may feel unfair that it isn’t within your immediate bodily autonomy to stop menstruating without medical intervention. Often you can alter, stall, or stop menstruating by using birth control.
Through self-love, healing, and more, I have great hope that you can remedy the pernicious effects of any embarrassment menstruation has caused you. So, as much as your period might bring you discomfort or shame, know that there is a trans woman out there that would give anything to have what you have. That is from the perspective of a woman who cannot and, in all likelihood, will not ever menstruate, even if I undergo transfeminine vaginoplasty. I may never have a uterus. I have a good feeling about 3D printed stem cell uteruses, though!
I recently started a new project with my mom called VFriendly @vfriendly. We’re rating and reviewing vaginal products based on their comfort, efficacy, and inclusivity. Later, we will sell the items in our online shop. We’re also looking for the best way to donate some of our profits to the cause. Our hope is to improve the quality of life for people with vaginas, reduce vaginal shame, reduce menstrual shame, donate some profits to the cause, and further the movement for menstrual equity.
Thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you continue to do for this global movement!
Thank you for reading,
Abigail Jamison Clark