Most of the time, being inclusive isn’t that hard. Actually, it’s so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That’s the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: “Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you.”
Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.
And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, “It’s just something that women do,” hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.
But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.
“Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “I didn’t use the language of women have periods because it’s not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn’t had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I’m sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds… ya think?”
Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus “female” symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to “people with periods.” Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.
Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That’s an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.
But at least we can still enjoy Smith’s concluding words, “It’s not insulting to women, it’s not discrediting women,” she said of this change of wording. “It’s opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don’t identify as women but still have periods.”
The world isn’t always black and white and it’s time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.
A version of this story was published November 12, 2019 with the post. It has since been updated.