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Redefining Menstruation: Creating Inclusive Language for Trans and Nonbinary Individuals

Exploring how trans and nonbinary people are reshaping menstrual language.

By Caroline Hansen

Healthcare is making strides in shifting gendered language such as “women’s health” and “expectant mother” to become more inclusive. However, there are still gaps when it comes to language about menstruation. Standard menstrual language leaves out a specific population: transgender and nonbinary people. 

study from researchers Rowena Kosher, Lauren Houghton, and Inga Winkler highlights that there is no single way for trans and nonbinary folks to describe menstruation and that standard feminine language does not resonate or is rejected by many trans and nonbinary people. 

The study concludes that transgender and nonbinary people pull from a range of terms and euphemisms to describe menstruation. The terms vary from the more common feminine language to more androgynous or even overly masculine language and its relation to gender is not static.

Linguistic strategies among trans and nonbinary people

 Transgender and nonbinary people utilized three main linguistic strategies when discussing menstruation. They avoid or reject the feminized language, adopt the gender-neutral and masculine language, and reject transnormativity which requires/compels transgender people to conform to one narrative on how transgender people should act or feel. Rejecting transnormativity acknowledges that every transgender and nonbinary person has specific linguistic terms that resonate with them, and there is no single term to describe menstruation for trans and nonbinary folks. 

“The challenge comes when we do think about the diversity of trans experiences and the fact that with menstruation and with other things, language is one way that people can speak to diversities of experiences,” Rowena Kosher, a freelance writer and researcher with an academic focus on sociological theory regarding gender and sexuality, and first author of the study says. “When we try to bucket ourselves into one singular mode of language or understanding We miss out on how other people may be speaking about or understanding their own experiences.”

Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

Data from YouTube videos documenting and discussing menstruation from transgender and nonbinary creators help parse how language varies due to the array of trans experiences. Verbatim quotes from the vloggers themselves and the comments in the videos were pulled using cyber ethnography. Cyberethnography constitutes a research methodology that leverages the digital landscape, particularly the internet and its associated platforms, as a domain for fieldwork. Researchers employ this approach to systematically observe and analyze sociocultural dynamics, employing various digital environments and social networks as their primary sources of data.

The study utilizes 24 YouTube videos and thousands of comments, looking to see the various descriptors that transgender and nonbinary people when talking about menstruation. Eighty-five euphemisms were replacements for standard menstrual language. Observed euphemisms ranged from the already common words, to purposely gender-neutral, to hyper-masculine. Common and standardized words were “period”, “time of the month”, and “Aunt Flo”. For people where standard language gender-neutral and hyper-masculine terms such as “penguin”, “MAN-stration”, and “man period” were utilized instead.

While this study does not state that all nonbinary or transgender people reject feminine language it does conclude that a variety of responses exist. A standard or common language to describe menstruation is seen to not resonate or even cause gender dysphoria within a person, with some comment pulled from the cyber-ethnography saying, “I hate every word that has to deal with that,” with the word ‘that’ referencing menstruation. 

The impact of gendered language on gender dysphoria

Vloggers and commentators also made a connection between gendered language and increased levels of gender dysphoria. One vlogger said, “I know that’s one of the things that frustrates me the most with my dysphoria is seeing how everyone else talks about their periods … because society keeps telling us what a period is and what it means for people who are assigned female at birth.” 

Gendered language’s causal effect on gender dysphoria promotes the linguistic strategy of rejecting feminine language and adopting gender-neutral and masculine language. These strategies showcase the ability that transgender and nonbinary people must make language their own.

Lex Connelly, researcher and consultant in linguistics and sexual diversity studies says, “Many trans and non-binary people are already linguists by necessity – many of us have long since learned how to recognize, play with, and subvert gendered meanings in language, innovating extensively to fill in the gaps.” 

The study highlights the initiative to expand previously gendered language to become more inclusive and individualistic for each person.  Meaning no singular term fits everyone for describing menstruation, trans or not. In addition, can create guidance for more expansive language practices in healthcare, education, media, and policy.  

There is current research on the use of other forms of gender-inclusive and expansive language in healthcare andthe importance of using inclusive language in medical practice. In the future researchers hope to identify other gender aspects of health and see how trans and nonbinary folks can shift the language to increase inclusivity. This can include research surrounding sexual and reproductive health care. 

“There is no one monolithic experience that people have,” Kosher says, “particularly when it comes to trans and nonbinary folks, who also do not have a monolithic experience of their relationship to their gender, and how that connects to their body and how they feel in their body.”