I recently read about your concern about an e-mail from Feminists of Maastricht (FOM), which stated: “You have published a transphobic article and FOM expects that you change this immediately or we will mobilise our community against this.” You then wrote about the editorial decision to choose to leave the classic wording of “women menstruate” as it was.
I was also surprised and shocked by the demanding and threatening use of language by FOM. As a female-to-male transgender with a womb, this subject touches me personally. So, I see it as a fact that not all women menstruate and not only women menstruate. That is exactly why I feel it is such a pity that this substantive message is being overlooked because of the communication strategy that FOM has adopted. I fear that such statements will prove to be counterproductive for the promotion of an inclusive climate.
Anger or dialogue
As far as I am concerned, a minority group has roughly two tools to bring about social change. The first tool is anger, as implemented by FOM in this instance. The second tool is dialogue. In my opinion, opting for dialogue is often (but not always) more desirable as well as more effective. In addition to being a man who sometimes menstruates, I am also a pragmatist and I love people. Therefore, I would like to share my experiences on the Observant platform, in the interest of a more inclusive climate, free press and treating each other in a respectful manner.
Exam in MECC
The first experience was during an exam in the MECC. It was that time again: the monthly menstruation feast. I had to use the toilet, and the invigilator, with good intentions waved me through in the direction of the men’s toilet. I stood there with a dilemma: shall I go to the men’s toilet, where there is a lack of bins and I won’t have the possibility to change my pads discretely and in a sanitary manner? Or do I go to the women’s toilet, where I do have this possibility? But there I may be turned away aggressively or even ridiculed, as I have experienced numerous times. The gender-neutral disabled toilet was the best solution, but for that you have to request the key. “Why do you have to go there?”, the toilet gatekeeper asked. Apparently, this person’s job description included the task of leading the toilet user to The Correct Toilet, based on alleged gender and disability status. Another of those dilemmas. Do I or do I not explain the whole story, and run the risk of a nasty reaction? Fortunately, my answer “because this toilet is gender-neutral” was sufficient. All’s well that ends well, this time. I left, leaving behind a slightly bewildered toilet gatekeeper.
The second experience was when I went to a discotheque and the doorman checked my backpack. To his amazement, he found a menstruation product, which he held up for the onlookers’ amusement. “What do you need that for, do you have some kind of fetish?”, said gatekeeper number 2. In this case, I did prefer to share the specifics of my sexual genital organs and his paradox with my gender expression. And, let’s be honest; for a group that has absolutely nothing to do with this information!
I hope that these experiences illustrate the added value of people being aware that not everyone who menstruates is female, and not everyone who is female menstruates: safety, freedom, equality and privacy. Our language is of course the ultimate medium for spreading knowledge. It is up to the users of that language, and so also the editorial board, to decide whether they will take on the possibility of spreading this knowledge or to curb it. Because indeed, freedom of the press is a big thing. Even more wonderful, it can at the same time be used for other major things!