By Christi Sessa
I got my period for the first time about a month or so before I turned 14. My twin sister had gotten hers years ahead of me, and I had just shared a bathroom with my mother for the previous year and a half, so I was already familiar with the ever familial cycle. I remember wanting to be excited. I had done everything in puberty up to periods at that point. I started wearing a bra when I was nine, I got curves when I was young, acne by the time I left elementary school, all that jazz. I was ready.
But when I got it, I was terrified. I knew it might hurt sometimes. Yet as long as I have been menstruating, I have always felt uncomfortable when I am on my period. I wanted to carve my uterus out of me, show it who was the real boss, even when I didn’t have cramps. A lot of the women around me said those things, too. But here’s the thing that sets me apart from most of them: I actually meant it.
When I was around 15 or 16 and began to understand the power of the Internet, I discovered nonbinary genders on a forum site. I knew this described me immediately. I have never, once in my life, felt like I was really one of the girls. But I wasn’t a boy either. But I was dealing with a lot of shit at that time, so I set it aside, figured that I couldn’t be nonbinary because that meant I was trans; my experience wasn’t like theirs. I didn’t feel like my body was working against me all the time. I learned to hide my chest if I didn’t want to show it, I loved wearing dresses, and makeup was fun when I wasn’t too lazy to wear it. I didn’t want hormones or a new name. I liked being called Christi. “She” didn’t feel right, but I figured I should just ignore it. If I had to choose, I decided, I was a woman. But I hated the idea of choosing.
Now, at this time it’s important to note that I was also in the closet to myself about my sexuality. About a year after I discovered nonbinary identities, I began to identify as bisexual. Even with that I still didn’t want to think about gender until I hit college. At my first LGBT group meeting, someone said they identified as “masculine but not a man.” I heard that and really, really felt it. When you are assigned female at birth, for at least a time in your life your identity is tied to the traditional ideas of womanhood. I’ve been catcalled; men have flirted with me assuming I was a cis girl. And, most importantly for this discussion: once a month, I have my period. But I wasn’t a cis girl. I was something else. Feminine, sure, but not always. Feminine, but not a woman. Masculine, but not a man. I was something else, someone else.
Since I’ve started to figure out my gender, I’ve learned the reason I hate my period so much. It isn’t just because it hurts like hell. It isn’t just because I in no way want biological children. It’s because my period is a monthly reminder that my body and my identity do not exist together, but as almost separate identities. Some of that is a history of the trauma I’ve dealt with since puberty, or rather, since I was told I was a woman, was seeing my body, a “woman’s” body, as some sort of object. My period is a monthly reminder of everything I’m not. But now I know why I hate my period so much, why I want to claw my uterus out and pretend it doesn’t exist. And because I know why, I now have a name for that feeling: dysphoria.
It’s really hard to have dysphoria for something you can’t see. It’s just always there. If I were born without a uterus, I would be 100% okay with that. If I could lose this part of my body tomorrow, I would be okay with that. Hell, at this point I’m jealous of my mother for experiencing menopause. I still have 30 years of this. I take birth control every day, which, while it helps with the cramps and acne (and, of course, not getting pregnant), it reminds me that I have something that, I feel, is not a part of me. And it hurts. A lot. Ibuprofen and heating pads stop the pain but they can’t make the dysphoria go away. I also feel dysphoria with my chest, but top surgery is on the horizon for me, and there are doctors who will do it. Hysterectomies, on the other hand, are expensive procedures, and no health insurance plan would want to cover such a surgery for someone like me, a twenty-two-year-old at the peak childbearing age with no serious health issues. Dysphoria and periods don’t help with sex, either. It feels like my vagina, something I usually see as mine, is being invaded by something that decidedly isn’t. It’s really, really hard to have sex with someone, even if you love them, when you just feel absolutely disgusted with your body.
Gender dysphoria is a real problem. Not all trans people experience it, and it looks and feels different for everyone. What allies must grow to understand is that dysphoria is complicated. It isn’t needed to be trans or nonbinary. It’s different for everybody. It also isn’t always visible and doesn’t always impact the whole body. I love the curves of my hips, the feminine features of my face. But I also can’t wait for top surgery. I use they/them pronouns now. And I never want another period. More than that, I do not want this uterus. I just want to be my own beautiful, handsome, genderqueer self.
Christi Sessa is a recent graduate of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. They love to write and would like to save the world someday.