When transgender model and activist Kenny Ethan Jones experienced his first period, he faced both physical and psychological pain. Initially, Jones, who had not yet come out as trans at the time, felt like he was losing control and didn’t understand what was happening to his body. However, one thing was clear: He didn’t feel like himself.
“I didn’t believe that having periods would be a part of my lived experience,” Jones told NBC News. “I felt isolated; everything about periods was tailored to girls, yet me, a boy, was experiencing this and nothing in the world documented that.”
He currently experiences a wide range of challenges with his monthly bleeding, especially when it comes to getting his hands on menstrual hygiene products.
“Having a period already causes me a lot of [gender] dysphoria, but this dysphoria becomes heightened when I have to shop for a product that is labeled as ‘women’s health’ and in most cases, is pretty and pink,” Jones explained.
Some transgender and gender-nonconforming people who menstruate, like Jones, say when the products are categorized as women’s products, they can feel alienated — and may even avoid purchasing them altogether.
“I’ve definitely seen a positive shift with the discussion around women experiencing periods, but the stigma towards trans men, nonbinary and intersex individuals having them is still alive and well,” said Jones, who gained attention in 2018 when he was the face of a U.K.-based menstruation company’s ad campaign. “People are still reluctant to the idea that it’s not only women that experience periods.”
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, founder of Period Equity, which advocates for affordable and accessible menstruation products, said, “Anyone who menstruates needs to be part of the discussion and decision-making about their own health and well-being.”
The hurdles some trans men and gender-nonconforming people who menstruate say they face include the high cost of period supplies, lack of access to the products, safety concerns and inadequate medical care. Some of these challenges were recently brought to light when a story about menstruation product maker Always removing the female sign from its sanitary products went viral in October.
A box of 36 tampons, which could easily be used within one menstruation period, could cost as much as $12 — that’s significantly more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Additionally, menstrual hygiene products sold in the U.S. are still subject to sales tax in 32 states.
Trans individuals, according to Heng-Lehtinen, “are experiencing poverty, unemployment and underemployment at higher rates, so there is absolutely economic vulnerability here.”
His organization’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found trans individuals are more than twice as likely to live in poverty and three times as likely to be unemployed as the general population.