Elijah was born in a biologically female body but identifies as a man. He began his physical transition just over two years ago. Here, he tells us what it’s like to have your period as a transgender teen.
I was 13 when I got my first period. Most people at school had already started and my mum had prepped me quite well, so I knew what was on the horizon, but that didn’t make it any easier. I hated them from the word go.
At the time, I was a long way off understanding myself like I do now. I was dressing as a tomboy and was struggling with my sexuality because I was finding myself attracted to girls, but I hadn’t yet realised I was transgender.
I remember my periods being a great source of great pain and distress, and looking back, I think that was linked to general feelings of being uncomfortable in my body. I now know that what I was probably experiencing was something called gender dysphoria [where a person experiences distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity] but I didn’t understand that at the time, or have the language to articulate it.
As I got older, the distress my periods caused me became more and more tied to my gender identity. And once I’d decided to transition, having periods became even more frustrating. I had to live as my ‘desired gender’ for a while before the doctors would give me the hormones I needed to start making my body change. So I was using male toilets and asking everyone to call me these new male pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘him’, but I wasn’t visibly changing. That was really tough and at that point having periods started to feel really hurtful. The best way I can describe it is that it was like a personal insult every month. I’d made these decisions and announcements but my body wasn’t keeping up with things. I was trying my best to change but they were undermining everything.
When I started hormone therapy, my periods stopped relatively quickly but I had to up my dose a couple of times because I was getting period pains and bloating and things like that. That was really hard because I felt like I was past having periods and then some of the feelings came back again.
There are a few things that helped me cope, and which might help you if you’re transgender and are struggling with your periods. The first is to try not to give your periods power. My dad used to say the same thing when I had panic attacks – if you give the anxiety power then you’re not in control. It’s the same with periods. Remember that it’s your body and you’re in control.
You can take back control by giving yourself time, space, love and care. If you know that your period is going make you feel extra rubbish (or maybe there are a couple of days of your period that are particularly bad) then take care of yourself all the more on those days. Eat ice cream, exercise if that helps you feel good (it’s always helped me), and just do what you need to do.
Try to be open as well. I think I would have had an easier time if I’d been more open about what I was experiencing. Once I’d learnt how to communicate about it a bit with my mum, I could say “I feel really bad because of my period” and I think that was one of the things that helped me to take the power away from it. Not talking about my periods and suffering in silence gave them all the power in the world.
The good news is that young trans people today are having a very different experience to the one I had. There’s so much more awareness then when I was young. And the internet has really helped, too. You can find information and support and other trans people to talk to.
And things have moved on medically, too. These days, lots of young people have the opportunity to put female puberty on hold so they can try testosterone as soon as they turn eighteen. You obviously have to see psychotherapists and other specialists and jump through various hoops but, generally speaking, it’s much easier nowadays to start some sort of treatment before puberty hits and your periods start.
But if you are having periods and hating them because you’re transgender, just know that it won’t be forever. Keep telling yourself that. If you decide to transition, your body will move past this tricky time eventually. You just have to give it time and be patient.
As told to @LucindaEverett.
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Image: Hailey Hamilton