“I think it’s important to emphasize that everyone benefits from reframing and reimagining the menstrual body.”
What are you raising awareness for?
My menstrual activist project Menstruamorphosis stands for honoring the expansiveness of the menstrual experience and reimagining it to reflect the diversity of the menstrual population. To transform the view on the menstrual cycle and the menstrual body, it is important to not only include, but center trans* and disabled experiences (and all other marginalized embodiments). That means, first and foremost, the need to uncouple menstruation from cis-womanhood as not all women menstruate and not just women menstruate. The menstrual cycle in itself implodes and transcends the binary system (beyond sex/gender): anyone with a womb and ovaries might experience menstruation: it is not dependent on gender.
What inspired you to become passionate about raising awareness to expand and diversify the menstrual experience?
It all started when I had troubles with my cycle and was not taken seriously by my doctor because according to them “it was just part of being a woman”. So, I started doing all this research by myself in order to be able to self-advocate, and through this process was able to map out how our current view on menstruation has been constructed. I exhibited this mapping in an art installation (I was going to art school at the time) and received so many stories from people who went through similar journeys of not being heard, and simply not learning about the menstrual cycle in general.
Seeing how all these ideas and negative assumptions about menstruation were constructed, it made me realize they could also be deconstructed, and built anew. That is where the project really took off as it allowed me to explore how we could transform and reimagine our perception of menstruation to something that really encompassed the expansiveness of the menstrual cycle and the menstrual cycle as a whole.
Why is this cause important to you personally?
I am someone who menstruates but does not identify as a woman. So, I personally experience the discomfort it gives to have menstruation always be seen in this frame of womanhood. It can cause gender and/or body dysphoria, for example, which is really tough. And as I have a chronic illness (and am part of the disability community), I also advocate for the representation of disabled people who menstruate – as their/our experience is overlooked as well.
How often do you see disabled people in menstrual campaigns? Or, for example, in the conversation about making menstruation and menstrual products more sustainable, there is never any talk about what this means for disabled menstruators who might rely on disposable products.
What is the biggest challenge in creating a more inclusive and diverse menstrual experience?
I think because the current view is so internalized and embedded in our society, it is challenging for many people to unlearn all this and embrace the process of building something new. Especially when people are not personally affected by it, it can be difficult to get them on board with the type of necessity and urgency, which is required.
What is one myth or misconception about your work you want to dispel?
That including – and even centering – trans* and queer menstrual experiences does not exclude or erase the valid experience of cis-women who do not feel limited by the current view on menstruation. Expanding the conversation to include different experiences does not take away any space from anyone!
I think it is important to emphasize that everyone benefits from a reframing and reimagining of the menstrual body, as the current view (constructed from a patriarchal perspective) harms us all in ways we might not even be aware of.
What do you hope to achieve with your activism?
In the short term, I want to see more brands and campaigns that celebrate the diversity of the menstrual population. I want to see people in wheelchairs, with canes, colostomy bags, and whatnot. I want brands to be size-inclusive and to see period boxers more readily available. I want to see trans men and non-binary people represented in campaigns. Just to name a few….
And to see school- and work environments facilitate menstrual friendly toilets in all stalls, not just the women’s bathroom (as long as there are still gendered toilets), would also be a great start.
And in the long term, I hope that menstruation will no longer be typically associated with a certain type of body. I want everyone who menstruates to have agency over how they relate to their cycles, and that menstruation is treated as the human right it is.
What is an important lesson you’ve learned so far on your journey as an activist for this cause?
To lean into the teachings of the menstrual cycle; to embrace the ebb and flow of the process. Change doesn’t happen overnight and there will be backlash, but even during the times it might feel like the cause is not progressing, to trust the process and to keep going (with enough rest of course!). And on that note, also to have boundaries. Especially because it is such a personal topic, it is sometimes hard to not let the negative comments get to me.
What advice would you give to people who relate to your story and cause?
To stand tall in your experience; simply because it is your experience, it is valid – your validation does not rely on other people. Being outspoken about all the different ways we relate to the menstrual cycle will help to create a more diverse representation. So break the norm!
How can people get on board with this change?
First of all, examine the ways in which you might hold on, or (subconsciously) perpetuate, views on menstruation that might be limiting to you as well as others. To let go of the long held beliefs that menstruation is the gatekeeper to which body belongs to ‘womanhood’, to who is a ‘real’ or ‘natural’ woman. In this process lies the valuable lesson of letting go of attachments to certain ideas or beliefs, which is what I see as one of the core aspects of reimagining the menstrual body or queering the cycle.
Next, stop interchanging ‘women’ with ‘menstruators’ or ‘people who menstruate’ and do not assume people’s gender based on their looks. Additionally, you can donate to trans people.
Also feel free to follow me on Instagram @menstruamorphosis or Lottie Randomly (@lottierandomly) who offers wonderful insights on queering the cycle. The book Red Moon Gang by Tara Costello is also a good start as an inclusive guide to menstruation.
Why do you think it’s important that people like you are heard and amplified?
Trans* and disabled menstruators exist and it is important for us to be seen and be able to see ourselves reflected in campaigns in all the ways (intersections) we exist.
Want to connect with Marissa Schut? Reach out @menstruamorphosis on Instagram.