Health Care, Gender & Identity, Love, Life Stories, Wellness

How the quest for my period helped me define my gender identity

After living without my period for 10 months, I decided to recover it for my health. This meant I had to reconsider my gender identity.

“Who actually wants to have their period?”

My OBGYN stared at me in shock. After confirming that I wasn’t pregnant, she was truly surprised that someone who hadn’t had a period for 10 months would actually want to take the steps required to recover it.

I felt uncomfortable, so I made a thinly veiled joke about how pregnancy tests were expensive.

I walked out of the office that day with a prescription for a hormonal blood panel, an appointment for an ultrasound, and my skin feeling too tight. The appointment had been entirely too much talking about my body, which I did not like. I was told I was underweight, an evaluation with which I did not agree. I was also told that I was a woman, which I was uncertain about.

After a barrage of tests, an invasive ultrasound, and a confession of under-eating, I came away with a diagnosis: hypothalamic amenorrhea. Months of having an eating disorder had put me so far into ‘survival mode’ that my body had thought my reproductive organs so non-critical to survival that they’d been effectively turned off.

A part of me was rueful over the achievement: I’d managed to destroy a part of me that I couldn’t control. This was the part of me that meant I was always told to ‘act like a lady’.

Unfortunately, the lack of menstruating also heralded health problems. For people with uteruses, a functioning reproductive system can be important to your everyday health. The hormonal shifts during a person’s cycle can impact insulin sensitivity or even help you lift more weight. That means that menstrual cycle can actually be used as a tool to get stronger.

Even if I wasn’t interested in my uterus, I was interested in getting strong.

My doctor helped me devise a strategy to get better. It involved lowering how much I worked out, increasing how much food I ate – and enlisting a therapist to make sure those processes happened safely.

In the past, I’d called my period the ‘red rabbit’. I could scare it off with a hard run, or a bout of stress. Now, I saw it as something that was inherently me – something that my body needed to do to stay healthy. It wasn’t something to be scared away, but something to be celebrated.

But now, as I feebly tried to recapture my period, I had to answer an important question: who was I? 

For much of my childhood, I hid my body behind baggy pants and polo shirts. I owned several too-tight sports bras that would flatten my chest and I deliberately avoided pink like the plague. I used teenage anger to fight against my own femininity. I associated it with my abusive mother and tried to be anything she wasn’t. I wasn’t a woman like her. I defined myself by my maleness.

But now, I was chasing my period like a dream. I was confused.

As my hormones shifted, my priorities did as well. When my period came back, I welcomed it as a friend, instead of an adversary. I started to express my masculinity in different ways. I kept lifting and putting on muscle mass. I cut my hair into a short pixie cut that I could spike into a mohawk. The obvious portrayal of those values made me feel safe enough to start wearing earrings and bold makeup.

When my period came back, I celebrated it by maxing out my deadlifts and flexing in a mirror.

I reached out to my friends and confided in them that I was confused. I told them about the femaleness and maleness in me. I didn’t think they fit, but they had to because I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t want to be confined by gender roles. I needed help. My friends simply smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

I didn’t need to be one gender or the other and I didn’t need to choose. I could be both.

Now, I often have my hair cut short. I flex, often. And, I am even comfortable in a dress and makeup from time to time. I sign my name “Mx. Leach” and revel in my “theys and thems.”

My favorite picture is of me arrogantly smiling into the camera while proving to all of my male friends that I have larger biceps than them, while my poor fiance is trying to get me to put my arm down so for once there’s a nice picture of all of us – but I do not care because I am wholly ‘me’ in the picture.

I am a human in a body that has periods.