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May 1, 2013 / Charlie McNabb

LGBTQ Menstrual Lore Update

This is the long-awaited update to this post about the menstrual research I started last summer.

After the June 2012 collaborative storytelling event, I conducted research in an online community called VaginaPagina.  In August 2012, I administered a ten-question survey asking about age of menarche, menstrual products used, and participants’ memories of their menarche experience.  I was amazed and grateful at both the number of responses and the care taken with answering questions.  Due to a high percentage of participants identifying as LGBTQ, and an overwhelming amount of discussion of menstruation as related to gender and sexual identity, I decided to focus my research and analysis on LGBTQ menstrual narratives.

In March 2013 I presented a conference paper on the subject at the Northwest Anthropological Conference in Portland, Oregon.  See the program here.  My paper was titled “Women’s Wisdom”: Menarche Narratives and Body Politics.  I received some great feedback from audience members and colleagues that I shared my work with, and have decided to edit and submit this work to a journal.  Because journals typically require that work is not published elsewhere, I can’t share the paper here.  However, I can briefly mention some themes that emerged through interview transcripts and surveys.  When reminiscing about their menarche experience, participants tended to feel excitement, dread, or dysphoria; and many experienced gender policing and received medical misinformation from parents, peer groups, and healthcare professionals.  Furthermore, both menstrual instruction and popular media dealing with menstruation push social and cultural messages about gender and sexual identity which can be especially harmful for newly menstruating people who don’t fit that mold.

As I refine this paper and continue to analyze the interview and survey transcripts, I find that I have more questions.  Among them: What kind of educational approach would be most helpful for young people entering menarche?  Are there generational differences in how menarche is experienced?  And perhaps most pressing, did my informants identify as LGBTQ at the time of menarche, or did this identity realization come later- and how did that affect the  menarche experience, if at all?  I’d like to invite past LGBTQ participants, as well as new LGBTQ participants, to explore these questions with me via email.  If you are interested, please email me at and I will send you a consent form and more information about the project.

Finally, as before, I created a zine titled Moon Medicine with some of the direct quotes from informants.  Many participants discussed self-care techniques, which doesn’t fit into my scholarly paper but is fascinating and important information.  Please feel free to copy and disseminate, with attribution.


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