Transphobic Brouhaha Ignites over ‘Feminine’ Sanitary Pads

Everybody knows what sanitary pads are for

James Finn
Oct 25, 2019 · 5 min read
Image by Irina Ilina from Pixabay

A firestorm has broken out in certain circles over Procter & Gamble’s recent decision to remove the Venus symbol, historically used to represent the female sex, from their Always brand hygienic pad packaging.

Conservatives are crying the end of the world as we know it, which probably doesn’t surprise very many people. But opposition is also loud in other, surprising quarters. We all need to start getting over our fear of transgender people. A little sensitivity never hurts. Being nice isn’t a crime.


It all started recently…

A few transgender advocates engaged with P&G branding people to ask them to consider the feelings of transgender men and non-binary people, many of whom use sanitary pads or tampons. For those who aren’t aware, not all transgender men transition medically or surgically to the point where they stop having their periods.

Sanitary products are available in the majority of toilets around campus. Every individual who menstruates is able to access them. And no one bats an eye.

“hi Always,” tweeted one advocate. “i understand that you guys love girl positivity but please understand that there are trans men that get periods, and if you could please do something about the symbol on your pad packaging, i’d be happy. i’d hate to have any trans males feel dysphoric.”

As CNN reports, getting periods is often dysphoric (traumatic) for transgender and nonbinary people, especially because of how society discusses periods as something that only happen for people assigned female at birth.

Procter & Gamble responded sympathetically

While they haven’t specified exactly when, they have announced that they will remove the Venus symbol from the packaging for Always sanitary pads.

Last Tuesday, P&G tweeted, “For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so… We’re also committed to diversity & inclusion and are on a continual journey …”

All the usual suspects hit the roof

As The Advocate reports, a fringe group of trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) have expressed outrage, featured in publications like the UK’s Daily Mail, an outlet known for its anti-trans editorial policies.

For example, Julie Bindel wrote in the Mail on Sunday, in a burst of hyperbolic prose, that “Removing the female symbol from sanitary towel packaging is basically denying the existence of women. We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

Doug Mainwaring of the Roman Catholic publication LifeSite News struck similar notes, quoting a variety of TERF activists to produce an editorial that catastrophizes said ‘total elimination of women’s biology.’

Nobody is destroying anything

This should be needless to say, but small subsets of gender-variant people have existed in human populations across cultures for as long as human history records. Archaeological evidence suggests the same for cultures that were not literate and thus not part of the historical record.

In any case, in our present world, transgender men and non-binary people do not represent any existential threat to people whose gender identity matches their birth sex. Literally nobody is suggesting that cisgender men and women don’t exist, ought not to exist, or are not in a huge majority.

Making minor accommodations for trans people doesn’t hurt cis people

Indeed, acceptance of gender-variant people isn’t controversial among mainstream feminists or progressive people in general. Among younger people especially, small accommodations to include trans people are seen as ordinary and kind.

For example, according to Fred Shirley, a physics master’s student at the UK’s Bristol University, “Sanitary products are available in the majority of toilets around campus. Every individual who menstruates is able to access them. And no one bats an eye.”

Opposition from unusual quarters

I don’t often write specifically about transgender issues. As an LGBTQ advocate, I prefer to leave room for my transgender friends to make their own voices heard. I include trans people and issues in stories very often, but I limit stories that are primarily trans focused to those occasions when I have a personal perspective to share.

I have such a perspective today

I’m writing this story because of my position as moderator and administrator for a few large LGBTQ groups on Facebook. When CNN broke the story about P&G’s decision to remove the Venus symbol from Always packaging, harsh debate broke out on two of those groups. Many cis/gay people reacted with intolerant, vitriolic posts that mirrored the positions of TERF activists.

People participating in self-described LGBT support groups began attacking transgender people

In one very large group that I help manage, a firestorm of profanity and disrespect erupted, to the point that moderators spent hours trying to put out the flames. We worked hard to let people talk out their issues, trying to direct discussion productively, but in the end, we had to remove a lot of people from the group.

Gay men, lesbians, and even some trans people transgressed social norms

People from all stripes of the rainbow flag began to “shout” about how transgender people are destroying the “rights” of cisgender people, about how trans people need to stop “getting your panties in a bunch,” or how they need to learn how to “pull on your big girl panties and stop fucking whining.”

None of the vitriol makes sense on its face

P&G’s packaging adjustment is a very minor thing. Removing the Venus symbol doesn’t hurt or misinform anyone. We all know what sanitary pads are for — even very sexually polarized cis/gay men like me whose knowledge is admittedly completely theoretical.

Nobody is going to walk into a shop and leave confused because a Venus symbol on a pack of pads didn’t guide them to an informed purchase. No cis women are harmed because some trans men menstruate. Nobody anywhere is destroying anybody’s biology.

All we’re doing is exercising a little civility and sensitivity

When we take small, symbolic measures to let trans men and non-binary people know that we see them and value them, all we do is INCREASE the sum measure of love and kindness in the world.

All we do is reach out to marginalized people and say “Hey, you matter too! We care about you!”

I’m writing this article primarily for my fellow LGBTQ people who don’t GET that. I’m writing to people everywhere who scream that the sky is falling when people decide to be kind.

It doesn’t cost anything to include people. Nobody gets hurt when we take cost-free measures to acknowledge stigmatized minorities.


James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com.

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

James Finn

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Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

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