Last week, in an effort to further challenge who is included in the discussion of menstruation, artist Cass Cllemmer inserted themself front and center.
Cass Clemmer, who is transgender and non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, is a menstrual health activist working to end period stigma. They are also the creator of Toni the Tampon, an adorable tampon character that shares info about menstrual health.
Last week, Cass posted a photo of themself free-bleeding while holding a sign that reads, “Periods are not just for women. #BleedingWhileTrans.”
The photo was published alongside a poem Cass wrote for a spoken word event at a menstrual health conference last summer:
Cass told the Huffington Post that they decided to stage the photo after the backlash to The Adventures of Toni the Tampon: A Period Coloring Book, a project they created to introduce kids of all genders to the human experience of menstruation.
“I remember sharing for the first time with a friend of mine that I wasn’t able to wear my binder that day because I was on my period and my boobs had swelled up so much that it made it hard to breathe. We had been friends for awhile and she’s a feminist activist, but when I realized that not even she had considered what it was like for people like me to experience bleeding on a (ir)regular basis I knew that I had to go public with my story to help shift the mindset around tying periods to womanhood and femininity. Not all people who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate.”
Despite the many transphobic reactions, Cass told the Huffington Post that they’ve seen people who have broadened their own understanding of trans peoples' menstrual experience and learned from the photo.
“There are a lot of people who have never considered what it’s like to get your period while not identifying as a woman and I have seen a lot of educational and respectful conversations between commenters on my thread that give me a lot of hope for the future,” Cass said. “My favorite reactions, however, are and always will be the response I get from fellow trans and non-binary folks who have written to me to say that because of my poem, they feel less alone in the world. For me, there’s no greater motivation and honor than that.”
The way in which we discuss periods should be mindful and inclusive. Not all women menstruate because not all women are cisgender. And some people who are not women menstruate — whether they are trans men, nonbinary, or genderfluid. We cannot ignore the reality that there are men who menstruate.
When women's value is centered in femininity, menstruation, pregnancy, etc., that very value becomes destructive and divisive. Say a cis woman endures a double mastectomy, due to breast cancer, is she no longer a woman? No, right? Riiiiiiiight. But for those who find it difficult to incorporate trans*-inclusive language into their daily lexicon, in what ways does it harm you? Are you threatened that trans* folx's inclusion in the conversation undermines your struggles in any kind of way? If so, then your problem certainly is not with trans* folx's existence, but that with whom is depriving you too, of autonomy.
Remember, it literally costs $free.99 to be a decent human and allow people that are not harming anyone to live. There is more than enough space for us all to exist.
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Bry'onna Mention is a digital editor at BUST and a wavvy womanist who is always ready to square up against misogynoir and respectability. She can usually be found running through the burbs with her ‘fro. Catch her on the internet at @radsadblackbry or firstname.lastname@example.org.