A photo can say a thousand words….in this case it opened a lot of conversations.
Transgender, non-binary artist Cass Clemmer blew up on social media after sharing an image which shows themselves ‘free bleeding’ in public. Cass, a menstrual health activist and artist who uses they/them pronouns, shared the photo features them sitting on a park bench, having bled through their khaki pants, while holding a sign that reads: ‘Periods are not just for women.’ with the hashtag, #BleedingWhileTrans.
While they identify as non-binary and trans, Cass does menstruate and is very open about the struggles involved with it, both in terms of dealing with a period in general, and menstruating as someone who does not identify as a woman.
“My parents are missionaries and also really good people who I may disagree with from time to time, especially about issues around trans identities. Because I was raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo for upwards of 15 years, I didn’t have access to a lot of US culture discussing LGBTQ identities (whether through politics or media), so I didn’t even know it was an option to be anything but straight and cisgender.” Cass says, “I was younger because the school administrators felt that I was too short to go onto second grade. They were afraid that the boys in the class would bully a “little girl” like me… boy, did I prove them wrong.”
From someone growing up in a world that they are not exposed to the LGBTQ culture, coming out for Cass was not filled with rainbows and unicorns. “I always tell people that I knew who I was before I knew that I was trans, and that’s because I didn’t have the language to describe myself. I knew ever since I was old enough to run around outside that there was something different about me than the other girls I had met in my life. I’m sure most people thought I would grow out of my ‘tomboy’ phase, but I never did. I continued to just see myself as ‘Cass’ instead of as someone who was a ‘girl’ or ‘boy,’ which was my precursor to learning about the nonbinary community. I came out to most family and friends as transgender on July 12, 2017… the same day I came out to the world with my freebleeding photo. It wasn’t easy, but I had been out as queer for 6 years at that point and knew that most people who didn’t accept me from my missionary conservative background had already wasted so much of their energy attacking me when I came out as a sex-positive, queer feminist that I’m pretty sure they just saw me as a ‘lost cause’ at that point. Sometimes I like to fancy myself as a missionary for the ‘other side,’ just to rile them up.”
Cass has a coloring book, The Adventures of Toni the Tampon, to help introduce children of ALL genders to the concept of menstruation. But who is Toni the Tampon? Cass describes them as a small tampon with googly eyes that they carry with them to spark discussions about being ashamed of public displays/discussions of menstruation. “Toni was intentionally named to be gender neutral before I even came out to the world because I knew that this was a community that was close to my heart … I just hadn’t quite told anyone it was my community just yet.”
“My intentions around creating the coloring book were to carve out space for kids to have a positive first interaction with period talks. We always frame menstruation and parents having to discuss periods with their kids as something awkward, shameful, and a conversation to ‘get it over with.’ The coloring book shifts that narrative to allow parents, guardians, and educators to introduce periods in an interactive and positive way and to spark questions from their kids as they draw. I have gotten more positive feedback than negative from the people who actually have used and bought the book, but I had several right-wing media sources label me as a “child abuser” for having a platform that includes menstruators who don’t identify as women. That negative media storm triggered a lot of false and nasty reviews on amazon, as well as death threats and calls for me to be listed on the sex offender registry. All this just for drawing tampons and menstrual cups hanging out in space or the wild, wild west.”
When asked in public, some people think the topic of menstrual cycles should be a normal topic, but to others, they think it should be a personal issue or only taught to girls. Cass says, “I think that menstrual cycles should be discussed with everyone, regardless of gender (or perceived gender). Even people who don’t menstruate should know more about how critical the menstrual cycle is – in fact, if it weren’t for periods, those people wouldn’t be born!”
Cass is currently working on bringing the topic of menstrual cycles to the norm with the project, #BleedingWhileTrans. “The goal for the #BleedingWhileTrans project is to create more space for those of us who menstruate but don’t identify as women. Even though periods are being talked about more and more in our society, the experience of trans and nonbinary menstruators is often erased. I’m hoping this project will raise more awareness for the unique barriers that folks who menstruate and don’t identify as women face – like bathroom safety, product availability, language exclusion, and more,” says Cass.
Cass is working with feminine product companies that target women by marketing their products with feminine stereotypes. The goal is to make them more gender neutral. “I have had several conversations with some of the larger period product companies about their language and marketing, and some have even started shifting their company culture to be one which is more gender inclusive. Now, with the new website www.bleedingwhiletrans.com I have the ability to have these conversations more publicly through a review section which rates companies and period products on their gender inclusive qualities, company values, and product marketing.”
But you know this was coming. When asked about their famous Instagram post, Cass says, “For those with positive feedback, I wouldn’t be here without you. The number of people that came in to support me in the face of tidal waves of hate was incredibly moving and empowering. As for those who have negatively reacted to my post by sending me death threats or transphobic comments… I would ask them how they think spending time hating on me is helping the world in any way. I figure if every single person who wrote a nasty comments took the few second or minutes, or even hours that it took them to rant on YouTube about me and writing articles calling for my execution, etc… If they instead focused that time on planting trees, saying something nice to someone, or putting some kind of positive energy back into the world, what kind of a difference that would it make in our society? A pretty big one. Hate wastes time… and in my case, all it does is fuel me to keep going. So, what’s the point?”
Cass has so much going on right now since releasing their new website, states “The biggest thing that drives me is the memory of how alone I felt growing up and how difficult it was to get my period as a nonbinary kid. If I can make at least one pre-teen or teenager feel less alone in this society that is increasingly becoming more transphobic under Trump, then the unpaid late nights are all worth it.”
What’s next for Cass? They are going to focus right now on writing reviews for as many period product companies as they can to try and encourage them to shift towards gender inclusion. However, they are also collecting period stories from trans and nonbinary folks for a really cool art piece coming up in the next year…so stay tuned!
Words by Jonatan Guerrero Ramirez