Every month we’ll feature an organization, mission, or person in this fresh take on a ‘spotlight series’. Aimed at expanding the collective understanding about the never-ending spectrum of lived experiences, humans, projects, and perspectives, In The Moonlight is all about putting ideas and insights center stage, and creating space for new voices to share their work in this ever-evolving world.
Of the many things I’ve been unlearning over the last few years, gender is a big one. I ― we ― have been conditioned to think there are only two genders: man and woman. In a recent conversation with a group of white cis men, I realized we still have a really long way to go when it comes to changing our views on this topic. When I tried to explain gender in a different light than they are accustomed to, I was met with blank stares, confusion, and an overall sense that what I was talking about was BS. A man cannot be a man without a penis. A woman cannot be a woman with a vagina. And that is simply not true.
What I realized from this conversation is that people, and me not so long ago too, don’t really understand the difference between gender and sex.
Sex has to do with the biological parts you were assigned at birth. Gender has nothing to do with whether you have a penis or a vagina. It has to do with identity. And that is a big difference. Your biological sex can align with your gender identity, it can be the opposite, or somewhere in between.
Though the definitions of these two words ― sex and gender ― are quite different, the binary way of thinking in our culture affects our language; we see gender and sex as the same thing. And this has a ripple effect in our marketing, advertising, TV shows, etc. and furthers shame and alienation for the trans and non-binary community.
An example of this is within the Period Movement.
Removing shame and stigma around menstruation was long overdue. I am happy we are in a place where bleeding humans can voice their experiences. I will never forget my emotional reaction when Instagram deleted Rupi Kaur’s picture of a period stain. Twice. Her response and the comments from her followers invoked an urgent push within me to finally address the cultural beliefs about menstruation that I had accepted as fact. The Period Movement is about removing shame and stigma, and possibly even replacing negative feelings with joy and celebration.
At large, menstruation is very much considered a woman’s issue and by implying this, we are suggesting that trans men and non-binary folks who happen to menstruate are actually women. By denying language inclusivity within the Period Movement, we are denying their identity.
This was made incredibly clear to me when I stumbled upon Cass Bliss’ social media campaign, #BleedingWhileTrans. Cass identifies as a non-binary trans menstruator, someone with a uterus that bleeds monthly, who identifies outside of the fixed categories of male and female. For me, a menstruation sans shame fanatic, it was the first time I’d considered menstruation outside of the binary norm; outside of being a woman. I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. When I saw Cass’ image down below for the first time, it evoked a similar emotional response to Rupi Kaur’s Instagram image. I felt something. Like I could feel the coils in my brain rewire themselves. Not only women bleed.
Though we still have a long way to go, there are many companies and outlets trying to break the binary views around menstruation: Period underwear for trans and gender non-conforming folks. Period tracking apps moving away from gender stereotypes. A man’s story about his monthly cycle. Menstrual companies being accountable for their lack of inclusivity.
And important social media campaigns, such as Cass’ #BleedingWhileTrans, showcase personal stories about how other genders experience menstruation.
Cass has been instrumental in the unlearning I’ve had to do when thinking about gender. Like anything, the more you read about a certain topic, the more you understand the spectrum of experiences outside of yours. I hope this article helps you rewire your beliefs about gender, specifically in the context of menstruation. Men can bleed, not all women bleed, and the same goes for non-binary and gender non-conforming folks.
I reached out to Cass to talk about the #BleedingWhileTrans campaign, bathroom safety, and what makes them vulnerable in this work. Here are their answers.
Through your work, I’ve realized how incredibly gender exclusive the period movement is. Was there a particular experience or moment that compelled you to bring awareness to this important issue?
Honestly, it was getting trolled by Breitbart that really threw me deep into this whole world of fighting for a trans-inclusive period movement. I had published a period coloring book with a variety of gender identities represented just by virtue of their names (e.g. Toni the Tampon and Sebastian the Sponge). Breitbart and Christian Post got a hold of the fact that I dared to name two coloring book characters non-traditionally feminine names, and they lost it. Christian Post even went so far as to call me a “child abuser” for teaching kids that having a period doesn’t mean you must identify as a woman. Before this happened I had been pretty low key about my own identity, but seeing the torrent of hate that was thrust upon my community just because of characters’ names in a self-published coloring book! That was enough to make me feel responsible to use my own story to enact change. That’s when I decided to post a free-bleeding photo of myself holding a sign saying “Periods Are Not Just For Women #BleedingWhileTrans”. It was the first time I came out as transgender to a lot of people in my life. The whole world found out at the same time.
When I read about bathroom safety on your site, it radically opened my eyes as to how many concerns our society has yet to address to ensure the trans community is and feels safe. Can you describe a time when you felt unsafe or uncomfortable using a public bathroom while on your period?
Some of the most difficult times I have with bathroom safety are when traveling. Because I speak at colleges and conferences, my partner and I road trip together through various parts of the country. Sometimes, we end up at gas stations with big Trump signs on the windows, or in areas where I know being transgender is frowned upon. When I have my period on the road I try my best to only use menstrual cups, but I still need to use the bathroom to empty it out, check for leaks and to go pee a million times. My partner and I have an unspoken rule that we go to the bathroom together at the same time because there is relative safety in numbers. We also have a running half-joke where, while pulling into the parking lot of a gas station, I’ll look over and ask “Girl or boy today?”. It helps us make a decision based on how I’m presenting and whether I’ll be safer in the Women’s or Men’s restroom.
ON OUR MOON leads with and celebrates vulnerability. When thinking of your journey, specifically keeping in mind this incredible campaign you’ve launched, what makes you the most vulnerable?
What makes me the most vulnerable is talking publicly about aspects of myself and my life that I know loved ones don’t approve of. I do all of my work on the internet, in a free and publicly accessible forum that anyone can find with a click of a button. I also get nervous about potential employers, as one person I care about once told me that my campaign is a career bridge-burner. It’s scary being honest and truthful, and not knowing what photo or word you write will be taken and misconstrued by other folks. I’ve had people make fake accounts of me, mocking photos they screenshotted from my personal instagram. I’ve had people make death threats, and folks I love tell me how disappointed they are in me. I’ve run the gamut of negative reactions, and somehow I’ve found a way to get up every morning and keep sharing my truth, keep pushing forward, and just hoping that tomorrow holds a better future.