Last semester, Colgate’s campus saw a tremendous increase in the availability of free menstrual hygiene products in women’s bathrooms. With this momentum, Colgate must now consider how to equally assist members of our community who menstruate, but do not identify as female. To address this issue, Colgate hosted non-binary reproductive justice activist Cass Bliss on Wednesday, April 3.
Bliss, who uses they/them pronouns, has held a leading role in the period activism movement since creating the coloring book “The Adventures of Toni the Tampon” in 2016. The book has no words, only pictures of animated tampons, pads and menstrual cups with gender-neutral names. During their talk, Bliss explained that they created the book as a tool to start conversations with young children about menstruation.
Bliss was motivated by the lack of reproductive education Bliss received growing up in a conservative missionary community. They recalled internalizing the view that their first period was the marker of womanhood. As a trans person who was not yet out, this made Bliss feel as though they lost the freedom to freely express their gender identity.
Bliss explained that periods cause many trans people to feel dysphoric because of the gendered rhetoric around menstruation, manifesting as pink tampons and pads labeled “feminine products.” While their work has made an impact, with some stores and companies revising the packaging to say “menstrual products” in a variety of colors, much of the dysphoria comes from within their own bodies.
This dysphoria was the source of the pushback from the trans community in response to Bliss’ recent #BleedingWhileTrans demonstration. Bliss sat on a public bench and free-bled while holding a sign that read “Periods are NOT just for women.” They addressed the controversy during their talk, saying that they understood the response, but cannot say they regret the demonstration.
Because of the recent hate in regards to the demonstration, Bliss deactivated their Instagram account and decided to take a break from giving talks at colleges. While Bliss is dedicated to reducing the stigma around trans menstruation, they have found that trying to cross trans and period activism often inhibits progress, as people are still uncomfortable with this topic.
Bliss used the last part of their talk to educate the attendees on pronouns. Bliss explained that they often get misgendered. Getting misgendered is a major hurdle for trans people. Bliss showed how prevalent this issue is by engaging the audience in what they called the “purple exercise.” During the exercise, all of the attendees split into groups and told a true story about a friend, saying “purple” every time they would typically use a pronoun. The resulting stories sounded ridiculous and gave everyone a laugh, but demonstrated just how much we use pronouns in each sentence.
“[There are many] opportunities to either respect or disrespect someone,” Bliss said.
They acknowledged that it may be difficult to get used to using a new set of pronouns at first, but reminded the audience that it is always better to stumble a bit in trying to use someone’s chosen pronouns than to refuse to use them at all. Learning not to assume someone’s gender or pronouns based on their appearance is just the first step in helping trans people who menstruate feel safe using the bathroom of their identified gender while on their period.
Bliss will continue to pursue activism in reproductive health and trans rights while breaking down the barriers that arise when those two areas overlap.