October 28, 2018 was not merely a day of yellow sunlight and cool fall air, but rather, the origin of a radical transformation of my being facilitated by Progress Period, a menstrual activism club at Duke University.

The screen of my phone reported “12:27pm,” lighting anew a sense of urgency beneath my already frantic feet. The event was set to begin at 12:30pm and with the panicked realization that I was indeed going to be late, I barreled down the stairs towards Schiciano Auditorium. At 12:29pm, just as I allowed myself a breath of assured relief that I would make the event on time, I was stopped dead in my tracks.

“Outside the (tampon) box: menstruating isn’t just for women,” declared a flyer taped to the glass door.

Confusion clouded my awareness and my mind raced with questions, relegating my aspirational punctuality to a non-possibility. Among this maelstrom of questions, the loudest bubbled to the surface: Is menstruation not a qualifier of womanhood? As an individual relatively unfamiliar with gender and sexuality theory by way of a lack of exposure, I was entirely unequipped to tackle this question on my own. Thus, confusion and all, I slipped through those doors and into the auditorium where Cass Bliss, the presenting menstrual activist, awaited.

Visual Culture and the Impact on Gender Interpretation

I cannot overemphasize how incredible Cass Bliss is. Cass, who identifies as gender non-binary, gave strong, authentic voice to the extremely pervasive challenges faced by transgender and non-binary individuals who menstruate. Cass embraced the heterogeneity of each individual’s knowledge regarding menstrual activism, and her presentation served as the intersection of candor and humor. I did not feel shut out by way of my limited perspective on the subject matter. Rather, I was able to bring all of myself, a messy amalgamation of questions and curiosity, into the space, which Cass welcomed wholeheartedly.

From this dialogue, I learned to consider the lived experiences of a community beyond myself. As a cisgender female navigating a cisnormative environment, I was taught at twelve that my first period was the demarcation of my womanhood, a womanhood which aligns comfortably with my self-concept. I enter the feminine hygiene aisle of the grocery store with the assured confidence that this is my space, as I always see myself reflected in the varying shades of pink boxes with cisgender women taking a jog or lounging by the pool. Because of this security I felt, I was blinded to the fact that not everyone experiences menstruation and the marketing of menstrual products with the same comfort that I do. In fact, transgender men who menstruate and gender non-binary individuals, are not able to find themselves among the pink boxes and sporty women; in fact, they are not able to find themselves anywhere within our culture’s socialization of the menstrual process. Thus, their period becomes a source of severe dysphoria, the non-alignment of body and identity.

“Love trans people. Stop trying to figure out ‘what’ someone is.”

Cass then challenged: Why? Why are periods so incredibly gendered within our society? Why is menstruation declared inherently feminine? Periods are not confined to one gender, to one space; periods exist at each point upon the gender-identity spectrum. Yet, our society does not address this truth. No social perception exists in a vacuum, bereft of action. Thus, labeling periods as “feminine” invites ignorant individuals to enact social and physical harm upon the trans and non-binary individuals who depart from this standard. That is to say, not only is the current marketing of menstruation products detrimental to the self-concept of trans and gender non-binary individuals, it also bears tangible harm. The bathroom, meant to be the secure space for an entirely natural bodily function to take place, is in fact, a place of danger for the trans and non-binary community, a place where risk of assault or being outed lurks within every corner.

Without Cass, never would I have considered the marketing of menstruation products to be so problematic. Cass provided invaluable testimony which pushed against the truths upheld by our culture, and I am forever grateful to her for opening my eyes, and the eyes of the larger Duke community to this injustice.

For more on Cass Bliss, visit her Instagram page: @theperiodprince

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