That infamous “time of the month” has always been difficult for Cass Clemmer.
Clemmer, who is transgender and uses they/them pronouns, doesn’t fit into the common “womanhood” narratives of menstruation. And that makes dealing with their period especially hard.
Though menstruation is an annoying inconvenience for many, periods can be traumatic for trans people. And that’s not just because of cramps and headaches.
“Every time I get my period, I deal with severe gender dysphoria.”
“Every time I get my period, I deal with severe gender dysphoria,” Clemmer says. “I end up going exclusively into women’s restrooms because it’s honestly safer during the days I’m bleeding.”
Clemmer decided to open up about their personal story, hoping to challenge the idea that only women menstruate. In the process, they hope to get people talking about the need to grant trans people who assigned female at birth access to safe bathrooms with period products provided.
Yes, that means period products in the men’s room.
In a cheeky poem accompanying the photo, Clemmer writes about getting their first period and how menstruation is still a traumatic monthly experience today.
The photo and poem have reached nearly 700,000 people, and the post has been shared more than 2,300 times.
“See my body had betrayed me,” Clemmer writes in the poem. “That red dot, the wax seal / On a contract left there broken / A gender identity that wasn’t real // Most people deal with blood and tissue / And yet my body forces me to surrender / ‘Cause every time I get my cycle, / Is another day I shed my gender.”
“I was, and still am, terrified to be so vulnerable in front of the whole world, especially the unforgiving internet.”
Clemmer wrote the poem in June for a spoken word event at a menstrual health conference. They were inspired to pen the rhyming piece after realizing transgender menstruators were often completely left out of conversations around periods.
“I was talking to a friend about how uncomfortable I was in my binder one day when I was on my period,” Clemmer says, referring to the restrictive undergarment meant to flatten breasts. “When I realized that she had never even thought about what it’s like to menstruate while trans, I wondered how many other people had no idea what folks like me go through on a monthly basis.”
Though Clemmer was inspired to share the poem publicly, defying menstruation stigma doesn’t come without risk. That’s especially true when you’re transgender.
“I was, and still am, terrified to be so vulnerable in front of the whole world, especially the unforgiving internet,” Clemmer says.
But they have experienced the internet’s ability to bring out the worst in people. Clemmer is the creator of the Instagram account and coloring book Toni the Tampon, which use a tampon character to help shatter menstruation stigma. Toni, in fact, is depicted as genderqueer, while other members of Toni’s squad aren’t female either. Sebastian the Sea Sponge, for example, is male and menstruates.
But sharing a “freebleeding” photo was more difficult for Clemmer than the Toni series. Not only was this a personal post instead of silly characters, but Clemmer questioned whether they were potentially adding to period stigma.
“In some ways, I am proud to have my period. But that doesn’t make the days I bleed any less difficult for me.”
As an activist in the menstrual health space, Clemmer struggled to balance not wanting to frame periods as a negative concept with being honest about the deep difficulty of menstruating while trans.
“In some ways, I am proud to have my period,” Clemmer says. “But that doesn’t make the days I bleed any less difficult for me.”
Clemmer hopes people who come across the post are inspired to talk more openly about menstruation, and to foster trans inclusion in those conversations.
“There are a few really simple steps that people can take to help make the experience a lot less traumatic for us,” Clemmer says. “For example, shifting language from ‘feminine hygiene products’ to ‘menstrual products’ and using ‘people with periods’ or ‘menstruators’ instead of ‘women and girls.'”
Even though Clemmer says negative reactions from anti-trans trolls have so far outnumbered the supportive sentiments, they still say speaking out is worth it:
“What the trolls don’t realize is that every single time they post a horrific comment, it reminds me why I am doing this work and why I have to continue, no matter what.”