Menstruating while trans: Meet artist and educator Cass Clemmer
By Jen Bell, Writer at Clue
Cass Clemmer is the creator of Toni the Tampon, a coloring book and Instagram account designed to smash period taboos and help parents teach kids about menstruation. Like Clue, Cass aims to promote more open and honest conversations about people’s experiences with menstruation. The book features 20 hand-drawn pages of Toni the Tampon, Marina the Menstrual Cup, Patrice the Pad, and Sebastian the Sponge on adventures from the Wild West to space exploration.
A transgender artist and educator who uses they/them pronouns, Cass is passionate about challenging the assumption that periods are just for women. They recently posted a freebleeding photo and poem online to illuminate some of their personal realities of menstruating while trans, and intentionally named the characters in Toni the Tampon to represent the diversity of their users — Toni is depicted as genderqueer and Sebastian is male and menstruates.
We’re big fans of Toni the Tampon and wanted to find out more about how the book came about — so we caught up with Cass to ask a few questions.
What made you want to create this coloring book? What sparked your interest in menstruation or first made you realize you wanted to do this?
My interest in menstruation started when I took a class on societal taboos in college — I considered myself a pretty active feminist and queer activist at that point, but I had never thought about period shame within the context of gender inequality. I created a few rough drawings of tampon characters for that class, and as my passion in the world of menstruation grew I decided to develop it into a full blown coloring book to help fill the gap in period education that I hadn’t had access to growing up.
What responses have you had to Toni the Tampon? What effect is the book having on the world? What are your hopes for the project?
I have had a lot of mixed responses. In the positive realm, a lot of parents have reached out and said that Toni the Tampon and the period coloring book have helped them find a way to talk to their kids about menstruation in a way that’s stress-free and fun. I’ve also had a lot of teens and young adults write and say that the illustrations have helped them reclaim their periods and feel less shame. On the flip side, there has been a lot of backlash around my decision to include characters that represent the gender diversity of the population of menstruators. Sites like Breitbart and Christian Post went so far as to call me a child abuser for introducing the idea of gender fluidity and transgender identities in a coloring book that kids could have access to.
I hope that the book serves as a jumping off point for us to reconsider how we talk and teach about periods with audiences of all ages.
In your work as a sex educator, what are some common period taboos or myths that you encounter? How do you respond to them?
I have experienced a lot of pushback from people who think the idea of me carrying around a tampon with googly eyes is gross, which only reaffirms why it’s so important for this work to continue. One myth that has been coming up a lot recently has been in response to my own identity as a trans menstruator. A lot of people have been saying, “If you don’t want periods, why don’t you just take testosterone?”. Clue has covered this topic in the past, but testosterone doesn’t always stop your period — not to mention there are many of us who don’t want testosterone for a variety of reasons.
How was your education around menstruation growing up? How can it improve today?
My education around menstruation was lacking, if not nonexistent. As a part of a Baptist missionary community, comprehensive sex education was not on the top of anyone’s priority list and asking questions was enough to get you mocked by peers and scorned by many adults. Part of the reason I made my period coloring book was because of the lack of education I received as a kid. To be honest, I was 18 before I even knew what a uterus was! I remember being shocked when I found out that I actually can go swimming while on my period. We have to do more work to make period education fun, inclusive, interactive, and comprehensive so that we can raise generations of menstruators who are empowered and equipped to continue fighting the period taboo.
Cass has some new projects in the works… but they’re top secret! Follow @TonitheTampon on Instagram to stay updated.
Download Clue to track your cycle and learn more about your body.