When I first put googly eyes on a tampon, I never thought that one year later I would be getting death threats.
Yet here I am, having deleted the hundredth harassing comment in just the last three hours, wondering how my desire to create fun, inclusive menstrual health education tapped into a vein of rage that has spat out everything from calls for my suicide, to demands that I be locked up and musings on ways to kill me.
This all started because I wanted to show the world my tampon. I wanted to develop a creative tool that would challenge the period taboo and encourage others to interact with menstruation in a way they never had before. Toni the Tampon was, what I thought, a nonthreatening collection of cotton who could accomplish this ― whose goal was to make you laugh and rethink why it is we are so ashamed of a process that half the world experiences on a recurring basis.
Around the same time as I created Toni the Tampon and my period coloring book, I was navigating through a constant questioning of my gender identity and feelings of dysphoria that intensified during menstruation. Consequently, my fight to break the period taboo became inextricably tangled up in a journey to feel comfortable in my own body and gender presentation. In fact, the first time I ever publicly came out as genderqueer to more than just close friends and coworkers was through a photo of Toni and a long Instagram post about nonbinary, intersex, and trans* menstruators, followed shortly by interviews with HuffingtonPost and Mashable where I requested the use of no pronouns and openly discussed my identity with strangers for the very first time.
Taking photos of a tampon in public, with everyone staring at you and wondering what on earth you’re doing, is difficult enough without asking those same people to also reflect on the way we approach gender identity in our society. But the two cannot be separated. If we are going to bring periods into the spotlight, we need to ensure that we’re creating space for all menstruators, not just those who identify as women.
Over the past two weeks, the right-wing media got a hold of that mission and attacked me with a level of vitriol I have never before experienced. They told me that I was a child abuser, a science-denier and that my queer identity was all in my head ― a mental illness. They told me that my decision to include trans and gender nonconforming people in the menstrual movement was yet another example of “liberal insanity” trying to drown our country in ignorance. The waves of hatred crashed down hard, and I felt so completely overwhelmed that, for a few moments, I lost track of what the point of my work even was anymore.
But as the harassment continued to escalate, all of the hate, aggression and threats of violence began reminding me why I started Toni the Tampon in the first place. The idea was never to just talk to people who agreed with me, to fellow feminist and queer activists who already believed in de-stigmatizing menstrual health and affirming people of all gender identities. No, my goal was to bring inclusive menstrual health education to everyone, but especially to those who did not agree with me. To the communities who needed it the most, communities like the one I grew up in, where strict adherence to conservative values restricted my own ability to learn about and love my body.
The best thing about the backlash is that it has given me the chance to reach out to these very communities ― to kids and people in places I never dreamed would hear about my period coloring book. And if I was able to reach just one person, one girl who thought she had to sit out of soccer practice because she forgot a tampon and was too scared to say anything, one boy or nonbinary kid who thought their period was something only women could experience, or one menstruator who used to think that periods were something to be ashamed of ― if my message of inclusion and empowerment was able to reach just one of them, then it was all worth it. Because that’s why I started Toni the Tampon in the first place, and why I will never stop creating space for inclusive menstrual health education, no matter how many death threats I receive.
Finally, to those who spent the past two weeks viciously attacking me and my work: thank you. Thank you for reminding me why I am doing this, why I am creating space for people to feel loved and accepted for who they are, and thank you for showing me how much more work we still have yet to do. And to all those kids out there who think your period is something to hide, or that there is no space for you to explore your gender identity or the way you feel about your own body, I want you to know that you are perfect, you are strong, and you are so incredibly important.
My tampon and I, we promise you that we will never stop fighting for a world that reminds you of that every single day, whether you’re on your period or not.