Kelsey: Hi, Cass! What initially inspired you to create your coloring book, Adventures of Toni the Tampon?
Cass: Growing up as a missionary kid in a conservative Baptist community, I was never taught very much about my own body or reproductive health, much less about menstruation. I grew up so ashamed of my own period, but by the time I got to college, I learned that a lot of other folks never learned about menstruation in school either. Instead, we were all taught to be ashamed of something that no one ever bothered to help us understand in the first place.
It wasn’t until I started studying menstruation as a part of a class on societal taboos that I embraced my own cycle and decided to sketch out a few coloring pages about period pride. I wanted to create something that would help empower people like me to learn more about their own menstrual health and the wide variety of hygiene products out there, like menstrual cups, sponges, and period underwear like THINX – things that have helped raise my own confidence every time the crimson tide rolls in. Hopefully this book will serve as a creative reminder that menstrual education should be encouraged and celebrated, so that we stop teaching young kids and adults to be ashamed of their own periods.
K: You've said that the main character, Toni the Tampon, has become "a movement." Can you tell us why and how people are connecting to Toni?
C: Absolutely! Toni is not just a character in a coloring book – Toni has a whole Instagram account @TonitheTampon that features snapshots of the life of a tampon outside the wrapper. I take Toni, this little tampon with googly eyes, everywhere for a very different reason than most people carry their tampons. I take pictures of Toni at fun places I visit, or just at home wearing things like a mini elf hat to prepare for the holiday season. Since I started, Toni’s account has grown to almost 600 followers that follow me as I take photos of my tampon in public. It’s pretty cool to see people so excited about showing off a tampon in public, instead of hiding it up my sleeve on my way to the bathroom.
K: You mentioned that you hope this book helps women, men, and non identifying folks learn that periods are not a gendered experience-- i.e. not only women have periods. Can you elaborate on that?
C: Before I made Toni, I was always on the lookout for communities, organizations, and articles that included queer, trans, and gender nonconforming folks like me in their discussion of periods. Unfortunately, the ones I did find were very few and far between; a lot of conversations are focused exclusively on cis-women who menstruate.
When Toni first started, I wanted to intentionally challenge this narrative by having my main character be relatable to folks like me who grew up feeling excluded from conversations about menstruation. I assigned a specifically neutral name and, if you notice, I don’t use pronounce when referring to Toni. In my mind, Toni is a little genderqueer tampon - kind of like me in tampon form - who just goes by Toni instead of any pronouns. The rest of the period pals include Patrice and Marina, both of which I use “she/her/hers” pronouns for, and Sebastian who goes by “he/him/his”. I know that giving pronouns to menstrual hygiene products isn’t the perfect way to disrupt the notion that periods are for cis-women only, but it’s definitely a start in pushing us to stop using shredded blood and tissue to define someone's gender for them.
K: The book has a lot of colorful characters. Who is your favorite?
C: Don’t tell Toni, but my favorite character is probably Marina the Menstrual Cup. Named after my roommate, she’s become a feisty force in my group of period pals and it was really fun drawing her doing things like a handstand on a skateboard or posing as the “Super Cup” under a uterus symbol in the sky.
K: What's next for you and your period advocacy + creativity?
C: Actually, with the introduction of the first period coloring book, I created my own publishing entity called “Bloody Queer Publishing”, under which I hope to introduce more creative mediums to challenge the norms of traditional health education including topics on reproductive health, queer issues, sex ed, menstruation, etc... In fact, I’ve already started brainstorming sketches for a coloring book about birth control, so stay tuned!
As far as my period advocacy goes, I am currently in the process of planning a road trip across the US with Toni the Tampon this summer to spread period pride and help promote my coloring book -- I don’t have all the details hammered out yet, but you can definitely find more information on my website at www.tonithetampon.com or Toni’s Instagram @TonitheTampon as we get closer to June!