A powerful new coloring book is taking an innovative approach to teaching kids of all genders, identities and experiences about menstruation and human development.
The Adventures of Toni the Tampon: A Period Coloring Book comes from genderqueer artist and menstrual health educator Cass Clemmer and seeks to destigmatize periods for people from a young age while providing a safe, instructive way to introduce the concept that menstruation isn’t something that’s limited to just those who identify as female.
“Too many places in the country still demand abstinence-only education as the standard or engage in shame-techniques designed to scare kids from learning more or asking any further questions about their own health,” Clemmer told The Huffington Post. “I think the way to answer this issue is by creating new mediums that challenge and expand the ways we teach sexual education and menstrual health. There are currently a lot of really awesome groups out there that are creating new ways to talk about sexual and reproductive health, from comics to theater performances that have helped shift the way we talk about sexual education and our bodies. But still, we need more.”
Clemmer recently spoke further with The Huffington Post about The Adventures of Toni the Tampon: A Period Coloring Book ― check out images and an interview with the artist below.
What was the inspiration for this coloring book?
Cass Clemmer: I was inspired to create this period coloring book after studying menstruation in a class on societal taboos when I realized how little information I knew about my own body. I was raised in a conservative Baptist missionary community in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and had very little exposure, if any, to sex education, much less information on menstruation. I was so ignorant about my own anatomy that until I was 18, I thought that I had to pop my tampon out like a cork before I peed or it would all get stuck in the same hole. It was a shock to realize I didn’t know anything about the body I had lived in my entire life. But after talking to friends, I started to recognize that no matter where you grow up, most young people are never exposed to any sort of menstrual health education more than the boring little instruction manual found at the bottom of the Tampax box.
Why is it important to teach about menstruation outside of a binary understanding of gender?
The primary goal I had with this period coloring book was to empower menstruators of all ages to learn more about their own menstrual health, but when I first decided to have characters with their own names and personalities, I knew I had a choice to make. Did I want to create something new that would affirm menstruators of all genders or did I want to create an education tool that appeared to challenge the period taboo, while remaining complicit in reinforcing the norm that only women get periods?
Conversations about the gender binary cannot be extricated from the larger conversations around menstrual health, even those we have with kids, because when we presume that menstruators are all women, we make the mistake of excluding other folks from conversations about their own health. So I created Patrice the Pad, Marina the Menstrual Cup, Sebastian the Sponge, and Toni the Tampon. As a genderqueer human myself, it has been hard to find communities that include people like me when they market to, talk about, or provide services for menstruators. It was risky to decide to introduce Toni, who uses no pronouns, and Sebastian who uses he/him/his, as genderqueer and trans characters, but I wanted to make sure that I created art that was inclusive, not just art that appeals to those who refuse to recognize other’s lived identities.
Why did you choose the medium of a coloring book to relay your message?
First, because it requires no words. I wanted to create something in stark contrast to the dense, language-heavy brochures and instruction manuals that were out there when I was younger, and are unfortunately still used today. I wanted to create something fun, something that encourages people to interact with the characters in a way that allows them to take ownership of their periods. In our society, we’re often taught to hide any evidence of our periods so that no one can see, but by coloring these pages, from the pad who is a magician, to the skateboarding menstrual cup or astronaut tampon, young menstruators can engage with menstruation in a way that is empowering and fun. Honestly, a part of me really hopes that someday a colored page or two of my period coloring book ends up on someone’s fridge.
What would you say to someone who says this is inappropriate for children or that they don’t want their kids seeing/using it?
I have actually gotten that reaction based on two reasons. The first, like you mentioned, is from people who think that talking about menstruation with kids is inappropriate or weird. But I would argue that it’s this very hesitancy that reinforces the taboo and shame around periods, whereas my period coloring book is simply a fun way to start a difficult conversation, and helps to normalize an integral aspect of reproductive health. Why shouldn’t we teach kids, even those years away from their first cycle, that periods are nothing to be ashamed of by introducing them to a coloring book filled with adventuring tampons, pads, sponges and a cup? By starting this conversation early on, we can help to normalize the experience as opposed to shaming it by refusing to discuss periods at all until the absolute last second.
The other reaction I have gotten is from those who love the idea of a period coloring book, but were upset when they realized that either I was a queer artist or that the book includes characters such as Toni and Sebastian who question the gender binary. I’ve even had someone say they refuse to buy the book simply because I included a genderqueer character. It’s difficult to respond to these people without it it feeling personal, as a genderqueer artist myself, but I think some people hear that Toni is a genderqueer tampon and think – “Well that’s not for me, I don’t identify that way.” But that intentional introduction of Toni and Sebastian as nonconforming characters was meant to make the book more accessible as opposed to less, and I won’t sacrifice queer representation in order to make my period coloring book more palatable to the general public. Yes, perhaps I have lost sales because of this – but it is more important to me to create an education tool that affirms the identities of all menstruators than it is to appease people who believe in smashing the period taboo, just so long as the gender binary stays intact.
What do you want kids to take away from this coloring book?
That your period is nothing to be ashamed of, and that learning about your body shouldn’t be something we dread or get embarrassed about. I hope that my period coloring book will help empower kids to ask questions, learn more about their menstrual health, and become aware that there are so many other products out there than just the disposable tampon and pad.
Head here for more information about The Adventures of Toni the Tampon: A Period Coloring Book.