Not Bleeding in Public

Shower brush in the bathroom against a tiled wall in the morning sunlight
Shower brush in the bathroom against a tiled wall in the morning sunlight

Recently Thinx, a company who puts "period-proof underwear" out in the world, launched a new ad campaign in NYC's Union Square subway station. Walls and poles are now adorned with a diverse mix of models, some sitting, some curling up in a ball, some seemingly floating off the floor, all sporting somewhat utilitarian black underwear. The entire campaign eschews the expected imagery of menstrual advertising - there is not a single pair of white pants, or any blue liquid to be seen. There are no fields of flowers, no beaches, no pools, no water. No girls looking concerning or worried. No products peeking out of pockets or falling out of handbags, much to the dismay of their owners. Instead copy matter-of-factly mentions things like cramps and sheet staining and not wanting to leave the house.

Rather ground-breaking from a message standpoint. These images are devoid of shame, of fear, of embarrassment, of judgment - femcare's go to emotions when selling products. They're also remarkably devoid of menstruation at all and I suppose that's the point. If you wear this underwear when you have your period, you're set. You don't need to panic if you're caught unaware, you don't have to buy disposable products, you don't need to quietly unwrap tampons in a bathroom, or worry about how to dispose of used pads. It's almost the other end of the menstrual message spectrum that society's been both hawking and absorbing for the close to 100 years products have been on sale. While not quite to the point of menstrual suppression drugs, having your period without seeming to have your period is a powerful selling point that seems to be working as both a selling tool and a way to get media attention.

Even more than this turning menstrual advertising inside out though, is the trans man featuring in some of the images.

And that is nothing short of revolutionary.

A first glance, you see a bearded man in boy shorts, sporting tattoos and scars. It takes a moment to put the pieces together. Thinx. Period protection. Menstruation. Bleeding. But it's a man lying there wearing the product. And when you look closer the scars are where his breasts would have been.

With that one image, concepts and realities rarely spoken about publicly smack you hard in the face. Right now transgender issues and rights are front and center in the public debate. The Obama administration's recent directive about allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with has set off an often antagonistic battle across the country. People are taking sides and making judgments about a subject most hadn't really thought much about before.

But menstruation and the trans community? With one ad campaign Thinx opened up a public dialog about two taboo subjects and the intersection they share.

It won't be comfortable. Or easy. As one woman walked past the ad yesterday she muttered, "that's disgusting," loud enough for people close by to hear. Menstruation is one of the most secretive subjects there is. And menstruating men? In a time and place when society is becoming more and more polarized, when it's far too easy and acceptable to publicly hate and shame, when almost nothing is sacred anymore, this discussion can get ugly.

One can hope though people will make connections they hadn't made before. How it feels to challenge gender norms and still exist in this society. How scary and brave it is to stand up for who you are when you're different.

Perhaps the reality of thinking about bodies and periods will connect dots and some will imagine what if it was their child or neighbor or friend facing situations they'd never thought about. What it must be like to grapple with periods and basic bodily functions while worrying about something so elemental as using a bathroom.

Maybe, just maybe, it'll make conversation possible where there hadn't been any. And perhaps a little more kindness, compassion, and tolerance will find some space in the way we treat each other.