Day in the Life of a Menstrual Activist: Bria Gadsden
Interviewed by Diya Khullar
What are your pronouns?
Why did you get involved in menstrual equity work and what does this work mean to you?
I got involved in menstrual equity because growing up, no one ever talked to me about my period. I didn’t receive education on it or a booklet, I just woke up one day, went to camp, and realized I had just gotten my period for the first time. So I got started in this work because I wanted to make sure that young people had all the information and resources that they needed in order to take care of their menstrual health, whether it’s menstrual education, making sure they have access to free products, or connecting them with a healthcare provider to take care of their reproductive health needs.
With Love Your Menses specifically, do you focus on one of those dimensions more than another, or is it more all-encompassing?
When we first launched, we really focused on menstrual education. We really wanted to educate young people in that pre-puberty and early puberty stage, but since then, we have also begun distributing menstrual products to people in need in the form of period care kits. We like to include various products, like herbal tea and chocolate, wrap [them] in a nice package, and hand [them] out to people in the community. We started doing that during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's something that we hope to continue doing on a regular basis.
Are your education curriculums implemented at schools or at a Love Your Menses center?
The education curriculum is usually done at a community center, so we’ll go to a local community center, create a flyer, and invite people to attend. It’s our hope to do these workshops in schools at well. So we’re thinking of ways to partner with local school districts, not only in Massachusetts, but other states as well, whether it’s built into their health curriculum during the school day, or [more] like an after school program.
Is it students of all genders who you see come in for your services?
When we [held] our first event, [participants] mainly identified as girls or young women, but it was open to the public to any genders. Actually, this year, one of our panelists was a father talking about raising teenage girls and [providing] menstrual education for those who identify as male, whether or not they menstruate.
We think it’s important for them to be a part of the conversation and have the information that they need so they can support the menstruators in their lives.
What is a typical day in your life at work?
I actually do this work on a part-time and volunteer basis. Starting a nonprofit requires a lot of paperwork and fundraising in order to get things kickstarted. Typically, everything I do for Love Your Menses is either early in the morning or late at night when I’m not doing my full-time job. It’s typically spent emailing people, trying to discuss collaborative partnerships, [and] a lot of research for grants to make our programs sustainable. Because although we want to do so many things, if we don’t have the financial means to do so, we can’t accomplish all that we want to. So right now, it’s spent emailing and connecting with people. I oftentimes get asked to speak to small groups of people to talk about the work that we’ve been doing. So that’s been happening a lot, and I look forward to one day making this my full-time position.
In terms of the I AM Bill, are you supportive of it, and if so, why do you want it to pass?
Personally speaking, I am very supportive of the bill. I think there shouldn’t even be a bill since there should already be free products in schools, prisons, and homeless shelters for people in need. And so I support [the bill] because not being able to change your pad or tampon or not knowing when you’ll be able to afford a product goes against our basic rights as human beings.
We can’t control menstruating. It’s a natural process––we naturally bleed––and therefore we should not have to pay for products or ever feel that we don’t have access to them.
So I’m very supportive of this bill, and hope that it’ll expand so [that] all workplaces should have products for people, all hotels, [and] all public restrooms. I think it should be [available] everywhere where there’s a restroom, [and] even where there’s not a restroom. It should just be a norm: wherever you go, you should be able to find a menstrual product, just like how in every restroom I go to, I can find tissue, toilet paper, or soap.
In your opinion, how can people help support this cause, your organization, [or] anything menstrual equity-related?
I think people can advocate for menstrual education in schools and the community. People can support menstrual equity work by partnering with organizations such as Love Your Menses and getting involved in the work that we do. [This could be] volunteering, hosting a workshop, or helping us do research.
I think there is a lack of research pertaining to the menstrual experience across all races and ethnicities, but particularly black and brown people.
So it is my hope that more people will get involved in research, [so we can] use that data to drive better preventative care for people, like treatments and support.
There are a lot of reproductive health issues that can be detected based off of your period, so if you’re able to spot those irregularities and get treatment and support for it, it’s my hope that later down the line, people wouldn’t suffer from these reproductive health diseases that could cause infertility or other complications. So there are many ways to get involved in this work, and I think the first step is to talk about periods, whether it’s to your friend or family member and just get comfortable saying the word and wanting to learn more about menstruation. And then from there, [you can figure] out what else you could do to support this movement.
On that note, a queer black-led organization for menstrual equity at an event expressed that multiple people––when asked why they didn’t ensure diversity in their samples––said that there simply “wasn’t time for it.” But what does one mean by that? What do you mean there isn’t time to include everyone––we’re here!
Yes, we’re all here! I know people are reluctant to be a part of research studies because of the historical context of what’s happened in this country. But I think it’s so important for researchers to include all ethnicities, races, ages, and abilities, whether someone is able-bodied or not. We all need to be included because we all have different menstrual experiences.
I just got my bachelor’s in health sciences, and one thing they teach us in research and statistics is that there has to be generalizability to a sample. A small sample has to represent the entire population; you can’t take a sample of this [one] demographic and say that it applies to everyone because it doesn’t.
If you feel comfortable sharing, have you experienced racism or microaggressions in this space?
I luckily have not, or at least it wasn’t overt. When I first got started doing this work, I didn’t see many people who looked like me who were doing it, but since the Black Lives Matter movement kicked off and people started speaking out, I started to see more black and brown people in the menstrual equity space. It’s exciting to see because it’s so needed; so while I may not have experienced it directly, I definitely stand with and support those who have. If I’m able to support them in any way, I’ll continue to do that, but I’m just happy that people are speaking up.
I definitely have witnessed the silencing of a lot of minority activists, and we’re just going to have to combat that as best as we can. In your personal opinion, what could allies or non-BIPOC (black, indigenous, or people of color) do to uplift marginalized voices?
I guess what they can do is give us the space to really speak, and to speak openly and freely without feeling shamed or judged. Support us financially: a lot of us do this work because we’re really passionate and want to help our communities––and a lot of us do it for free. If our allies are able to donate and support us, I definitely recommend that.
And I would say that when our allies are in spaces where there are no black or brown people, keep that same energy in advocating for us even when we’re not in the same room.
I definitely caution people to not be performative and do these actions just to show face, but to actually mean what they say––behind closed doors––and making sure that their actions are uniform whether they’re around us or not.
Integrity is huge throughout all of this. Overall, what do you think is the most overlooked part of menstrual equity work?
That’s a great question. I think that when people talk about menstrual equity, they really do it through a global lens. And [although] menstrual equity is a global issue that needs to be addressed across our world, some think it’s not a problem in the US and that everyone here has access to menstrual products, education, and resources. Therefore, [they think that] all of our time and resources should be spent overseas. That’s just not the case. There are plenty of people, whether they live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas, who experience period poverty every single day. I think this is oftentimes overlooked from a philanthropic point of view, so I wish more philanthropists, grantmakers, and those who want to support this work really support those who are here in our own country, [because there are individuals] who need these products just as much as [those] overseas. While there are some differences and different needs, period poverty is very much prominent here just as it is in other countries.
Diya: I completely agree; people tend to have this misconception that countries in the “Global South” are less advanced in this than we are, but actually, it was found that there are programs in Uganda and Kenya that are much more advanced than us [in the United States]. They’re teaching menstrual education to little girls and little boys in schools at a very young age. They’re teaching everyone, and have teachers of different genders at well. There’s definitely that Western savior complex where people don’t recognize these issues in their own countries, so thank you for pointing that out.
What do you think the ideal “end goal” for menstrual equity activism is?
I think for me from an educational point of view, the end goal would be making sure that menstrual education is in every school across the US. So [a place where] people would get [the education] at an early age, boys and girls, no matter what school they [went] to or how [they were] raised, or what city or town [they were] living in.
That is my end goal: just making sure everyone has the education regarding menses.
It would also be great if products were free in general, [though] I don’t think that will ever happen because of the capitalistic society that we live in. But in lieu of that, the goal would be making sure there are products available in everyone’s hands, regardless of whether they have a home, are imprisoned, or are in school.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to address about anything?
I think we’ve covered most of it––but I guess just that anyone can get involved in this work. Often when we talk about menses, people always think “oh that’s something that only an OBGYN or pediatrician should talk about and get involved [with].” But no, anyone can get involved! You don’t have to be a doctor, nurse, or health educator––you could be someone in finance, and maybe your role in menstrual equity is tackling the pink tax, and making sure there are no taxes on feminine hygiene products, really talking about the economics behind that and how it poses a financial burden to many people. Or if you are a teacher, maybe your role in that is incorporating menstrual education in your classroom. So yeah, I think everyone can play a part in the movement, and you don’t have to be a public health or medical professional to do so.
Diya: I love how you pointed out that a lot of people in this space do work for free, because I feel like it came to a point where the work kind of got glamorized. People didn’t realize how many activists were performing free labor out of the kindness of their hearts, so it’s definitely important to highlight that.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to take part in this interview.
Thank you so much for providing me with the space to speak, and feel free to email me with any additional questions or concerns.