Borders as Punctuation Marks

Megan Beck, Chief Operating Officer

I’ve been thinking about borders lately.

Life looks very different on either sides of territorial boundaries, as all border countries and travelers know well, even when the border itself is nondescript. Take my favorite beach on the Gulf Coast, for example. A 10 mile (16km) stretch of sand distinguishes the county limits by a mile marker sign, on a weathered post in the sand. Once you cross that line, most things become legal: off-road vehicles, proud nudists, illegally-purchased fireworks, camping without permits- the works. 

Borders between nations are like a punctuation mark; depending on the era, crossing between them is a period, exclamation mark, or question mark. I grew up in a period of Texan and Mexican border relations that border officials didn’t ask for ID- let alone passports- at crossing points. Throughout 2011, I repeatedly hiked into Russia and Azerbaijan, skirting boundary lines, but have no visas to show for it. I visited Vatican City in 2009 and left without a stamp in my passport for entering a sovereign state. I display my Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s “passport”, used by trekkers across northern Spain, on the wall in my home, even though it’s a fictional report. 

This the silly, whimsical side of flexible border realities. Transnational humanitarian crises, imploding nations, economic stagnation, and fearful nationalism are the other side of border realities. The side that doesn’t lend itself to adorable social media posts and easy conversation with strangers. 

                                   Port of Piraeus, June 2016. No running water. Portable toilets and shower house, next to tent camps.

                                   Port of Piraeus, June 2016. No running water. Portable toilets and shower house, next to tent camps.

Kaleigh and I created The Unmentionables because human survival shouldn’t be ignored when international problems aren’t solved. We made an entity that is entirely apolitical, non-religious, and virtual. The Unmentionables hones in on basic personal hygiene needs over policy debates, looking past someone’s country of origin and into the present country of residence, however temporary.

As someone who has only migrated by choice, and was never prevented from returning to my home country, I haven’t lived these border traumas. I have not yet woken up to an environmental disaster so colossal that my entire community is displaced, for generations to come. I have not had to flee from my nation because of systematic violence or persecution. I know what it’s like to be told, “Go back where you came from,” but my response to that question hasn’t included that there was no home for me to return to.

I started my period last week. I didn’t have to use trash bags, socks, leaves, used pads or tampons. I had running water- potable water, at that- to clean myself. And this water? It’s unlimited, not rationed or in danger of going away for untold amounts of time. This means I get to wash my clothing and know it’s clean, and that more health concerns won’t increase from doing laundry. 

I have so many pairs of underwear that I can’t count them off the top of my head. They are my size. They are for my gender. They were not given to me with holes and stains. I have multiple bras to help me not draw attention in society and to protect my privacy. I have access to free reproductive health, if I want it, in my country- regardless of health insurance and financial status.

How about you? Can you access a condom if you want to prevent disease? Ladies, do you have products to stop blood from flowing down your legs? 

There are many systematic problems related to border boundary lines, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have many solutions to address them. One solution to decreasing medical conditions (one-time or lifetime in duration) is increasing access to Unmentionable hygiene products. One solution to showing people their lives and dignity are valuable is helping them cover sensitive body parts. If you’re reading this, already leveraging your resources to serve those in crisis, you are one of the solutions. If you want to do more for vulnerable populations, join us through donating, advocating, volunteering skills, or fundraising.

Let’s clothe people with strength and dignity, regardless of borders.

- Megan