Periods enter the spotlight in this essay collection that raises a variety of voices on a topic long shrouded in shame and secrecy.
In this collection, writers of various ages and across racial, cultural, and gender identities share stories about the period. Each of our twelve authors brings an individual perspective and sensibility. They write about homeless periods, nonexistent periods, male periods, political periods, and more. Told with warmth and humor, these essays celebrate all kinds of period experiences.
Periods are a fact of life. It's time to talk about them.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)|
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She'll Become a Woman Later
I am a woman with male chromosomes. This means I never developed breasts or experienced menstruation but nonetheless I was raised as a woman.
Nothing about my appearance ever led others to believe that I was anything but a girl.
As a child, my personality seemed unique only when I compared myself to the girls in my family. Unlike my sisters, I was a proud marimacho who loved sports, was obsessed with The Simpsons, and would find any reason to stay in school longer. By middle school, my womanhood was a playful deceit propped up by benign teenage lies. I would pretend to have my period so I could skip math class and stare aimlessly out the bathroom window. I knew plenty of girls who lied about getting their period. Sitting in the stall, I would think about bleeding and what it would feel like. While my classmates awaited their periods, I remembered my first encounter with menstruation.
When I was nine, one of my older sisters, Nana, got her period. When Nana and our eldest sister, Rosa, locked themselves in the bathroom, I banged on the door, demanding to know what was happening. Rosa opened the door and proudly announced, "Nana is a woman now." Nana was ten. She showed me some underwear and the bathroom was smelly. I thought the whole situation was gross and I walked away, shaking my head, saying to myself, That is definitely not happening to me. And it never did.
It wasn't until my ninth-grade biology class that I began to pay more attention to lessons about female puberty. A very pregnant Mrs. Cox lit up her overhead projector and began a lesson on the menstrual cycle.
"Menstruation is a magical process that connects women to the moon, to the tides, to the earth, to humanity, and to the very essence of the creation of life," she said out of the side of her mouth with a snarky sarcasm.
This explanation seemed interesting but was just as difficult to grasp as the scientific wording in our textbook. While I was quietly conscious of the fact that I was a fifteen-year-old girl who had yet to get a period, I was mostly uninterested. After all, this didn't seem to apply to me.
Instead I found myself daydreaming about Julio — the new student from the Dominican Republic, the same place I came from. Julio was tall, dark, lanky, and played baseball. We had similar builds. He spoke broken English and struggled to understand the lessons, so I helped him. I wanted to impress him, so I paid close attention. All of a sudden, hereditary traits and Mendel's peas experiment captured my attention. Which parent gave me what features? My mother thought I was a late bloomer like her. At that time my own Dominicaness was often on my mind. I am the last in my family to immigrate to the United States from a rural village in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The village Boca de Bao is a lush green hilly campo with dusty dry valleys, dirt roads, and unreliable electricity.
In Bao, adulthood for a young girl began at menstruation. My mother's menstruation was a long-awaited turning point in her life.
My parents met as young teenagers collecting water from a well. And it was love at first sight. Although they wanted to run away as soon as possible, they waited until my mother began her menstruation cycle. Devout from an early age, as a teen she was already una mujer seria and my father was just a joyful farm boy. But she was also a late bloomer. She prayed for her period as she watched her younger sisters marry their suitors. Shortly after turning eighteen, she got her period and they eloped.
In the eighties there was an exodus from my village toward New York City and New Jersey. When my mother was three months pregnant with me, my father left Bao and headed for New York through Mexico. Then, when I was eleven months old, my mother followed. Leaving me and my two older sisters to be raised by the village of extended relatives: great-aunts, grandparents, and cousins. In February 1989, when I was seven years old, I arrived in Long Island, New York, in the middle of a major blizzard. My upbringing in this middleclass suburban port town provided me with options.
Very early on, I recognized that many of the things deemed feminine in my family were optional. Sometimes I opted in and sometimes I opted out. Sometimes I was met with confrontation and sometimes I wasn't. By the age of fifteen my reasoning was: If I didn't get a period, if I didn't have breasts, and yet was still considered a woman, then to some extent my gender identity was up to me. But I enjoyed being a woman. Breasts are an obsession in my family. Women sit around and talk about the size of their breasts and the surgeries they would have. Consequently, I was desperately desirous of breasts. Throughout high school I wore falsies.
In my junior year of high school my mother took me to see an endocrinologist and I opted to begin hormone therapy. I was willing to get a period if it meant getting breasts. So, like my mother many years before me, I found myself constantly waiting to bleed. Unbeknownst to me, behind closed doors and in church pews, my mother was also praying for blood. While I was thinking about breasts, she was thinking about my future, and whether I would become a mother.
All these biological processes occur with an end goal of procreation. Reproduction is entrenched in our identities. I have five siblings. On my mother's side I have nine aunts, one of whom has ten children. All three of my sisters have kids. Today, I have seven nephews and five nieces. My body exists outside of the biological development processes explained in my science class.
Like a voyeur, I stood in the wings watching the women sympathize about a present and future role that didn't include me. I watched as they commiserated over experiences, some of which I didn't want but thought were inevitable. But I knew I wasn't quite one of them because although they made room for me, they did so within a complicit silence. A silence that contained my atypical body. A silence that cradled the ongoing abuse inflicted on their bodies. An abuse that I witnessed but for some reason was spared, leading me to believe I was somehow privileged.
In my senior year of high school I was told my body produced negligible levels of both estrogen and testosterone. And that any sexual development I was experiencing, like height growth and pubic hair, was catalyzed by other hormones. For example, on average, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in an eighteen-year-old girl is 3. My FSH levels were 112. My non-sex developmental hormones were working overtime. But after a year on synthetic progestin and estrogen, my body was still not reacting.
In college, I wanted to be desired. I went full force into appearing as feminine as possible. Straightening my long black hair, wearing makeup and pink from head to toe, I received newfound attention from men. When I would talk about my body, desirability was a major factor. The fact that I hadn't begun a period was easy to share. It didn't turn men off and most of my female friends expressed some degree of envy. So you've never had a period? So you can't get pregnant? Lucky! You don't ever have to worry. On the other hand, I rarely shared that I didn't have breasts and that I was wearing falsies.
During spring break of my freshman year, I underwent surgery. When they operated, they found that one of my ovaries was more like testes tissue, and the other ovary was streaked, meaning neither ovary produced eggs. My uterus was an unformed mass that would never carry children. I would never menstruate even with synthetic hormones. And rather than the oophorectomy that was planned, they performed a complete hysterectomy.
A week later I was back at school.
Senior year of college, I was introduced to Gloria E. Anzaldúa. Anzaldúa was a Chicana feminist, queer, lesbian, writer, farm laborer, and academic. Due to a rare uterine formation, Anzaldúa began to menstruate at five years old. She recalls how her mother made special cloth underwear to soak up the blood. By the age of eight she had developed breasts, about which she says otras muchachitas no tenían. She recalls looking at the cloth diapers being hung up on the clotheslines. Only she and her mother knew about her body. This ritual of deep complicit silence between her and her mother hid Anzaldúa's body so well that they both had forgotten it even occurred the way it did.
Anzaldúa changed me. She spoke to my stratified existence as a queer immigrant living in the United States. She spoke to a core silence filled with all parts of me. Suddenly femininity and masculinity became ephemeral. And gender was a distraction to the omnipresent me. The me that shines beyond all gendered things but can be felt through my gaze.
My queer gaze distanced me from the gender-based reproductions of the clan. Anzaldúa's stories of finding strength through her mestizaje fed my campesina soul. Like Anzaldúa, I am a storyteller in my family. I observe, ponder, and mull over our generations of stories. The depth of her writing taught me so much so quickly. After reading Anzaldúa, I concluded that menstruation exists on a spectrum. That all bodies are like fractals with never-ending layers, spectrums within spectrums. In many ways my body exists on its own terms: Womanhood without breasts. Womanhood without a period. Womanhood without biological motherhood. My femininity lies beyond the prescribed womanhood. My body expands the boundaries of gender and dismantles the binary simply by existing. But I've hardly had to say any of these things, because my gaze said it all.
When I first started researching intersex bodies I came across a lot of transgender groups. In these groups I encountered newfound parallels within the process of transitioning. Hearing trans men talk about their relationship to their breasts and menstruation helped me understand that I could exist without breasts and be loved. Trans women reaffirmed my singular womanhood when I would read their expressions of the same yearning for breasts that permeated my youth. No matter the point of view, I stood in certain privilege. Unlike many from the trans community at that point in my life, health insurance had covered my breast augmentation.
MY FEMININITY LIES BEYOND THE PRESCRIBED WOMANHOOD. MY BODY EXPANDS THE BOUNDARIES OF GENDER AND DISMANTLES THE BINARY SIMPLY BY EXISTING.
When I came across the intersex community I fell in love with our vastly different experiences. But I also learned of all the surgeries that had been performed on our bodies without our consent as children. I understood that in many ways I have been fortunate. I didn't undergo genital mutilation as a child. These surgeries are still an ongoing occurrence on intersex bodies all over the world, including the United States.
This body has presented me with options — regarding my presentation, regarding my gender role, regarding my sexuality — and created an opportunity for me to create my own path in this life. Existing as an intersex person has pervaded all facets of my life. At first it was a little secret that manifested in a cheeky smile and yet was the quiet sustenance of my will to exist on my terms. Now that I'm in my midthirties, it has blossomed to a new expression. And if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope to continue returning as an intersex person.CHAPTER 2
Periods and Friendship
ANN FRIEDMAN AND AMINATOU SOW
from: Ann Friedman
to: Aminatou Sow
date: Mon., Apr. 17, 2017, at 1:40 PM
subject: Friendship and Periods
You know how some period-tracker apps let you share the details of your menstrual cycle with your friends? My first thought upon seeing that for the first time was, "If you're not already talking about your period with your friends, how close can you be?" Really. I can't remember exactly how I discussed my period with friends when I was a teenager, but in my adult friendships — ours included! — periods are such a normal part of the ongoing conversation. I almost always know when my closest boos are bleeding.
Women have been doing this since ancient times. And, let'sbereal, most of us don't need a special, cordoned-off space of a period app to talk about this stuff. It's woven through the text threads and brief check-ins and deep conversations that make up our friendships. My friends know that my cycle runs short, more like twenty-one days than twenty-eight. My friends know that day two is my worst for cramping. My friends know that my vagina hates applicators (the goddess gave you fingers for a reason). I know that you know all of this stuff, because we talk about periods the way we talk about all of the other daily details of our lives.
from: Aminatou Sow
to: Ann Friedman
date: Tues., Apr. 25, 2017, at 3:05 AM
subject: Re: Friendship and Periods
You're so right, women have been doing this since forever.
I remember period talk being an early bonding tool for us when we were new friends. I got mine at what felt like a young age, when I was eleven. None of my other friends did until we were at the end of middle school. I don't ever remember discussing it with high school friends either. In fact, the woman who ran the athletic department made us all sign a pledge that we would never miss any practices because of our periods. At the time, I was foolish enough to think that was badass, and now I realize how limiting that kind of thinking is.
There's something so liberating about not being ashamed that we bleed. It can also help with diagnosing serious problems. I'm so embarrassed that I was well into my twenties when I realized that it wasn't okay I was having my period for weeks on end or that my cramps were well above an eight on the pain scale. I thought I just had to play through the pain — thanks for nothing, Coach Murray! — and now I know better.
The only redeeming part of having bad periods when you're an adult woman is that your friends can afford to buy you top-notch snacks and wine. That always helps. You brought Swedish Fish into my life during such a trying time and now they always make me think of you. You also never make fun of me when I use my laptop as a heating pad. #computerus
FYI NONE OF THIS IS MEDICAL ADVICE LOL
It's also not lost on me that you and I are lucky to live in a country where having a period didn't hold us back from going to school and having access to education like it does for so many girls around the world. Just Google "menstrual hygiene management" and prepare to have your mind blown by how much work we still have to do to educate folks about taboos around hygiene and reproductive health.
Do you remember ever feeling ashamed of your period?
from: Ann Friedman
to: Aminatou Sow
date: Wed., Apr. 26, 2017, at 3:25 PM
subject: Re: Friendship and Periods
Ughhh, yes. Ashamed, confused, repulsed. A whole cocktail of bad feelings. My early periods (around age twelve to thirteen) were some of the most painful and heaviest of my life. I remember being in church with my family once — there are multiple levels of horror and discomfort to this story — and kneeling made my cramps unbearable. (This was before I'd figured out how many ibuprofen I needed to survive the first few days of my period.) I shuffled out of the pew and back to the bathroom and spent the rest of the service sitting on a toilet in the women's room. Afterward I told my mom I'd filled a whole pad with blood in less than an hour, and she didn't believe me. I mean, I was never really into Catholicism, so I can see why she thought it was an excuse at the time. But because I was still so sensitive about my period, and still figuring out what "normal" was for me, her disbelief really stuck with me. It made me feel like a freak.
Because my mom and I didn't really talk about periods in depth, I relied on my friends for information. More precisely, I relied on my friends' moms' copies of Redbook. (Which is also where I learned about blow jobs and the gender wage gap. That magazine did so much for those of us who grew up pre-Internet and with conservative moms!) I was definitely not given a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves or anything like that. And while it wasn't like my teenage friends and I were going deep on the finer points of our menstrual cycles, they were my first confidantes for questions and problems.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Period"
Copyright © 2018 Kate Farrell.
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