I wrote this back in 2009 for the publication me and my two best friend started at our alma mater called SwatOverlaps but I found it the other day and thought I’d repost it with some new resources I’ve found over the years 🙂 Hope you enjoy!
I was proud when I got my first period at age 12—I was finally a ‘real woman’¹ I thought. But as the cramps worsened, the pads gave me rashes and my mother told me to always be discreet about my period, I learned to hate that time of the month and can even recall spending a lot of time peeling the wrapper off of my pads in order to keep quiet, so that my father didn’t know I was menstruating.
It wasn’t until last spring when we discussed menstruation in my class “Comparative Perspectives of the Body”, that I realized the immensity of the oppression that menstruators face. Many of our readings confronted similar experiences, but the ways in which our society, specifically science, subconsciously brainwashed us into shame of our bodies was probably the most surprising. While I don’t have the exact text from class, Merriam-Webster’s definition of menstruation is just as revealing:
“a discharging of blood, secretions, and tissue debris from the uterus that recurs in nonpregnant breeding-age primate females at approximately monthly intervals and that is considered to represent a readjustment of the uterus to the nonpregnant state following proliferative changes accompanying the preceding ovulation.”
How does that sound? Perhaps it sounds normal, but look closely at the word choice: “discharging” and “debris”? If you’re still skeptical, I’m not surprised, but it’s when you look at descriptions for other similar bodily that “discharges debris” that you start to realize that even the most unbiased of sources are telling menstruators (and particularly women) to be ashamed of their bodies. The periodic process that our stomach lining undergoes for instance, I recall a quoted textbook mentioning that it was “shedding away old cells in preparation for renewal,” and “cleansing our bodies.” Sounds different, no?
Realizing that the shame of menstruating was rooted in semantics and sexism was important to me, even if it didn’t lessen my cramps or take the hassle out of buying pads and tampons every month or two. At least the empowering readings in class by powerful women about menstruation made me proud to have my period.
One uneventful afternoon that semester, however, I happened to stumble upon a blog entry about cloth pads, menstrual cups and other alternative menstrual products. “WHAT?” I was utterly shocked. Reusing the same fabric over and over again? Putting a silicone cup in your vagina? I curled up in appall with the words on the screen. Initially I dismissed this entry, but when I saw another blogger talking about the “fabulous” menstrual cup she was using a few days later, I was curious. I scoured the Internet for more information on alternative menstrual products, and discovered that there were entire forums devoted to these things!
Could it be? Oh my goodness! It’s that big? In my vagina? Using my fingers? It collects the blood? Do I have to look at the blood? YES?! Noooo…
Eventually though, I gave in and bought a menstrual cup. I had heard that the learning curve for these cups were Much Steeper than learning to put tampons in, so naturally I was nervous. The first few times I put it in, I could hardly bear the pain. I finally surrendered and realized that I must be doing something wrong, which I was. I watched a tutorial on youtube (Thank You Youtube!!!) and tried it again and voila, it didn’t hurt!
I remember going around campus that day telling all of my friends that I had a menstrual cup in and wasn’t that so wonderful? Most of them were just as appalled as I was when I first read about it. A year later, I’ve become a sort of unofficial endorser of these small silicone cups.
“How can you bear to see all of that blood and stick your fingers up there?” people ask me, but knowing physically what your body does is amazing. I feel completely comfortable with my period now, and I feel more in touch (literally) with my body and therefore my womanhood² because I know the curves and bumps that define my vagina.
But the best part of using menstrual cups is how GREEN it is! The National Women’s Health Network, estimate that in the United States alone, over 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons are used once and disposed of every year. You might also be able to guess that they take a very long time to break down and also release toxic chemicals into the earth. Not only are they harmful for the earth, but they’re also expensive, can be bad for your body, and are a hassle to carry around/be fully stocked.
I think it’s really important for us to be talking about these alternative products so that all the menstruators in the world at least know there are different options. The reason why most people have never heard of these things is because pad/tampon corporations don’t want us to! They’re not going to profit from a $20 product that will last 10 years, so of course they’re not going to endorse it.
I’ve compiled a google doc with more information on alternative menstrual products with more facts, forum links and websites where you can buy these alternative menstrual products: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dxvkb74_21fj6n2bfz
¹I’d love to explore the topic of how womanhood connects to menstruation and how menstruation has been gendered as a child’s passage into womanhood. As you might know from my work with making the gender non-conforming guide to pregnancy, birthing and chestfeeding, I am invested in gender neutrality. This is not only because there are gender non-conforming folks and (trans)men who have moon cycles but also because even some of those who do identify as women are not able to menstruate, or maybe did at some point but then they stopped for different reasons or will just never menstruate.
²Once again, I’m consciously keeping the word “womanhood” because 1) I don’t want to retroactively edit what I wrote when I was 20 but also because 2) we live in a sexist society that continues to idealize masculinity. While my gender presentation is fluid and I can be very gender non-conforming at times, I have found that even in queer and trans communities, femmeness is always “less” as can be seen by the fact that trans women are typically the most marginalized and oppressed, while transmasculinity is seen as more desirable. In these situations, I find it necessary to use female gender pronouns and be loud and proud about my experience as a woman in this patriarchal society.
What is your relationship to menstruation? Have you always been proud of it? How do you deal with cramps if you have them? Since learning more about how Ayurveda views menstruation when I read this book by Maya Tiwari and learning about specific yoga postures that help with cramps at my yoga teacher training, I’ve further changed my views on my cycle. For example, Maya says ‘when we lose our relationship with the lunar wheel, we just go around “spinning our wheels” in a way that is undirected and unfocused’ and that we should ‘try to keep an eye up in the sky to view the changing moon. It wanes on the right side and waxes on the left. How do we remember that? By memorizing the word “wane-right.” The waning moon is considered the time of the moon after the full moon. The waxing moon is the moon that comes after the new moon. We need to know this because the moon works with the exact rhythm and timing of our womb. Dhara, a Sanskrit word referring to both “bowl” and “womb” infers that we carry the moon inside the bowl of the womb.”
In fact, our menstrual cycles are supposed to arrive soon after or on the new moon and it’s a time for introspection, meditation, quiet, poetry-writing and drawing. And as the full moon approaches you might find that your energy is more potent, meaning that that’s the time your body wants to dance, sing, be loud, flirt and go on adventures! You might be thinking “But my cycle doesn’t come at the same time every month, let alone on the new moon.” Well mine doesn’t either but I’ve been moon gazing most nights for the past few months, and my period, which used to come every 21 days is now slowly adjusting to 28 days and getting closer and closer to the new moon. Plus when I’m mindful of how my diet and exercise affects my cycle, I see noticeable differences.
I’ve also been using Keri Smith’s period chart since high school (almost 10 years?!) to see how my period comes throughout the year which I find extremely helpful. I don’t think she’s selling these anymore but you can make your own or if enough of you are interested, I can develop one 🙂
Anyhow, I was inspired to post this too because after coming out with my new gender non-conforming people of color illustrated guidebook for pregnancy, birthing and chestfeeding, a radical QPOC birthworker, La Boca Loca contacted me to purchase a copy and also passed on their awesome website where they sell alternative menstrual products. You should check them out! They also wrote this rad article about menstruation as well as this one on Autostraddle “Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge as a Brown Ecofeminista”. Love it.
You can also purchase the aforementioned guide (shown on the left) for just $2.99 at my Etsy shop 🙂 It’s a cute little mini zine and if you want a bigger size you can just let me know!
I’m very excited about developing the zine further by interviewing people like La Boca Loca and other QTGNCPOC (queer, trans & gender non-conforming people of color) who are midwives, birthworkers or parents! If you know of anyone that fits that role, please please forward them my contact info (heymiyuki (at) gmail (d0t) com or send me their info so I can message them 🙂 Thanks in advance!
That’s it for now folks but I’m looking forward to hearing about your menstrual stories ❤