Death to Period Shame
Julia Starke on abandoning the stigma around periods.
Five days before my 21st birthday I woke up to the familiar sight of bloodied underwear.
I got my period at 16. I wasn’t excited, shocked or proud. It was a nuisance then and has been ever since. Periods for me are pain, mess, discomfort, fatigue, bloating and mood swings.
Realising I was non-binary a year ago has added dysphoria into the mix. Swollen breasts are good on femme days, not so much when I feel like a boy.
Finding myself on my first day of a new month’s period has never been a cause for joy. Not until five days before my 21st birthday, because this time I had a menstrual cup.
My Divacup™ came in complimentary pink Divapouch™ with a set of light pink instructions. They gallantly assumed I was a woman – fuck off – but made sense enough.
Eleven hours later I stared at a silicone cup half full of blood and smeared all down the sides. Bright red watery period mixed with gelatinous black sludge.
I was, unexpectedly, delighted. I held the cup up to the light and examined its contents from every angle.
Ashamedly curious, I dipped my finger in it. It was surprisingly warm. How did I bleed for five years and not know my blood is warm?
Some vaguely radical thoughts rushed into my head. Here my blood wasn’t a stain on a sheet, a skirt or my underwear. It wasn’t soaked through a pad or a grotesquely bloated tampon. It hadn’t sullied the bathroom tiles. This was the first thing my blood had touched beyond me without ruining anything.
I realised I’d stared at my blood for a good 15 minutes and went to wash it out, but stopped short. I didn’t really want to empty a part of my uterus down a bathroom sink. I wasn’t ready to throw it away – it was interesting! Intriguing, kind of weird, but utterly natural.
I found a small vase on the vanity, cleaned it out and poured in about a centimetre of blood. Twice a day every day for the rest of my period I added to that little vase. Short period – finished by my birthday. The vase was three quarters full. The blood was a deep red and the lip of the vase was smeared with period jelly.
A now reddened ribbon tied around the vase’s neck made it feel like a present. Some might say, a slightly fucked up present.
I was struck by how weird collecting period blood is, how my friends would react. At the same time though, I felt inexplicably proud of myself. All I’d done was bleed, capture the blood and keep it – but somehow I’d achieved something.
I’d done a small thing to overcome decades of menstrual shame and a year of dysphoria.
Of bleeding onto bleached pieces of cotton, wasting them, hiding them under other rubbish in my garbage bin so my male relatives wouldn’t have to be confronted with my puberty.
Of asking Mum to please come help me with the washing now so no one would see my bloodied underwear on the laundry floor.
Of keeping my willingness to get ‘red wings’ – go down on someone on their period – to myself while listening to others describe periods as unquestionable sex-impediments.
Of hearing over and over again that periods are gross, disgusting, unhygienic and best kept unknown and unseen, often by menstruators themselves.
Now, somehow, I had figured out that periods could and should be celebrated.
On my birthday, I took a bath. When the door was locked I took the vase and poured the blood all over me. It trickled down me and spread when it met the water, tinging it orange.
I can’t fully explain how joyful an experience this was. I didn’t feel like a woman, because I’m not a woman.
I felt feminist. Radical, thrilled by the transgression of it and lulled by the naturalness of my period. I felt warm. I got to be covered in real blood without causing hurt to anything. Isn’t that awesome?
It was self-indulgent, but it was my birthday. A celebration by me for me felt right. Shoutout to the eco wonder Divacup™ for helping me to bathe in my own menstrual blood. No shame.