What I am about to write will be nothing shocking to people who menstruate: My period has been a pain in my behind since I was 11 years old and my uterine lining decided it had enough of its unshed purity. But it hasn’t been any ol’ annoyance—I have polycystic ovary syndrome, which means that my ovaries constantly feel like they are being pulverized to dust by the Hulk or the Thing or, hell, if I’m going to make references to sedimentary superheroes, maybe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For the longest time, though, up until my diagnosis in 2012, I was told that “stress” was the reason I would feel such intense pain in my pelvic area, or why I wouldn’t get my period for months on end (a symptom of PCOS). That answer never stood right with me, even if I forced myself to believe it. But because periods are so taboo in our culture—and cultures around the world—I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about my menstrual experience without my complaints being dismissed.
That’s why I am beyond overjoyed over the recent red wave that’s crashed the shores of misogynist “decency.” In the last few years, periods have gripped not only the pop culture discourse. Whether in the news or on television shows, the way we talk about and treat menstruation has been under a very bright spotlight thanks to activists, politicians, educators, entrepreneurs, strategists, writers and journalists like myself who’ve decided enough is enough with this taboo BS. It’s a biological fact that menstruating people bleed almost every month, and many of us want and need products to plug the dam lest we lose out on a good pair of underwear—or, I don’t know, an education. But I digress.
Need more? Just read Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. The new essay collection, edited by Kate Farrell and published by Feiwel and Friends (May 8), calls attention to all of the issues menstruating people face that you may not even think are problems in the first place. Actor and comic Santina Muha gives a poignant account on what it’s like to have your period while you’re using a wheelchair. Writer Wiley Reading candidly describes what it means to menstruate when you’re a transgender man. Jezebel reporter Ashley Reese uses her personal experience to explain all of the added issues and barriers Black girls face when coping with periods. And writer and artist Kylyssa Shay doesn’t hold back when it comes to exposing the realities of menstruating while homeless.
Those, of course, are just a handful of the dispatches compiled in Period, but they’re enough to illustrate why public conversations around menstruation are desperately needed if we’re to achieve menstrual equity—a term coined by attorney Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who penned for the anthology an essay on the politics of periods. Weiss-Wolf’s comprehensive contribution covers the fight to eliminate the tampon tax in the United States and around the world, as well as the efforts to expand access to menstrual products in schools, shelters, correctional facilities, public buildings and beyond.
The downside of Period is that the essays are far too short. While all of them offer profound accounts of different issues related to menstruation, I am still left craving more information and more insight. I’m also disappointed that endocrine disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis, didn’t have as much of a presence in the collection, although author Emma Straub’s piece on contending with uterine fibroids was a relatable—and necessary—read.
The biggest and most obvious takeaway from Period is that periods suck, hands down. No one wants to have red liquid spilling out of their nether regions for a week straight. But most people who menstruate are forced to deal with this in relative silence because others think it’s “icky” or a “curse” or, using some twisted ass logic, a “luxury.”
But you know what’s really icky? Period stigma. And there’s just no reason for it.
top photo: galex/Wikimedia Commons
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Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers public health and social justice issues. Like any native New Yorker, Annamarya drinks too much coffee and has strong opinions about the Yankees. She's currently based in Austin, Texas. Follow her at annamaryas.com, on Facebook/annamaryasclips, and on Twitter @annamarya_s.