“I won’t call on the moon like in a real poem, or anthropology or the bible or talk about being untouchable, or power etc. I’ve nothing at all to say, but to exercise my freedom to speak about everything” – Bernadette Mayer, from Ode on Periods.
Period: Twelve voices tell the bloody truth is a collection of essays and voices of twelve lived experiences of menstruation, from Madame Ghandi, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Elizabeth Yuko and Ingrid Nilsen. It’s a quick read – I read the book for the first time in one session. Honestly, this book amazed me. Some of the experiences around menstruation I had never considered. I went into the twelve essays expecting similar experiences to mine (even though I know better), or at the very least, experiences that I’ve heard about from friends before.
Kate Farrell edited the book, wrote the intro, and likes to talk and talk and talk about periods. I hadn’t yet heard anyone describe the thunk of a tampon against the seat before, but this word is perfect for this sound.
Arisleyda Dilone is a filmmaker, writer and storyteller who describes her experience with femininity, womanhood and expression. She writes “I concluded that menstruation exists on a spectrum”, and “…I knew I wasn’t quite one of them because although thy made room for me, they did so within a complicit silence”.
I talk to my friends about periods, but I also talk to strangers, relatives, people on the internet and anyone who will give me a minute of time. How wonderful of Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow to write about this, and their period friendship. The two women also host Call your Girlfriend, a podcast about long distance besties and all good things.
Madame Gandhi, a hero of mine, wrote about her free bleeding, marathon running best self. She also wrote “having the ovaries to practice what you preach”, and I’m going to borrow that.
Santina Muha bleeds in a wheelchair and writes about her experience of menstrual cramps in “obscure” places in her body. The best part of her essay is her friend Cindy giving step by step tampon insertion instructions, a common experience.
Ingrid Nilsen, watch My Period: Then vs Now, hits the ‘why, yes, i too, have my period line where menarche is understood as a right of passage for the 11, 12, 13, come on why aren’t I a woman yet, 14 year old. Her “period watch” results in “crimson goop”. I love her essay. Please read it, I laughed a LOT.
Wiley Reading is a “dude with a uterus”, and shares his experience as a trans man, and his can’t-be-stopped period – “my period is going to period”. This was one of my favourite essays to read. Prior to reading this, I hadn’t yet thought too deeply about the term ‘feminine hygiene’ products, other than the issue of hygiene (and the implication that menstruation is inherently dirty – more on this later). There is an obvious need to completely reevaluate the entire concept of the feminine hygiene world, and to not enforce a strict experience of menstruation as a “lady flower”. And oh, how much can you feel this – “it hasn’t gotten bad enough yet that you’ve got to lie on the round with your butt up in the air”.
Ashley Reese is a writer and late bloomer who had a grim millennial coming of age first period at ten years old, which she points out is part of the growing statistic of people who are starting their period earlier, and particularly black American girls. She blamed her mother, who also experienced menarche at age ten. Whilst Ashley has let go of her beef with her mother’s uterus, she writes “if I have a daughter I intend on finding a way to be transparent without being too horrifying”.
Kylyssa Shay writes “having a period while homeless is more disturbing, upsetting and crude than having a period while homed”. Once homeless, she provides insight into the experience of a homeless menstruator – using toilet paper as a sanitary napkin or tampon, irregular access to a clean and safe bathroom, the choice of buying food or menstrual products and the inability to avoid stains to name a few. She also provides the reader with period kit instructions if you are interested in helping others who are experiencing homelessness.
Emma Straub‘s menstrual cup runneth over, “a third of a monsoon is still a monsoon”, until she saw a new doctor. I’m not going to give away any details, but her advice, or regret, is “that [she] waited so long to figure out what was wrong”. Her voice is a message to take notice of an unusualness in your period, and to seek advice early, where possible.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public (an amazing read), Co-founder of Period Equity, menstrual policy activist and hero to menstruators everywhere, is “surfing the crimson wave”, or at least menstruation is. She, alongside the other voices in this book, are part of the current fight for menstrual equity – laws and policies that ensure access to menstrual products and specifically, the tampon tax. “Our periods”, she writes, “are a potent rallying force”.
Dr Elizabeth Yuko‘s first clues on menstruation came from advertisements on tv that featured blue period blood, and purported that “wearing tampons magically gives you the ability to ride a horse or scale a mountain on a bike”. She refers to the idea that we’re taught that seeing blood means that something is wrong, and then, “all of a sudden we’re expected to be perfectly fine with bleeding”. She writes about the current, and very recent inclusion of menstruation in some media as well as the period paradox – suffer in silence, but also be debilitated by your period.
This book is an amazing read if you’ve ever had a period, known someone who has had a period, or spent hours, like me, talking to people about your period.
You can find a list of period resources here from the book, if you’re interested in being more involved in menstrual health.
For more on these voices, watch The Strand’s panel on the book here. Ashley Reese and Elizabeth Yuko are super entertaining on the panel, and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s “their discomfort is my power” when commenting on speaking to male legislators about periods.