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because I am inspired by my older two daughters' activism on their college campuses






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In honor of Women's History Month, 2024



Outside of my parents, the longest relationship I have ever been in lasted 43 years. It began when I was eleven and ended when I was 54. Few people knew the details because from an early age, I knew to keep it secret. I understood that no one wanted to hear, see, or talk about it. In fact, it was so secret, I myself didn’t know much about it; didn’t really know how to show up with it, for it, or what it meant to me. For over four decades I did not know my menstrual cycle intimately. My longest relationship was largely invisible to me.

 

Of course it was. Although we learned about periods in 6th grade, no one talked about them. Even when my best friend got hers, I only found out accidently at a sleep over when I glimpsed a pad in her sleeping bag. Back then, we did not have language to talk about these things. Nor did anyone model such conversations. I grew up watching the bionic woman, Charlie’s Angels, Cher, and Bewitched. They never had periods. And what I learned in feminine product commercials was this:

 

1)    bleeding through clothing is mortifying

2)    menstruation is supposed to be undetectable

3)    live your life as though you don’t menstruate

 

As a child this set me on a line of speculation that still persists. When I am around people with uteruses, I wonder who is cramping, craving sugar, or is generally pissed off? Who got tender breasts like me, feels bloated, or has diarrhea? Who has a ton of energy and wants to conquer the world? Who wants to crawl into a cave? Whose intuition is like x-ray vision right now?

 

Later, in my late 40s, I wondered if menstruators were going through hot flashes, night sweats, loss of libido or have run out of fucks to give? In fact I’m wondering that right now. Who reading this is on their bleed? In the luteal phase, the follicular phase? Who’s ovulating? I didn’t know those terms growing up. But in parochial school classrooms watching the nuns, my classmates. At school recitals and games, at family gatherings, where ever, I wondered. All this happening in the bodies of the women and girls around me. And yet in a way, not. Because it is invisible.

 

Recently I participated in an event where someone shared a poem about the salvific power of the body and blood of Jesus. It reminded me of going to Catholic church as a kid. Me sitting in the pew, wondering who else is secretly on their bleed while a priest went on and on about the blood of a dude who lived 2000 years ago.

 

I also went to Coptic church where women and girls aren’t even allowed communion if they are on their bleed. As teenagers my friend Laila and I, in an FU to the Coptic priests and their sour faced deacons, would get communion or stay in our seats whenever we felt like it. The perks of invisibility.

 

What blood is venerated, and what kind is hidden? Whose? And why isn't menstrual blood, which we all come from, respected?

 

When my oldest daughter got her period, I went to Reading Reptile, a children’s bookstore. It was a magical place where the knowledgeable owners could locate any book with the merest of details. I wanted to find books about people experiencing their moon cycles in the way menstruators do-how you have this thing that happens in and through your body while you live your life. Deb, one of the owners, looked startled, surprised. She couldn’t think of any. Besides that one book everyone references: Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. But no books about girls and women experiencing their cycles on the daily. I’m in a store full of stories of women and girls, fiction and non, and no one menstruates. The longest relationship, this intimate relationship that thrums underneath the lives of menstruators for decades, isn’t recorded.

 

At that time my daughter and I were reading The Hunger Games. Katniss never once has her period in the trilogy; but curiously, has a child at the end of book three. Also at the time, I read Wild. I learned minutiae about backpacking, but I can’t recall a detail about what Cheryl Strayed did when bleeding during the months she was on the PCT. Not too long after my daughter got her period, the first Wonder Woman movie came out. No period there either.

 

What stand out for me in those examples is the details about the excruciating physical trauma those characters endure. Strayed’s shredded bloody feet, toenails ripped off, blisters, from ill-fitting hiking boots, bruises on her hip bones and shoulders from her oversized backpack. Katniss, brutalized by trackerjack stings, burns, lacerations, the tracer knifed from her arm and more.

 

On movie screens we see bodies eviscerated by all sorts of sadistic weaponry wielded by hand and the imagination. But blood borne of violence is considered art or entertainment. And it is largely the blood of men. Yes the female superheroes, the female action stars, bleed. Just like the men. But only like the men. Again, what kind of blood gets foregrounded as acceptable in our collective imagination and what kind gets deleted, rendered gross?

 

Is this why many of us with uteruses aren’t intimate in our most intimate relationship? And what does it mean to be intimate with our menstrual cycles?

 

The other day, in my bootcamp class, I was struck again by how we menstruators conduct our lives in a 24/7/365 way, separate from what is happening with us physiologically. Because, collectively we have determined that women’s equality means living our lives according to male physiology, which happens in a 24 hour cycle, we push ourselves during the times when our bodies actually need something else entirely.

 

What does it mean to live in routines that don’t match our physiology? As though our cycle has nothing to do, with what we do, with our bodies. As though we’re not in a 28 day cycle with four distinct phases at least 400 months in our lifetimes. As though our cycle is just the bloody part (maybe we emphasize the bleed because it most visibly resembles what male bodies also do).

 

So consequently, we manipulate, bully, shame, guilt or artificially propel ourselves rather than understanding and honoring the needs and gifts within each phase of our cycle. How many years did I rely on caffeine, aspirin, alcohol, fad diets, obsessive exercise, and self-hate to get my body to behave according to a should that didn’t match my actual physiological rhythms?

 

Is there a connection between this physiological denial of menstruation, and the fact that four out of five people with autoimmune disease are women? What are the ramifications in terms of policy, research, menstrual literacy, menstrual support in a country that has billions to spend on the military (that produces an honored and respected type of blood) while menstruators still struggle with period poverty, while menstrual products are the least donated items to homeless shelters and pantries, and can’t be bought with WIC? While on the personal level, the internalized invisibilization of my cycle may be at the root of my thyroid condition, and on a collective scale it is a justice and dignity issue.

 

Once upon a time in all our indigenous roots, there was reverence for menstrual blood and it was not secreted or thrown away. Menstrual blood was used ceremonially as well as practically. Menstruators were understood as spiritually powerful. Understood as integral to a harmonious relationship with Earth because our bodies mimicked Nature’s seasons with our luteal, follicular, menstrual and ovulatory seasons.

 

When I took my daughter to the bookstore, I think I was hoping books could be her red tent—a place where menstruators gathered during their bleed, to learn what it is to have a body that goes through seasons every month. To learn from elder menstruators how to honor and harness our menstrual wisdom and power.

 

if we understood the different phases of our cycles, lived our lives from within the seasons of menstruation, would governments be able to take bodily autonomy away from people with uteruses? would it be so easy for governments to disappear or ignore menstruators’ bodily needs? What would happen if we allowed ourselves full articulation as menstruators rather than expend our precious time, power, and energy invisibilizing the most intimate, longest and potentially most potent relationship of our lives?  

 

There is an ancient Hopi prophecy that states, “When the women give their blood back to the earth, men will come home from war and earth shall find peace.”

 

How could menstruators transform the world if they transformed their most intimate relationship? I took the above picture because of the irony in it and to point out how far away we’ve gotten from an indigenous understanding of menstruation’s role. Pussies were never meant to be safe. They are powerful: physically, psychically, energetically, materially, collectively.

 

Although I am on the other side of menstruation now, I find myself listening more attentively to my body; creating cycles that match my needs, rhythms, and energy waves. Using my vitality and attention to be more intimate with myself. And to rely on my pussy power for the greater good.

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One early morning in late January, I slipped down my front steps. Glistening in the early dark, they appeared to be merely wet. But it turns out, the city had become sheathed in a thin layer of ice overnight. I scrambled my way back into my warm house, heart pounding, hands throbbing. I knew I had to ice them right away. More importantly, I knew I needed to shift my internal energy. I got my favorite blanket, tea, ice packs and settled myself into a cozy nest on my couch and turned to my childhood comfort TV: the Carol Burnett Show. I needed to watch Tim Conway make Harvey Korman laugh. I needed to laugh. I stayed there until sleep overtook me. And when I woke up, I knew I needed xrays, the specter of broken wrists looming in a small corner of my mind. As I tried to get dressed, I felt weepy with frustration at my painful, inflexible wrists. Do you know how hard it is to put a bra on without bending your wrists? A dear friend braved the slippery streets to take me to urgent care. No fractures, just sprains. I spent the rest of the day giving myself as much TLC triage as possible. Then, three weeks later as I was emerging from life with wrist casts, I woke up with a cold on a Saturday morning. I spent the weekend nestled in my favorite pjs and blanket sipping tea and soup while I rested.


For me, illness and injury are not just things to overcome so as to continue functioning--that is a capitalist orientation that makes quick recovery imperative. Instead, I think of Jonah in the belly of the whale. I need to disengage from the world to turn inward. In this way, illness or injury are a portal to a deeper engagement with self. I descend into the belly of myself, seeking transcendence.


It is a relatively new idea that illness and injury are simply bad things to overcome. In fact, in each of our indigenous roots is the understanding that before illness or injury lands in the body, it had to penetrate our energetic bodies. Which is to say, our divine self had been beckoning us to address something that was off in our lives for a while but we had refused to attend to it. So our divine self took the drastic measure of throwing our physical bodies off kilter. Thus when I am ill or injured I turn here:



Sprains: anger and resistance: not wanting to move in a particular direction in life.

Wrists: movement and ease.

Colds: too much going on at once; mental confusion and disorder.

 

Do you see a pattern? And how curious to have these physical experiences during a seemingly wonderful time in my life: I had just published my first full-length collection of poetry!

 

That my physical state informs me about my well-being in a deep and broad way, fills me with gratitude. I know that what I encounter in my life is ultimately for my benefit. It also sends me on a quest. I journal and meditate, trying to see what had been veiled from me or I veiled from myself. I also dialog with the illness or injury; first expressing gratitude for what it is here to teach me, then asking for guidance on how to evolve from the experience. Often, incredibly vivid and illuminating dreams occur. Sometimes a memory will surface from the murky depths. Or an unconscious self-sabotaging belief pattern. Consistently what is unveiled is this: Trust yourself. Love yourself. You are worthy of your heart’s desires. Release fear. Trust your voice.

 

When I sit within the belly of illness or injury long enough, I plumb depths of abundance within myself I wouldn't know otherwise.  

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dissolving distances between self & other 
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