On Periods, Menopause, Bleeding While Queer, and Other Bloody Mentions (Part 1)

Content Warning: this post has images and discussions of menstruation, blood, trauma, and dysphoria.

*

When I wrote this, I had just finished my menstrual cycle and the next day was a full moon.

By the time this was finished, the moon changed, at least, in the way I saw it covered in darkness. But really, it stayed the same.

Through pain, through trauma, rediscovery, curiosity, and re-learning, we are changed. I had no idea how much my relationship with my period, through blood, through bleeding, had changed. Growing up, I also didn’t realize how enveloped it was with trauma. Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Getting my period, knowing nothing about my body, was one of the most distressing and disturbing experiences of my life. I am not trying to diminish other’s experiences with other forms of trauma, but rather, try to make space for conversations about the relationship between menstruation and trauma, whether one happening because of the other or one happening around the time of the other. After completing this project, it seemed that with menstruation, no matter what, some form of trauma was always present.

After speaking to 16 people, who either identified as queer, *trans, or a person of color, share with me their stories about menstruation, their attempts at trying to cope and find care, feeling helpless, trying to process and understand what was happening to their bodies–whether they were prepared and whether they wanted this to happen or not, it was clear that we needed to start a dialogue. 

One of the conversations I had was about how blood is often associated with violence and even sometimes a celebration; sports, war, capital punishment, the way we tear each other apart in life and on social media. It’s accepted. Normalized. But blood coming naturally out of you? What is violent is the internalized sexism and trans/queerphobia embedded within that blood.

And as a non-binary person, there are other circumstances I need to (re)think about when it comes to my period. Like how we think about our bodies and how it is tied to our gender, race, and overall identity. And how bleeding can also be a privilege. Who is allowed to use these products/methods and have access to them? And it’s not just the usage of products, but also, who is allowed to bleed? Who is expected to bleed?

Bleeding does not ultimately make someone a woman. Bleeding does not make you dirty. Your period does not have to keep you from having sex. You are more than what your body does and also we do not have to be ashamed of our bodies. 

These folks that spoke to me, reflected, looked into their past, and saw the way that they changed or thought about their periods. They found products and methods that worked for them and found ways to achieve agency within their bodies. 

You will find interviews here that address both the pain and pleasure when it comes to periods: mental/health, dysphoria, sexual assault/rape; and also, masturbation, sex, self-care, and safety/comfort. All of which leaves room for complexity.

This project is split into seven parts. This wasn’t done on purpose or supposed to be tied strangely to Harry Potter (but if we can queerifi HP, let’s do it!), but in my interviews, I asked the questions: what is your relationship to your/period/s?, what do you remember about your/ period(s)?, what products and methods do you know or use?, how is your period connected to gender, sex/uality, and parts of you?, what misconceptions and stigmas did you hear about periods?, what challenges and or joy do you have about periods?, and what self-care practice do you do to relieve pain (with periods or in general)? These questions left room for folks to write outside of bounds and shift around to pertain to their own experience.

For this post, it will only focus on the first question: what is your relationship to your/period/s? The other responses will be posted separately. You will also find resources at the bottom of the page.

On one last note, the language used in this entire work isn’t meant to exclude others, but rather, lets the interviewees talk about their own experiences and how they think about their periods. If you have something you would like to share, I encourage you to leave a comment, sharing your experience.

In the book The Body Keeps the Score, author Bessel van der Kolk, writes, “the greatest source of our suffering is the lies we tell ourselves” and that, “[we] are often more haunted by the shame [we] feel by what [we] did or did not do in [a] circumstance.” Those of us who bleed or not, might not be like the moon, but through storytelling, by sharing, I hope we can stop suffering in silence and be uncovered by the darkness.

Artwork “i remember bleeding” I created using watercolor and period blood. Yes.

Interviews 

Part 1

Relationship to Periods

Marissa, 37, she/her, writer, teacher, dabbler: 

“I haven’t had a relationship with my period in a long time. After I gave birth to my daughter, I bled for weeks, but it wasn’t like a real period–-it was much heavier, redder, full of uncertain clots (the usual “is this normal or am I dying” thing). Shortly after giving birth, I got an IUD, and have not had a period since. I suppose that I do miss it, but the missing is perfunctory—it’s the missing you have when you know you are supposed to miss someone, like family, but you are less-than-secretly glad they are gone. I was resentful of my periods. They were painful and messy and made me feel icky-–a word I would use in almost no other circumstance.

And yet! When I had them, I was always relieved, because it meant I wasn’t pregnant. That’s how I’d announce it to my spouse–-“High five! We’re not pregnant!” Once, when I was with a former partner, I was three weeks late. I kept taking pregnancy tests that kept coming back negative, but I still wasn’t bleeding. I went on deep dives on the internet. I tried a parsley pessary. It was as pleasant as it sounds. 

Now it has been more than three years since I’ve had a period, and I honestly forget that it is a thing that I ever had. I get cramps sometimes, still, which I suppose is part of it, but they are rare and nowhere near as painful as they used to be. It feels more free, and more masculine, and I like it. I’m not saying that I believe that having a period is what makes you a woman, but I am saying that that was the message I was given when growing up, and so not having a period feels subversive. It feels like I found the cheat code that lets me out of my conception of my own gender. Not having it frees me to feel more queer, and I appreciate that. I’m not saying this would be the experience for everyone, but it is how it feels in my body.” 

Shani Renee Tariki Hamilton, 28, she/her, actor, musician, dancer: 

“My relationship with my period is much better than it used to be. I used to hate it, especially as a teenager. My cramps were horrible, I would get nauseous and throw up every time, and I’d basically be out of work/school for the first day. Now, my first day is still the most intense, but I simply use a heating pad if it’s particularly ‘bad.’”

Darian, 25, she/her, vegan, telemedicine: 

“I would say I have a pretty great relationship with my period. I’m not really one to obsess about it, so I don’t even know the day that my period comes at all. I know some people like to track that stuff. I do not. But I would say that I have a really healthy relationship with my period. I like to talk about my period. I like to talk about period products with people. That’s just my jam. I love it.

It was very odd because when I initially got my period, I was younger and it was an annoyance, especially when you get it when you’re at an age, where you don’t really know how to take care of yourself, hygienically and you’re you aren’t as responsible or carefree, you have tons of accidents and it’s annoying and you feel like you can’t do anything, like it’s holding you back from x, y, and z. But I see [my period] as knowing that it’s working and it’s very interesting to me that it’s something that kind of reminds me that I’m a breathing living human, that this is something that’s just going to be consistent for a while in my life. I also sometimes feel like I’m releasing. I get this weird strength when I get my period. I just know that this might be different for people because for some people their periods are an annoyance and wish that they didn’t have one at all.”

Dae, 29, they/them, adjunct professor: 

“My period is something I have never really felt connected to. It’s been an unwelcome intruder since day one. I don’t see any good that comes from it. I don’t want kids, I don’t see it as part of my “womanhood,” I don’t see it as a necessary thing in my life. It brings pain, swelling and bloating in places that I HATE drawing attention to. I have honestly very much considered having a hysterectomy. Everyone I have talked to about it has said doctors won’t do it because I need my hormones, but then I see trans and non-binary folks get them and they seem fine. I guess I should do more research. I am already about to be 30, I wonder if it’s too late.”

Paula James, 29, she/her: 

“At this point in life, I feel like my period is just a minor nuisance. I dread it coming but when it comes it is over in a few days. You just get so used to doing it, it’s just an annoying routine. Birth control has changed my periods in different ways over the past 10 years. Pills, shots now the implant. They don’t really tell you how much the hormones change your body. I’ve had the implant for a year and this is the most irregular my periods have been in my entire life.”

Kathleen Dameron, 63, she/her, facilitator, coach: 

“I don’t have periods anymore. I loved my periods. We had a long-term agreement that my period would begin on the weekend and I would either lie in bed and read/daydream/self-pleasure or go to the steam baths. I loved feeling the uterus contract and the hot blood flow. With the occasional blood clots. I also really liked making love during my period. My body was super sensitive to multiple orgasms and the uterus got all happy and emptied itself in joy. The period before periods: there would be this moment when I could feel my body change, my bowel habits changed, my breast got bigger and very sensitive. I was so sad when I got close to menopause and my period ending. So sad. I did rituals to say goodbye to this so wonderful and precious part of my life.”

Mirna Palacio Ornelas, 27, any pronouns, poet, instructor, editor, podcaster, MFA grad student: 

“Oh man, [my period has] changed a lot over the years, but it’s never been great. As a young teenager, a lot of my period symptoms were dismissed by doctors. I had weird muscle burning in my thighs, like I’d worked out too much, which was ridiculous because I’ve never been the workout person. So there was that immediate layer of dismissal and medical gaslighting, and my period was framed as something painful that I could never do anything about, something I was just supposed to suffer through. And because I was also supposed to suffer in silence and continue acting like nothing was happening (I was raised in a very period hush-hush manner), my periods were something I hated altogether. At some point in my late teens, I started missing periods for months on end. It was something that just developed, and I thought that this was just the new normal for my body. But after a night of debilitating abdominal pain that led to an ER and a number of tests, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Then having my period became something incredibly medical, something I had to purposefully bring onto myself with all the watching and the tracking and the pills. The burning eased only to have more back pain and cramps take over. Haha, now that I’m putting it all together here, periods are fucking awful. But yeah, the symptoms changed, but the pain has still steadily gotten worse. At this point in time, I only have a period once a year or so. I still should be on birth control, but I don’t have a gyno I trust where I currently live, so I haven’t had a chance to get a new prescription. My periods have been inherently medical at all points, funny enough. When I do get my periods though, they are potentially the worst they’ve ever been, in terms of pain and how long they last and how much it takes out of me physically and emotionally. So all around, no I don’t like my periods. But at least I understand them and my body better now. I can deal on my own terms.”

Lex Johnston, 27, they/them, respiratory therapist, abolition work: 

“I dread its existence. I’m not sure if this would change if my period were regular (it is not). It can come at any time, weekly to yearly. The longest time I went without a period was a year and a half. The shortest time I went without a period was 4 days. I have PCOS and it makes it difficult to track when a period will come or how bad the pain will be when it does. Sex is hard for me in that I am super self conscious because I have no idea, even if I’ve been period free for a week, if NOW is the time it’ll come again. A hysterectomy is definitely on the table. I do not want kids, don’t even know if I could have them, and thus my uterus and my period are for naught.”

Malaika Jacocks, 49, she/her, fitness trainer: 

“Frustration and annoyance is what comes to mind. I literally had to time my life around my cycles. It was challenging being so young from ages 12 to 16. Even as an adult it was hard to do daily life when it was that time of the month. [My period] was more magnified when I was an adult because I knew that a period was part of me, I guess you could say. I felt like it was connected to it. Everything I had to do was based around my period. Like I had to stay close to a bathroom, I couldn’t do functions, like swim. Back when I grew up, they told me I couldn’t swim, run, or anything crazy because it would make the blood flow. I hated it. And I felt sad when I was 12. I was in the locker-room and I remember I had to lay down on the concrete because my period was so bad, and the girls around asked me if I was ok. I felt like I had to stay in a cold spot to feel better. It’s actually traumatic [to think about now]. I remember the hormones being more pronounced during my period and I wanted to explore, so I would masturbate a few times and when I released, more fucking blood flowed! It didn’t even release pain. It made it worse and I got more cramps because I was tensing up! Even though I knew that would be the outcome, I still did masturbate.”

Ashlee Spradley, 26, she/her, mathematician/programmer:

“I hate my period with a passion especially when I’m in public. I hate feeling bloated and overall feeling gross. I know it’s the way the body removes toxins, but I don’t enjoy the feeling.”

Milo Koleske, 23, he/him/they/them, graphic designer, comic artist, illustrator:

“As a trans man, my relationship with my body has been somewhat of an arduous and exhilarating rollercoaster. I was actually quite excited initially, but that enthusiasm changed drastically when my breasts grew in, although at that age I didn’t know the full extent of my dysphoria, which set in when I was around 14. Once I hit that age, my body and especially the natural processes of menstruation felt almost alien to me, like it shouldn’t have belonged to me. Early on in my transition, it felt like proof that I could never identify as who I truly was. As I started testosterone and stopped having consistent periods, when I would have one it’d just be a hassle more than anything else. I find now that if I do have a period, which are far and few between, they feel much more like a part of me, and aren’t nearly as embarrassing, as now I just think of my period as a sort of experience that I get to share with others that many men don’t have or can’t comprehend.”

Cosmos, 26, they/she, single parent, hobbyist, writer:

“I used to hate [my period] when I was a teen, but now I welcome [them]. That time makes me feel remarkably human. It’s a grounding experience. My periods are irregular due to stress, so I suppose I get pleasantly surprised when I see changes in my discharge and my emotions and cravings kick up.”

MeganBob, 35, they/them, teacher, voice finder, writer, podcaster: 

“I accept it, begrudgingly. It is a part of having the body I have, and as inconvenient as it is, I get that there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I already have the Mirena coil so it’s rare that I have a period these days, but when it shows up, I sort of resign myself to the ride.”

D.L. Cordero, 32, they/them, queer, fantasy writer and poet: 

“Gross is the first word that comes to mind whenever I think about periods, but I have a complicated relationship with them. Growing up, they weren’t regular. I could go months without having one and it was suspected that I had PCOS. Though PCOS was never diagnosed or confirmed, my period’s have always been irregular, and I know growing up, I was relieved when it wouldn’t come. It didn’t feel right, neither in terms of who I saw myself as, or what I expected my body to do. It didn’t fit.

My mother was out of the home while I was growing up, pursuing her education. She would come and go, so unfortunately, I didn’t have someone that taught me how to care for my body when it was bleeding. I didn’t fully understand which products to use. When she would come home, she would try to teach me how to use tampons, but it was too painful, and I didn’t want to use them. I often bled through my clothing when I was young, which was really embarrassing.

As I continued to grow, my periods remained irregular. I was put on birth control to regulate them, but the medication simply made the periods not come for longer periods of time. I was like, “yes, this is wonderful! I don’t want these anyway, so if we can tamp down how often and how much they are, yes, I am on board.” On the birth control, my periods not only came less often, but they were shorter in duration and lighter in flow. All of that was a relief. When my life became busier in graduate school, I found the pills hard to keep up with, so I switched to Mirena, an IUD. The Mirena reduced my periods even more than the pills did. I’ve used Mirena ever since, and it’s doubled as a way to help with the body dysphoria that arises from having a period. That’s worked well for me up until the last few months. For some reason, the periods have become more regular now and I’m bleeding for longer periods of time. I’m not really sure of why now, of all times in my life, it would become more regular. It’s distressing, but I’m trying to decide if pursuing other courses of action are worthwhile.”

Abigail Carlson, 29, she/her, writer and teacher of writing, graduate student, dog mom:

“It seems like my period and I are old enemies who don’t really have the heart to fight too hard anymore, but still need to fire shots back and forth now and then to show we’re still at war. It’s not as bad as it was when I was younger, but it’s always annoying. It almost feels like my period is a gremlin at times, scheming to appear at the right moment to ruin my new panties.”

Jasper D.H., 29, they/them/he/him, home call center representative: 

“I loathed my period. For 13 years I dreaded it. My periods were irregular and painful. I had PCOS before starting testosterone and getting a hysterectomy. The only time I appreciated my period was when it was gone. I know menstruation is a normal thing for most uterus bearers and I think it is perfectly fine and beautiful, in a sense. However, for me, it was dysphoric and borderline traumatic. I feel the need to nurture and care for any person who is menstruating. It’s a sign of life and fertility. It is a stellar experience for some folks, a cycle like the moon and a part of life that can’t be ignored or avoided. It can be a bonding experience to talk and relate to friends about all the weird gross sh*t our bodies do. I am grateful that I can relate to others who have their period and I try to educate cis men on periods so they can be more supportive of their partners, friends and families. I guess you could say it’s a hate-respect relationship.”

Resources for Relationship to Periods/Body

Essays

Books 

Movies/TV shows

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015, Rachel Bloom)
  • Wetlands (2013, directed by David Wnendt)
  • The Moon Inside You (2009, directed by Diana Fabiánová)

Zines

More resources will be available for the next post: Memory about Periods. If you have any recommendations for either question/theme, please share!

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