(This piece first appeared in Heart and Soul Magazine)
All Red Everything
By Dominique Christina
The disintegration of a culture is a melancholy event. If I grew up in the simple understanding that women were intelligent and vast and magical, it was because I came from a family that demonstrated it everyday. Elderly great grandmother figures and aunties are formidable resources. Southern-bred mamas who made the collard greens taste like inherited memory. It was all so seductive and sublime. But underneath that is something red…something that means resistance; something that is the sound of my name. I didn’t know it for myself until I was twelve years old and started my period.
My mother, coquettish and ever-brilliant and becoming, had prepared me for the event. I knew to expect it. And I knew what it was supposed to suggest about my body and my readiness for an induction into adulthood. I remember reaching down into my underwear and coming up with bloody fingers one day and walking straight to my mother’s room to show her. She put her arm around me, walked me to the bathroom, and taught me how to use a ridiculously huge maxi pad. I was a woman now? It didn’t compute. I still liked Barbie dolls and climbing trees and this business of blood was just a monthly thing that would require a little more attention to detail and a few more trips to the bathroom. It was not traumatic. An interruption, yes…but not traumatic.
But then it changed. I was at a school social to commemorate the start of my seventh grade year when it all changed. I remember gossiping with my girlfriends and giggling at all of the inappropriate jokes when there was a sudden and urgent moistness between my legs. I got up, excused myself awkwardly, and ran to the nearest bathroom. It was locked. I waited anxiously at the door and noticed red spots seeping through my shorts. I was frenetic and pounded harder on the bathroom door. Finally, one of my classmates came out, a boy with a wide smile and long eyelashes whom I had been in school with since Kindergarten. He said something slick about me being impatient and “What’s the hurry?” and “Geez are you sick or something?” and as I pushed past him he noticed the blood on my shorts and started cackling. “Oh my God. Got your period huh? You better clean that mess up. You look disgusting.”
The shame was immediate…and paralyzing. When I closed the bathroom door I could already hear him announcing to the partygoers that I had gotten my period and the subsequent cacophony of laughter and boys making jokes. I stayed in the bathroom a long time. I scrubbed and cried and rinsed and repeated and my embarrassment was thick as gall.
The year was filled with humiliations like that. I didn’t understand the rules of engagement I guess. While the events at the party made it clear to me that what was happening between my legs was to be met with disgust and ridicule, intellectually I could not understand it. I also could not always remember to fold into the shame well enough to accommodate it.
Shame is an awful inheritance. And while my mama did not bequeath it me, my classmates sure tried. Still, I know I’m luckier than most. I have talked to scores of women whose mothers threw all kinds of loathsome language around period blood; the kind of language that makes women hate their menses and regard it as some old curse; a thing to hang your head about and curse the machinery of the body that invites bleeding.
When my daughter started her period, I wanted to offer her a way to reimagine the blood. I threw her a period party. She and I wore matching red scarves. The food was red, the drinks were red, and the salutations to her brand new shedding uterus were boisterous. Her brothers were there too. As were their friends. See, it can’t just be about women and girls integrating this clarity. Men and boys should see how vast and complicated we are too. At first, my daughter was skittish about all of the fanfare around her period but by the end of the night she was levitating. Oh the blood.
Everything about our bodies is a necessary revolution. I don’t subscribe to any tenet that seeks to undermine the magic of our flesh. There is no system, no religion, no mechanism, and no decree that could ever convince me that menstruation is evidence of me being an accursed thing, a nasty thing, a flawed thing. Misogyny has no rights to the ideas I have about myself. There is no way to topple this cathedral of blood and bone and flesh I got with any such politic. I know I’m mighty. I have split open and given birth to children who will speak of the blood with reverence. They will know menstruation is a ritual…a ceremony of letting go and growing anew. This, is my daughter’s inheritance. I hope she grows up to use her menstrual blood as war paint. I hope she bleeds in the temple. I hope she lets it straighten her spine and strengthen her resolve. I hope the revolution is in fact bloody as hell, led by women in white skirts who will never apologize for renewing themselves every 28 days. I hope my daughter is out front, smiling with all her teeth. I hope she spills her impossible scripture all over the good furniture. And if anyone is ever fool enough to try and shame her with her own biology, I hope she keeps all of the wilderness in her bones, and bleeds on everything they love. Period.