That Time of the Month Can Be Fun, Too

Posted June 5, 2018 6:58 p.m. EDT

When it comes to periods, every woman has a story about “that time” — that time she first saw the blood in her underwear and thought death was knocking; that time she tied a sweatshirt around her waist to hide a stain on her white pants; that time her cycle made its presence known at the most inopportune moment.

“We’re making out like crazy, and I remember feeling extra wet,” said Njambi Morgan, a spoken word performer and poet, sharing her own “that time” story with a crowd of several dozen listeners. “I thought, that’s how it is in the movies. I got this. One thing led to another, and then he jumped up. I’ve never seen a face like that.” The audience of mostly women groaned in sympathy, knowing where the story was headed. Morgan imitated the voice of a teenage boy: “OH. You bled all over my mom’s couch!”

“I started crying,” Morgan said. “I had never been so mortified.”

Her story was one of 18 period-themed performances that took place at New Women Space in Brooklyn last Wednesday evening as part of Period Party. The event, hosted by Sara Radin, a writer and community organizer, was intended to celebrate aspects of gynecological health that are often spoken in whispers.

Through the course of the evening, in a softly lit room, women shared stories of pain and relinquishing shame. “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding,” Solange Claws, a poet, said before launching into a poem about the strength that’s sometimes required for living while menstruating. Before the performances started, the crowd mingled, submitted their names for a raffle of goodies from sponsors like The Diva Cup and Lola, and dropped off donations of unopened boxes of pads and tampons for #HappyPeriod, a nonprofit organization that provides menstrual hygiene products for women who can’t afford or access them.

Some women spoke frankly about the upsides of their cycles, including an affinity for period sex. Other themes included the fear and paranoia that comes with the first-ever blood; the difficulties and wonders of tampons (“we’d drop them in the toilet and watch them expand,” Morgan said); the waning and waxing of the moon; cramps, headaches and cravings; and the code words and secretive gestures that women have developed to avoid revealing to the rest of the world that the “painters” and “cleaners” have come around for a monthly visit.

In recent years, the stigma around periods has diminished, thanks in large part to the work of entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists. Alternative products from brands like The Diva Cup, Lola and Thinx have reshaped the way periods are approached by businesses and consumers. Public figures like Lena Dunham, Chrissy Teigen and Angelina Jolie have become more open about the various struggles of womanhood. Artists like Rupi Kaur have challenged the disgust often associated with what is a common female experience, and campaigns like Free the Tampons have pushed employers to offer menstruation supplies without charge. Nonetheless, women still hide their tampons in their sleeves and feel shame when a few drops of blood seep through their clothing.

“There’s a definite lack of education around periods, and a lack of awareness and openness,” Radin, the event organizer, said. “That drives a lot of stigma and shame where we feel pressured to suffer behind closed doors.” She experienced the extreme downside of hiding her own troubles after she discovered last summer that the period-related pain she had felt for half a decade was caused by an ovarian fibroid that needed to be surgically removed.

“I had never heard of fibroids before and they’re incredibly common,” she said. “When I found out I had one, I just freaked out. And the doctor I was seeing was really not a great doctor, and I ended up having two really painful, emotionally painful ultrasounds.” She came out of the experience changed, she said, and eventually realized that sharing her story and encouraging others to share theirs — funny, sad, frustrating, disappointing — could be the beginning of a more positive and empathetic approach to menstruation.

Tackling a medical topic with humor, Arti Gollapudi, a performance artist, talked about incessantly bleeding after having taken birth control pills that should have stemmed her period. “I went on WebMD,” she said. “These are signs of having a miscarriage. I’m miscarrying my Immaculate Conception.” It turned out that her uterus was divided in two by a septum that needed to be removed.

Aanchal Jiwrajka, who grew up in India and Indonesia, gave examples of how period-centric shame is passed on from one generation to the next, listing out the rules her mother told her to follow after she first menstruated: “Don’t go near the temple and don’t worship at any holy temples; don’t go near the flowers and the plants in the garden because they will shrivel; don’t enter the kitchen; don’t sit on the couch or anywhere your father sits.”

Some performers expressed trepidation at talking publicly about a subject that is typically discussed privately or euphemistically in public. “It is kind of a taboo topic,” said Jennifer Picht, who was one of several women to open up about polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. “To talk about my period, I would never openly do that in a group of people I don’t really know.” But speaking during intermission after her turn, she said she found the experience liberating and necessary. “There’s never been a real visual interpretation of what a period is like,” she said. “Advertisers have always tried to disguise the fact that you have your period, like women running around the beach and jumping on men’s backs. Tonight we’re all getting a glimpse of the reality of it.”

“I’m a performer, and I’m around the city, talking about life, love, heartbreak, but I still had never spoken about my period until today,” Morgan said. “But I didn’t feel ashamed on stage. I felt very calm and cool. We need to talk about it.”