Because of the invitation of a kindred friend, I spent this past weekend with over a hundred women. They let me join their community and be a part of their stories, and they trusted me to stand in front of them and share pieces of my own.
The night before my flight to Michigan, one of the markers of my womanhood descended on me, like clockwork with a chime on the 28th day. I’ve never complained about being a woman, about my cycle. I felt (and still feel) that being a woman is a gift, in spite of the various vulnerabilities I have come to know over the years. However, traveling in the first few days of my period poses a few inconveniences.
As I sat in the window seat (always my preference), I questioned about midway through the 2.5 hour flight whether or not my Diva Cup was doing its job. Since I discovered this alternative to tampons and pads, I’ve said, “If it is leaking, I’m not really a diva.” Next to me in the middle and aisle seats, a mom and her grown son played a card game on their tray tables. I didn’t wish to disrupt their game, nor did I wish to risk standing up and passing them in such close proximity with my possible snafu. Turned out, as I discovered after de-boarding with my jean jacket tied around my waist just in case, all was well. I visited the nearest bathroom and situated everything for the two-hour car drive to my final destination.
About 45 minutes from my friend’s house, at almost 2 a.m., I knew, without a doubt, that my diva status had been revoked. I pulled into the driveway, got out of the rental car, and put my jean jacket around my waist like a fashion statement that all women make in the wee hours of the dark. Spot cleaning the seat had to wait until the sun came up.
While I rested trying to find some sleep, I thought of walking behind young girls and women whose monthly flow had seeped through their clothing, thought of a time when it had happened to me as a teenager. I thought of the implications for girls and women in developed countries, of the embarrassment and shame those occurrences provoke for a female. I thought of the ways it affects young girls in developing countries, where the lack of education or the presence of taboos creates a stigma that marks females; the onset of menstruation is an indicator–no matter how young–that a female is of marrying or childbearing age, that she is at sexual maturity (after the unclean bleeding has stopped, of course).
Washing out my jeans and sorting through my own small embarrassment, I decided to declare the thing out loud to the women I would meet face to face soon. I wanted to dispel the shame we’ve been taught to carry, the unspoken (in spite of all of the commercials and otherwise openness) ways it still haunts us. I wanted to give dignity to womanhood. I wanted to say things plain, like they are, and stand in our common humanity.
We all bear some manner of “unclean,” segments in the chapters that make up our lives that make us feel visibly stained, that cause us to cover and hide. We are all invited to keep putting one foot in front of the other toward whole and free and “already made clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15) Are not our stories and lives worth far more than a leak through our garments?
Standing in front of those women–all of us with hurts, joys, various blotches showing our clear and undeniable human flesh and blood–I breathed in our shared oxygen, our shared carbon dioxide. What a humbling gift to recognize our symbiotic relationship to and need for one another, uncleanness and all.