Tag Archives: blood

Blood, hormones and identity

Up until a few years ago, I had a very regular monthly cycle. I’d get a couple of days of melancholy, six days of bleeding and acutely aware of anything that wasn’t ok in my life. Then a few days off, and the upswing into ovulation and then a quiet patch and then round again. It was part of me. What I didn’t know was how much that sense of self would change around the menopause.

So here we are, some years into cycle uncertainty and hormone tsunamis. My experience of my own body has changed dramatically. It’s a lot more unpredictable. I’ve no relationship with these hormone bursts so don’t experience them as part of my own identity. They just happen to me. While I get the experiences of bleeding, ovulating and whatnot, the unpredictable timing has changed how I feel about it. What used to feel intrinsically ‘me’ is now simply stuff that happens.

I was worried I would experience this as a loss, but that’s not happened. If anything, it’s opened up space for a more complex experience of myself and my emotions. I am interested to see who and how I am on the far side of this. I will not be less than I was, just different. I may be more ‘me,’ even.

Bleeding politics

I find it difficult to write or talk much about my ‘moon cycles’. I don’t have a good and positive relationship with them because they are always long periods of pain and considerable bleeding. I suffer significant PMT mood swings, I swell up and it plays havoc with my digestive system. Often I really want to retreat into bed for a few days, and it feels like letting the side down.

Historically, the bleeding and its attendant influences have been used to devalue women. Blood is understood as unclean in numerous cultures. It’s a big part of why we get designated as the weaker sex. It has tended to be understood as just as nasty, embarrassing thing that had to be hidden away – and I knew as a teenager that it would be the worst thing imaginable, socially, if people knew when I was bleeding.

Of course for many women it’s no big deal – two or three days of very light blood that in no way slows them down or troubles them. For many Pagan women, reclaiming blood as sacred, natural, and something to celebrate has become a very important process. I have every respect for this work, but it’s not something I can participate in. I can get six or seven days of being seriously beaten up. Even time spent on the pill didn’t render it tidy and easy. This does not leave me with a lot of options, and I choose to endure my body as it is rather than have my reproductive organs removed – I’ve tried countless suggestions over the years and nothing has ever helped much. It’s womb out, or deal with it. So I deal with it, trying my best to honour nature as I experience it – bloody and painful.

However, talking about it is tough, because my fragility around bleeding is exactly the kind of thing people with a sexist agenda have used to belittle women. For two or more days in a month I am much less tolerant of anything annoying, and for two or three days I get enough pain to mess with my concentration. Mind you, there are plenty of people who achieve much the same effects through the medium of hangovers, so it seems odd to me to pick on this one form of fragility when ailments and the consequences of over indulgence can knock anyone around, and frequently do. Even so, to talk about bleeding as troubling, painful and unhappy feels like letting the side down as a feminist and as a Pagan woman.

This has led me, as I dealt with the pain this week, to really think about what equality means. If equality is treating everyone the same, what it creates is a system that penalises everyone who isn’t able to conform to assumed standards of normality. ‘Equality’ means we have to all default to the same working patterns. It means giving women time off around monthly bleeds would be seen by some as ‘special treatment’ or an unfair advantage, or proof that a woman who bleeds heavily is not as reliable, useful and valuable as part of your workforce. Never mind what happens the rest of the time. Actual equality would treat us as we are, in all the grand diversity human bodies and minds are capable of.

I notice that all too often, when something is done to level the playing field for someone with a disadvantage, those who don’t get the same ‘perks’ will cry foul play. It’s because we collectively think of ‘equality’ as all starting from the same place. We’re competing, we want to come to the same start line and use all the advantages we have to get ahead when the starter’s gun goes off. If someone is reduced to a nervous wreck by the sound of gunfire, or can’t run, there are too many people who consider it ok to leave them where they are. They had an ‘equal’ start, after all.

My reality is that I bleed copiously, and so painfully each month that it impacts on what I can do. For a few days, the level playing fields become steep slopes. And I’m lucky, because it’s just a few days.

You can’t really have equality in a culture underpinned by competition. If everyone is playing to win, those with most advantages will use them to get further ahead. Only in a culture underpinned by a co-operative ethos would meaningful equality be possible.

Blood and Moon

I hear other Pagan women talking about their Moontides. It sounds sort of romantic and appealing. I guess if you spend a few days with a minimal flow, then the bloody part of the month is no big deal, and may be a time for reflection, magic and a sense of wonder at your connection to the cycles of the moon and the realities of nature. If you have that and can reclaim it, and love it then go you. I may be a tad envious, but I will champion your right to a happy, peaceful, meaningful moontide on your own terms.

Mine are not like that. Or, if we’re talking ‘tide’ we’re talking the sort that sweeps over beaches and drowns people every now and then. There is no attaching a gentle, romantic language to what happens to my body every month. My description of preference is; I bleed like a stuck pig. I bleed a lot, it falls out of my body in quantities that are hard to manage. It depletes and exhausts me and usually it hurts a great deal. It messes with my emotions, and it can last anything up to a week. That’s a quarter of my time, can I just mention. A quarter of my life lived in significant discomfort, courting anaemia and not daring to wear anything pale.

The impact of bleeding has been used as a justification for not letting women do stuff. It underpins a lot of unfair and sexist thinking. The alleged emotional instability of women, the needing time off for it and so forth. There are a lot of women for whom that just isn’t true. Then there are the women like me, who are rendered dysfunctional. I can’t tell you whether we’re a tiny minority, about as numerous as the light bleeders or the majority even. I do not know because it’s not ok to talk about this. It is a big taboo.

In saying that when I bleed I hurt too much to be reliably useful, I feel like I’m letting the side down. My sisters who can get on with things and do not need to stop, do not want to be compromised by the return of the bad old ideas about how bleeding makes women useless. We’ve all seen the adverts with the white trousers and the roller skates, we all know it’s supposed to be like that. Crying in a duvet does not fit the modern picture of your sanitised blue rinse bleed.

For me, feminism is not about having one story about what it means to be female. To shoehorn us all into the same shape as the glorious maiden huntresses who can indeed wear the white trousers and run with dogs, is not fair. We don’t all belong in that archetype. To disempower all because some of us need to crawl into a dark cave and scream, isn’t fair either.

We’ll know that we’ve got all this gender stuff figured out, when it is ok to be honest about what happens to your body when you bleed, and ok to ask for what you need. We’ll have it sorted when no one assumes anything, and individuals are free to deal with what they’ve got. We’re all different.

In the meantime, those of us who suffer chronically every month are mostly hiding it, taking the pain killers, hoping for no awkward leaks, and putting on the best poker face we can find. Sometimes the pain is bad enough that the tears become an involuntary reaction and I cannot control it. I have been like this for more than twenty years now. Even the contraceptive pill did not render my bleeding tame and easily managed. This is the body I have. I’d like to be able to own it, however gross and inconvenient it strikes other people as being. I’d like the right to bleed the way I bleed without being called lazy or being told I’m just feeling sorry for myself and that it’s not a proper illness. I’d like not to be told that I’m making a fuss. I’m wondering if I should take photographs of what comes out of my body and show them to anyone who suggests I’m using it to freeload.

At least at home I get compassion and support, but out there in the wider world, I have learned to be silent, and to hide the blood stains.

Bleeding Nuisance

Of course I’m breaking a bit of a taboo by even mentioning this, but yes. I’m bleeding. Last time I put up a blog post someone who claimed to be Pagan piled in to say that bleeding is private and to suggest I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’ve been told off for being honest with my son from an early age about menstruation. (The net result is a well adjusted young man with a non-squeamish and compassionate attitude to the process, so sue me!) I’ve seen graffiti scrawled onto Mooncup adverts about how gross a moon cup must be. There, on our screens ‘sanitary products’ demonstrate their ability to soak up a blue chemical. No, we must not talk about blood. Unless it’s spurting in some violent arc in a movie scene.

I shall persist in being a bleeding nuisance on this topic, and I have no qualms about offending people. Not only is bleeding natural for a lot of us, it’s essential to the on-going existence of humanity. No blood, no babies. Rejecting the blood is one of the many ways in which our culture tries to deny what is animal about us. The human animal bleeds, shits, farts and pisses. Every time we try to pretend that isn’t so, we deny that we are a part of nature. We are messy, visceral beings. Our natural bodies produce smells which we teach each other to hide with chemicals. As though smelling of fakeness, of laboratory product is more attractive than smelling of skin and sweat.

Menstruation effects women in all kinds of ways, but we are wary of talking about it. PMT, the sometimes (but not always) debilitating effects of cramps have been used against us for far too long. We are told these things make us unstable, unreliable, unsuitable for that working world of men and power and importance. We lie. We hide it. We deny one of the most basic aspects of our femininity in our (theoretically) breeding years so that no one will treat us as inferior. Frankly, that sucks. I bleed. Frequently I hurt, often it makes me cry. It does another thing, too. It makes me honest. Most of the month I might be able to tolerate the bullshit, the stupid, the useless and put a brave face on. Bleeding makes me intolerant of all that stuff. It’s not a crazy time, and in my past it was often the one fleeting bit of sanity when I could be honest with myself about what was wrong. Somehow, the hormones give me permission to cry and generally I find that hard.

How much easier would life be if the blood wasn’t embarrassing or shameful? How much difference would it make if acknowledging the cycle did not run the risk of inviting neo-Victorian attitudes? What would it be like to live in a culture where being female was not something you had to hide and apologise for on a monthly basis? But no, we have to put on a brave face and keep going as normal. I honestly think that if men had something comparable going on as well, the collective attitude would be totally different. Instead, bleeding is ‘unclean’, it needs sanitising with sanitary products. We aren’t supposed to talk about it, because it’s ‘gross’ we’re just supposed to pretend it isn’t happening and carry on as normal.

I’ve encountered men, (plural) for whom vaginal sex during menstruation is distasteful, and others who find partners aren’t interested when bleeding, but who expect to get laid anyway, and think rear entry should be on offer to tide them over. That this whole attitude casts the female body as so much orifice for gratification, doesn’t seem to matter to them. And here’s a thing, think about it. Blood is distasteful, but bottoms…. Hmm. What interesting double standards we have as a species! I’m very glad to say I don’t have that kind of stupid in my life any more, beyond the occasional, infuriating anecdote.

Bleeding. Proud to bleed. Grateful to be able to bleed, to be fertile, and female and alive. Unashamedly a bleeding nuisance.