BEFORE AND AFTER THE BLOOD

Cartoon with sky blue background of two legs spread with pink panties extended between them. In the center of th epanties there is a clean white pad. The panties are spattered with blood on almost all areas but the pad. Above them, a pink line is drawn with "Literally everywhere but the pad" wirtten in black handwritten letters. Image found at: https://www.google.com/search?q=bloody+pad+cartoon&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS799US799&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiyr86F9aTdAhVD1lMKHckdAQAQ_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=920#imgrc=_PI5XiIAOP3eUM:

Cartoon of a white tampon with outstretched arms, large round eyes, and a smile on a light blue background; print to the right reads "Welcome to hell! Erm, I mean, womanhood!" in bold capitalized font. Image found at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/lorynbrantz/if-tampon-instructions-were-actually-helpful

 

It started when I was sixteen – at night, standing in the kitchen. I don’t remember what I was doing or who else was there – I just remember the rolling, pinching pain in my lower abdomen and a stabbing pain in my lower back. The pain would stay with me for the entire week – coming and going – before the first drops of blood was – angrily? – regretfully? – squeezed out.

Before the blood, I didn’t know what was going on. At first, I thought – due to the constant diarrhea, farting, and bloating – that I ate something bad (cafeteria food). Then I thought I had a UTI – a slight discharge and always thinking I had to go pee – but eighty-percent of the time I didn’t – just sitting there, for minutes on end, listening to the running sink water, hoping that’ll get me going.

But then the blood came: droplets at first – barely noticeable, then a gush of blood, then back to barely-seen droplets. It lasted two days. The pain lasted longer.

Before I got my period, I remember wanting it so, so badly – it was a conversation I couldn’t be a part of. My friends would go on and on about pads and tampons and shots – and although none of it sounded great, I foolishly thought that to have your period is to be a woman. And I wanted so badly to be a woman – no longer a girl, finally able to be part of the world as a young woman.

But the pain – I rolled my eyes when my friends complained; I stared when my friends took pills every six hours – I was not prepared.

No. I was not prepared.

Twelve years later and I’m still not prepared. The worse part: I’m not regular. I never know when it’s coming. Last time I had it was two months ago. Sixty days.

It came a few days ago. I no longer have droplets, then a gush, then droplets again. No. Not anymore. It’s constant. A rainfall – pitter-patter against my pad, then a splat every few minutes – a large helping of blood, if you will.

The pain is not as bad as the first time. Thankfully. It still hurts – as if someone is clawing, kicking, stamping, punching my insides and drilling – yet also sitting – on my ass. I have diarrhea beforehand. I am gassy and horny. My nipples are sensitive (and not in a good way) and my breasts ache. And there is always that one craving – that one craving that I want so badly – but once I get it – after threatening and blackmailing anyone and everyone who is in my presence – I no longer want it.

Sometimes I have pain a few days before my cycle starts. Other times, I have no pain until the day of my period. And there are times – very rare – where I have no pain at all. Sometimes I know – pain or no pain – that my cycle will start soon; and others – despite the symptoms – I am one-hundred-percent sure that it is not because of my period. The mind and body are strange.

I was twenty-two when I first decided to use a tampon. Small and slim; it felt so weird going in and hurt so much coming out. I still don’t like pulling the tampon out. It took me a while to get used to it. There’s a little dance I have to do when taking it out; since I bleed heavy, I have to have a Ziploc bag in my left hand, squat over the middle of the toilet, my right hand pulls it out, and immediately goes into the bag. Avoiding blood splatters. Thankyouverymuch.

(There’s nothing like having your younger brother call you in to the bathroom and telling you that there’s blood on the toilet – and in the tub. And before you can tell him you’ll clean it up, he takes your hand and shows you how. I was so humiliatingly touched.)

If I’m doing a lot of running around for the first few days of my cycle, then I’ll use a tampon along with wearing a pad – I am really, really, heavy in the beginning. I change the tampon and pad every five hours. If it’s the weekend, or I have nothing to do, then I’ll wear a pad and change it every three hours.

Overall, I had a good experience when it comes to my period. My family was supportive, my mom was there every step of the way and answered all my questions. She showed me how to put my pad on, the different types of pads out there, and when and why you wear certain pads. My friends talked me into wearing a tampon, (peer pressure).

 

At left, a small blue female stick figure in a wheelchair with a short ponytail. To her right there is a speech bubble reading "Mom, I would like to begin my sexual life somehow. Can we discuss this?" To the right of the bubble, there is a great tone female stick figure wearing a dark gray dress and wavy dark grey ponytail. There is a speech bubble extending down and to the left of her reading, "Eh, is this your biggest problem now? You really do not have enough issues? You are only 28, you still have plenty of time." At the top right of the image, there is "discrimination begins" written in bold blue with "in the family" below it in bright red. Below that is written "too many people find it very difficult to openly discuss sexuality with disabled people. Instead, they choose to suppress or ignore it." In the bold capitalized grey text at the bottom right, there is written "WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?" By Marius Sucan, image found at: http://marius.sucan.ro/propaganda/discrimination-begins-in-family-sexuality/

 

Being disabled and a woman – these two identities don’t always intersect; many think that the sex of a disabled person doesn’t matter – it is not as important – it does not take preference over being disabled. For many disabled women, being a woman, having the body of a woman, does not get the attention that it deserves.

A lot of disabled women – women who are disabled – are not told about their body and the changes that they will go through. Puberty. How will a disabled girl be able to keep up with all the changes? Will they be able to mentally understand what is going on?

I was in the fifth grade when the boys and girls were split up – the boys went to the gym and the girls went to the library. We watched a ten-minute cartoon video that went over our bodies (vagina, breasts, ovaries and uterus), pregnancy, didn’t mention sex, and did not go into consent. We did not have someone talk to us – it was just a group of girls on the floor of the library watching a ten-minute video of a silent cartoon woman and the voice of a man occasionally chiming in with key words. There was no discussion afterward. We all got up and went back to class. I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the video. A silent woman and every now and again, a man would say “egg,” “ovary,” “uterus.” Yelling words at me didn’t do me any good.

I learned about puberty, sex, and STD’s later. Talking with my mom, giggling and wondering with my friends, and researching everything else on my own.

I was one of the lucky ones: many who are disabled didn’t have the talk with a family member – some were told by doctors or felt that it would be useless because they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t need the information; or when it came time to sex education at school, the teacher made the decision to exclude them – thought it would be better for them to go to lunch early, go study, hang out for a few minutes. Many disabled adolescences are turned away if they ask questions on puberty or sexuality. This is not unusual. To society, the thought of people who are disabled and their sexual organs – working sexual organs – doesn’t seem to go together.

 

Photo has a black background. At top center, "people with disabilities have the right to" is written in bright pink. Below this, there are three horizontal rows of white bubbles, with three bubbles in each row.  Starting from the top left, moving right the bubbles are:   First row: two black stick figures with bright pink hearts for heads, one on top the other, with "sexual activity" written underneath; two faces, one black, one bright pink, facing each other, surround by black and pink hashmarks, with "pleasure" written underneath; a bright pink bra with what appears to be a black silhouette of a penis between the breasts, with "sexual and reproductive) self-determination" underneath"  Second row: six individual hands, two with hairy wrists, two with three pink bracelets and no hair, and one with hairy wrist and bright pink nails, with "choose sexual partners" underneath; two stick figures kneeling and facing each other holding hands with bright pink hearts for heads, one heart filled in and one a pink outline, with "consent to sex" underneath; female sexuality symbol, with transgender sexuality symbol interlocking it to the right, male sexuality symbol interlocking to the right of the transgender sexuality symbol, all with pink centers, with "explore and express sexuality" written underneath  Third row: A thin profile outline of a head facing right with a cloud like brain outline in pink, inside are the sexuality symbols for female, transgender, and male, with "self-definition" written underneath; A thin profile outline of a head facing left with a cloud like brain colored in pink, inside is a white heart, with "self-expression" written underneath; two pieces of paper, one top of the other, outlined in black with pink wobbly lines representing writing, with "information and support written underneath   Image found at: http://blog.sexualityanddisability.org/2016/06/how-can-we-recognise-people-with-disabilities-as-sexual-citizens-2/

 

The result: ignorance leads to unpreparedness which leads to negative consequences. If someone doesn’t know basic human reproduction – what is a sexual organ, what is the use of it, how to keep it clean, where does a baby come from, how is a baby made – then – at best – the young woman is pregnant or has an STD, or – at worse – the young woman is raped.

Many times, the family decides or takes advice from the doctor instead of asking the young woman for her thoughts; menstruation suppression, hormone therapy, birth control, or sterilization. Before the young woman even knows what is going on, her choice is taken away. She is not even given a chance to prove herself or to get used to her body.

The United States has always had a problem when it comes to sexual education – in school or at home. Comprehensive sex education or abstinence only. Knowledge or ignorance. Acknowledged or avoidance. Good or bad. Healthy or unhealthy. Who deserves it, who doesn’t. The right way and the wrong way to have and think about sex. Immoral and moral. When, where, and how to have sex.

The way we talk about, teach, and present sexual education isn’t working. But also: the audience we choose is wrong too. Students are missing in that classroom. Those who are there aren’t getting the full effect because it is not accessible. Those who try to learn more are turned away because someone has made the decision that the young adult doesn’t need to know.

We need to change the conversation, yes. But we need to change the audience too.

Puberty hits everyone – not all at the same time and not the same way – but it comes. We all deserve to meet it with knowledge and understanding. We have that right.

What Christians Have Taught Me About My Disability

A thick gold chain with a large gold pendant of praying hands fully encrusted with diamonds.

“You’re amazing. I’ve been watching you for the past ten minutes; I don’t know how you do it. God has truly blessed you.”

My lips barely curving into a smile, I thank her. Still facing forward, I gesture for my Seeing Eye dog to start walking. She takes a few steps, then stops.

“Sadie, forward.” I command. She doesn’t move.

“We were wondering if we could pray for you.” A man to my left.

“To heal you.” The woman from before explains from behind me.

“It won’t take long.” Another woman in front of me.

“Almighty and merciful Father,” a man to my right begins. The woman from before comes closer to me. She lays her hand on my shoulder, lightly pushing me deeper into the circle. “Please fill her with your healing power. Precious God, cast out all that should not be inside of her. We ask you to mend all that is broken—“

“I’m sorry,” I interrupt. “I’m not looking to be healed. Thank you for the thought though.” I gesture for Sadie to go forward. She doesn’t move.

“You don’t want to be healed – for your eyes to be fixed? Your life would be so much better.” The woman in front of me.

“I’m actually happy with my life right now – being blind and all. I really have to go, so if you’ll excuse me. Sadie, forward.” Sadie guides me to the left onto the grass, we walk a few steps then she guides me back on to the sidewalk. Out of the circle now, I whisper to Sadie to “hup-up,” she picks up her pace; we are rounding the corner when the woman who first spoke to me catches up to us.

She apologizes for offending me. She said that they just wanted to help. They wanted to ask their Lord to heal me so that my body could function the way it was created to be. “Don’t you want to be able to see? To be whole and complete?”

“No. I don’t. I’m fine with the way I am.”

Taking my right hand in both of hers, she went on to say, “You have a point: God made you this way for a reason; he has a plan for you. God bless you.” Before I could say no, you misunderstood me, that wasn’t my point, she patted me on the shoulder, turned and ran back to her friends.

 

 

 

For as long as I can remember, Christians have told me about my disability. That having a disability was a sickness and needed to be healed. Or that my disability was a blessing, meant to touch the lives of those around me.

I was seven when my brother’s best friend’s mother cornered me in the kitchen. Her fingers shackling my wrists, her voice loud and insistent, speaking in tongues. She told me, that by the power of God, I would be healed, no more suffering. I was seven – suffering was a word I hadn’t experienced yet. Later on, I found out she was talking about my eyes.

I was twelve when I lost the vision of my right eye and the vision in my left eye quickly deteriorating. Angry with my parents, my eye doctors – the world, I tried my hardest to fight being labeled blind. That year, the assistant to my PE coach told me that there was a reason I was going through this. God had plans for me; by taking my sight, I would be a test for Christians: will they be respectful and charitable to the unfortunate? I can’t remember what activity we had that day for PE, but I know I was upset that I couldn’t participate. I needed to hear, “I’ll talk with the coach to make sure all activities are accessible,” or “This won’t happen again, I promise you.” I did not need to hear that I was being used as a test for Christians to prove something.

I was fifteen the first time a pastor tried to heal me. Instead of shaking my hand and briefly commenting on the sermon, he took my sunglasses off, placed his hands on either side of my head and started to speak in tongues. My cane was taken from me. Those who were watching came closer, pushing me and the pastor in the middle of the circle. Later on, I would learn that the people who surrounded me, and held me there did it to protect me. Sometimes, during a situation like this, the person who is getting healed would go into spasms, shaking and trembling with the Spirit. It happened twice more at different churches. My permission was never asked for.

The first time a group of Christians surrounded me and started to pray was when I was twenty. It has happened ten times since then. I get requests when I am walking to the library, walking to my apartment, getting juice from Publix. I had to get forceful with my rejection for a healing prayer twice; in both instances, they refused to accept my decision, one didn’t let me out of the circle until I took my cane to their ankles (by that point, they angrily told me that I deserved to be blind, and that I was being punished by God for my mother’s sin), and the other didn’t let me out until my driver from paratransit came to pick me up.

When I am out with family or friends, I have had strangers tell them how wonderful they are, they are doing good work, ending with a heartfelt God bless them. When this situation comes up, I remember the last line in Luke 14:12-14:

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

 

Which I take to mean, there is no social or financial gain in spending time with the disabled (we have nothing and are incapable of offering you anything in return) – the only thing you get out of it is a feel-good moment, charity work, humbling yourself for God’s reward. My family is used to these incidences, they will smile or nod and continue on with their business; my friends usually smile back with, “She’s actually doing me a favor.”

This is not to say that all Christians are ablest – people with disabilities are to be pitied, healed (fixed/made normal/made complete). Nor am I saying that they all believe disabilities are an act by God – punishment, warning or test. Nor am I saying that Christianity promotes any of the above. However, I am saying that the culture of the Church does neglect the disabled (not hiring interpreters for the Deaf, websites not accessible for the blind, building not accessible for people in wheelchairs, programs, clubs and events for the Church not inclusive); and by doing that, they give a clear message of insensitivity and indifference. It also doesn’t help that sermons are full of examples where disability is viewed as a punishment (for sinning or lack of faith), something to be endured in order to purify the righteous, and an act of charity. The continuous metaphoric use of disability and disobedience to God doesn’t help either.

We are not to be pitied, we are not the teachable moment, we are not sick or incomplete, we are not a miracle, we are not a punishment, and we are not an act of charity.

So Christians, when you see someone with a disability, if your first reaction is to pity them, to hope that one day they will be healed, to think highly of the person they are with – re-examine your attitudes towards people with disabilities. Where do you think these thoughts are coming from and why do you still hold to them, do you really think the only way for a person to feel complete and happy with themselves and their life is to be able-bodied (if you are able-bodied, do you feel complete and happy with yourself and your life?), should people really be praised for being with/a friend to a person with a disability?