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.

Rape Culture and Womanhood – Not a Trick or Treat

white expressionless drama mask, black background

Today I waited for my best friend’s husband to pick me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I stood on a curb while strangers passed me by on the way to the bus, informing their friends, someone on the phone, or merely speaking out loud to no one particular on my beauty, praising me for being such an inspiration and how special I was. Today I observed a woman around my age ignored by the strangers lining up for the bus.

Today my best friends husband was thirty minutes late picking me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I felt alone. Today I realized that the pepper spray case holder tied to the frayed string of my cane was empty; I did not replace my pepper spray. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman asked me when my ride was coming. Today I was alone. Today a woman told me that this wasn’t a safe place to be alone. Today I remembered that disabled people are twice more likely to be sexually assaulted than those without disabilities. Today a woman offered to pay for an Uber ride because she didn’t feel comfortable with leaving me here alone. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today two women told me that I should not be alone, so they would wait with me. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today I told myself that it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today over ten women told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I wondered if there was a place safe enough to be alone.

Seven hours later, in my best friend’s bathroom, I would realize that I was quick to put the blame on myself rather than on the supposed attacker; merely because I didn’t have pepper spray. I would quickly assure any sexual assault victim of their innocence and never allow anyone to blame the victim for being attacked – but that is the danger of rape culture: there is more support for the perpetrator than for the victim and that we are responsible for preventing our own rapes. How easy it was for me to realize my lack of protection and blame myself for an attack that could have happened.

An hour later, my best friend and I sit at the kitchen table, talking to one another as if we hadn’t spoken in years rather than hours. Her voice is steady with a lilt of laughter and despite being fluent in English, her accent proudly reminds everyone that she is not from here. She never grabs me; her touch is always confident and quick. She has the soul and spirit of my mother; she is compassionate, an advocate, activist, brave and does not realize her worth.

While eating pita bread topped with a mixture of jibneh and peppers, we talk about sex and what a healthy sex life means. We talk of asexuality, masturbation, dildos, my preferred choice of clit stimulator’s and her love of hugs.

While gathering the ingredience and kitchen utensils, we talked of marriage and the reasons people marry. While cutting the chicken, chopping vegetables, choosing spices and making the sauce, we talked about mothers; the similar way our mothers were raised – despite one being from Switzerland and barely Christian and the other from Egypt and a devout Muslim – and the ways our mothers tried to instill certain ideals of womanhood to their unwilling daughters.

While setting the table, we talked of cultural differences and how in the end, regardless of country, women are still brought up to believe that they are lesser, not as worthy or smart. We talked about brothers and fathers; the innocent and oblivious ways they enforce and promote patriarchy and her determination to teach her son differently.

My friend and I refusing to submit to societies strict rules on a woman’s purpose in life (to serve, support and obey) has made us appreciate our own space and privacy even more. I think too, having brothers and noticing the difference in the ways our mothers treat them compared to us has made a huge impact on our lives: I do not praise my brothers for doing something outside of their gender roles, nor do I expect anything less; she teaches her son the importance of being responsible and reliable for yourself and your mess and how to take care of both.

Despite my rejection, I still find myself playing the part. I do not want children, yet at times I feel as if I will not be considered successful until I have a family. This is foolish, I know – having kids can be fulfilling to many, but it does not make you successful if you have one nor does it make you unsuccessful if you do not have one. I find myself feeling guilty for not cooking anything. This too is foolish – my brothers are perfectly capable of making themselves something to eat; I do not need to cook for grown men.

This society excuses sexual violence and blames the victim. It is a constant fight against language, music, art, movies and literature that perpetuates rape culture. It is also, as I learned today, a constant fight with yourself.

It is also a constant fight against societies image of a perfect woman: sexual and pure, innocent and experienced, smart but not too smart, thin but voluptuous, a mother but always ready for fun, having a career and keeping up with the house and children. In the end, we will burnout; it is impossible to be everything and nothing, to always be the woman behind the man – never taking the lead role, just the supportive one.

Rape culture is just as dangerous and manipulative as womanhood – in the end you will be harmed, and you will have convinced yourself that it was your fault.

Every day I examine my thoughts of being unworthy and feelings of guilt and trace them back to patriarchal ideology and then ignore them. It takes time and true reflection. I shouldn’t blame myself instead of an attacker; I shouldn’t feel less worthy for not having children and guilty for not taking care of grown men.