Out, Damned Spot!
I think it’s funny how we don’t seem to write or discuss much about a particularly important rite of passage for girls: The First Period. It’s a big deal, and I think how it’s handled greatly influences a woman’s ensuing history with menstruation.
How a woman feels about her own menses shapes her views on her body, her bodily functions, and her very sexuality. A woman’s reaction to her monthly cycle can even control her level of discomfort with the physical aspects of it.
I just made ten men who aren’t even reading this post literally squirm twice already. They don’t like hearing about it or thinking about it. They would rather not be confronted with the realities of the mechanics of how our bodies work.
A friend of mine, a man who’s in medical school, told me that men don’t think about our bodies the same way we do. They tend to think that ice cream comes out of every orifice, or something like that.
Well, guess what? I don’t exactly find everything about their bodies to be all rosy, either. There are realities that I would rather be ignorant of, but I know about them.
Smegma. The ugliest word in the English language. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject.
Semen. It’s not as cool as men think it is, if you can tell by porn. I don’t hate it, but I don’t want to be bathed in it. Frankly, it is a little gross. There you go, men. You always suspected that we felt that way, and now the truth is out.
Vas deferens. A little tube inside a man’s penis. I don’t have to know about it to get his rocks off, but I paid attention in health class. I wish all of them had paid as much attention to our bodies. Some of those little parts on us actually do matter.
So, for every man who’s thinking about not reading the rest of this post, I have one thing to say on the subject: nocturnal emission. Keep reading.
There’s a dearth of actual literature regarding a woman’s first period. Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume is the only example I can think of. And it seems curious to me that we aren’t more concerned with it as a culture. A friend will ask me detailed questions about my first kiss or my first sexual experience but not once will he or she ask about my first period. It never occurs to us to ask.
I had my first period when I was eleven. I was just two weeks shy of my twelfth birthday, and I had been expecting it for some time. I got my first training bra when I was nine. Afterward, I immediately put it on under a white shirt that would actually display some nine-year-old cleavage, and when David Gordon was the first boy to notice my bra (which I wanted him to notice), I pummeled the hell out of him. Well, maybe I didn’t really beat him. As I recall, it was an affront to my feminine modesty to be reminded of my new bra, which I was so proud of wearing.
When I got my first period my dad was looking for work, and we were living with my dad’s sister and her family. Her older daughter was married and had a child, but the younger child, my cousin…hmm…let’s call her Cathy, was living at home and going to school full time at a local university. She was my youngest cousin, and she was a decade older than me.
Cathy used to pick my brother and me up from school and take us out for ice cream or sodas or to the arcade to play video games, because she said we should spend more time being normal kids. She was also the “kid” in her circle of friends with the cool parents, apparently. All her friends, male and female, hung out at my aunt and uncle’s house.
So, it was in this environment that I “became a woman.” My dad was so progressive about the subject that I thought he might take out an ad in the paper and rent a hall or something. Every one of Cathy’s friends knew about it, so when I celebrated my twelfth birthday, a big gathering of college boys and some girls all came to eat chocolate chip cake with chocolate chip frosting and chocolate chip ice cream. And you would have thought that we were there to celebrate my first period and not my twelfth birthday.
There was much congratulations over the rite of passage, and I was excruciatingly embarrassed. I wished everyone would quit being so proud of me for something that wasn’t actually an accomplishment. But I think my dad really worked overtime at making sure that it wasn’t a shameful secret, and I thank him for that. And I owe the college boys some gratitude, as well, even if they did make me blush beet red.
I know that some of this is genetic, but I’m convinced that one of the big reasons that I don’t have difficulties with my period to speak of, is because no one ever referred to it as the curse or called it Aunt Flo or cast aspersions on the experience. I had been menstruating for years before I had any real pain from cramps. I’m still not bothered much by it.
My first period was almost like the training period. I didn’t bleed much, and what I did bleed was almost like rust colored powder and later some small black spots. I got so I could tell when my period was coming because I could literally smell it coming about a day in advance. I lost that talent over the years, but there are other ways to tell, like PMS. I will frequently find myself sad or angry for no rational reason. I will pick a fight with a male friend, never females for some reason.
I probably have about ten more years of periods in me, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I think I’ll be sad to see it go. I always kind of liked having my period. It was a reminder that I was a woman, that I could bear children. I always thought that was a pretty cool thing.
When I went to college, I found out that the day popularly attributed as William Shakespeare’s birthday is April 23rd, a day I have always remembered as being the anniversary of my first period. A friend of mine from college who was also an English major and knew about the anniversary, sent me a Facebook message this year on April 23rd which said, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” – a quote from MacBeth, with the note that he always thinks of me every year, on this my special day. Silly man!
When I lost my virginity many years later, it wasn’t orchestrated with precision, because I’m not that organized or calculating, but I found it funny when I realized that the day I set aside because my roommate was going to be out of town coincided with Shakespeare’s birthday. So, the quote from MacBeth is pretty appropriate.