11/18/08

Menstruation

It somehow seems weirdly appropriate that I mark my ‘spectacular’ reemergence with a clich├ęd soliloquy about the diaphanous qualities of rebirth as a metaphor for my entire existence, but fuck that shit. If I had to recapitulate my activities of these past eight months (eight freaking months! Has it really been THAT long?) in 25 words or less, I would say: My spirit was broken in more ways than one, and I took my time in putting it back together again. And that’s the end of that.

I’m afraid that I will have to resort to some kind of formulaic scaffold of sorts, because I want to start from the beginning. I mean literally the freaking beginning. This doesn’t mean that I will wax eloquent about the intrinsic worth of having a clean slate, I don’t believe in them. The past has a place and a purpose. But I digress.

So, the damn beginning. That’s what I want to talk about. Biology. The reproductive system. Hormones. Ovulation. Menstruation.

I cannot shake off the sensation that I’m flogging a dead horse repetitively. That I have spoken enough about the redundant pointlessness of menstrual seclusion, about the natural inevitability of such a process, about the inexorableness of a fluid secreting orifice, and don’t all human orifices secrete some sort of fluid or fluid-like substance, be it blood, sweat, mucous, piss or shit? What makes the menstrual secretion that much more frightening, than say, a greenish viscous liquid dripping down a person’s face? Is it the blood? Is it the vagina, that most iniquitous orifice, weighed down overwhelmingly with several thousand years worth of cultural baggage? Or is it the combination of the blood and the vagina, a disagreeable substance associated with pain and suffering in conjunction with, to all cross purposes, a disagreeable part of the female anatomy?* Except when used for baby making, in that particular instance, all notions of disagreeableness vanish and get replaced by a veneration that forces the hapless vagina wielder onto a pedestal. And we all know how much I detest pedestals. But this is not about menstrual seclusion. This is not about pedestals. This is simply about my reproductive system, and the collective reproductive systems of the female of the species.

In less grandiose terms, I am not my reproductive system. It does not define me, or my life or my whims. I am not at its mercy, I do not function at its beck and call, and I have not succumbed to pubertal vulnerability. It does not delineate me; it is simply a part of me, as innocuous as a sweat gland on my arm, or a taste bud on my tongue. But it becomes necessary for me to state that which is excruciatingly obvious, over and over and over again. It becomes necessary for me to reinstate the fact that I am not an ill fated victim doomed to be caught in the throes of my perfidious monthly ovulatory cycle which deigns to ensnare me in its web of Unhinged Emotional Batshittery™ using a myriad array of lethal weaponry, including the dread PMS and the like.

Now let me state on the outset that I am not painting the discomfort felt by me and/or other women during their menstruation cycles as non-existent or a peachy keen experience. But what I am questioning is the pervasive rhetoric of ‘illness’ or ‘disease’ that hangs around menstruation and the female reproductive system like an oppressive miasmic fog. Take PMS for instance. Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. Pre-Menstrual Syndrome? Am I the only one who finds this terminology problematic? Again, I will backtrack a little bit and state pervasively that I’m not denying anyone’s difficult experiences on, during, or before their period, much as I hate to make fucking caveats. But to mark it with the ‘syndrome’ tag strikes me as a little odd. Assuming the popular rhetoric surrounding PMS for a second, what are its markers? What constitutes the syndrome itself? A quick Google search gives me an imposing list of over 160 odd symptoms, anything from life threatening epileptic fits to conjunctivitis to low blood sugar to asthma to heart palpitations to glaucoma to increased appetite to constipation and on and on and on, the exhaustive list continues. If this is indeed the case, then we have nothing short of a global health crisis on our hands, a pandemic to end all pandemics, so AIDS please move over. A pretty convenient bind, I’d like to think.

As women, we’ve had to walk over hell and high water to have people (read: male doctors and physicians, I’m not going to pussyfoot around this) take us seriously, to have them acknowledge the fact that our bodies undergo changes every month. Unfortunately, as these things are wont to happen, the powers that be responded as they’ve always done when presented with something different (however big or slight the difference may be); they immediately decided to confront it as an aberration, putting forth cures and such for this malady plaguing the wimminfolk.

The setback with such an approach is not in the existence of the difference in question, and there are always going to be women out there who require medical attention for debilitating physical changes in relation to their menstrual cycles (full disclosure: on occasion, I’ve had to go to the hospital myself, because the nausea and pain was nothing short of agonizing), the problem arises however in the framing of the issue itself, as an abnormality, and by extension, a malady in need of a ‘cure’.

If bodily changes related to one’s menstrual cycle are indeed deemed as an anomaly of sorts, then what constitutes the state of being normal? What sets the norm? The male reproductive system? And there lies the freaking bind. Caught between the pervasive discourse on menstruation that places the male body and the male reproductive system as normal, and the repercussions arising from such a framework that puts all of a woman’s worth in her reproductive capabilities, there can be no leeway for a woman to attain normalcy without rejecting her biological markup and believing in the popular discourse that she is naturally unclean, monstrous, abnormal.

How then, can research worth any salt be performed on women’s menstrual health (and by extension, women’s health in general) when the basis itself is problematic, leading researchers to ask all the erroneous questions and formulating their own conclusions based off the results? I don’t know if I have the answers. But I do know that something’s gotta give. And I sure as hell do know that my body is fucking normal, menstrual blood, pain, nausea and all.

* Obviously I'm not literally referring to blood or the vagina as disagreeable.