My goodness, reading the news is hard. All day, every day, I engage myself in the tedious and unprofitable business of news-reading, attempting to extricate some random series of coherent thoughts from it in order that I might bore you, the reader.
Sometimes, when I am reading the news, I read Jezebel, or Salon! Today, Rebecca Traister and the fine publications mentioned above have done me a service: they have provided an article about TMI(ASV) or, for the acronym-illiterate amongst us, Too Much Information (About Some Vagina).
Jezebel, the popular women’s offshoot of the Gawker empire, has been the leader of the oversharing crusade, with vibrant, aromatic and really graphic posts about everything from lodged tampons to yeast infection remedies to bloody period sex to female ejaculation… Other recent, mainstream expressions of the form have included Elle magazine’s brutal piece last summer by Miranda Purves, called “The Ring of Fire,” about how giving birth to her child tore her vagina asunder. An English translation of Charlotte Roche’s German bestseller “Wetlands” (“It is difficult to overstate the raunchiness of the novel,” read a story in the New York Times about “Wetlands,” “and hard to describe in a family newspaper”) is due in April. It opens with the sentence, “As far back as I can remember, I have had hemorrhoids.” And this month, a younger iteration of the lay-it-bare form: the publication of “My Little Red Book,” an anthology of more than 90 women’s stories of the first time they got their period.
Oh, thank God. Finally, I can stop trying to understand what happened with Tom Daschle (back taxes?) and get back to thinking about what all girls love to think about most: their periods!
Periods, as you may have heard, are scary and stinky and un-sexy and drive you clinically insane, which is why whenever you are angry with a dude you must be having one. They also, according to landmark feminist novel The Mists of Avalon, allow you to bewitch and kill a man with your dark magic. Yet chicks are writing about them now! Who would have thought?
Yep, chicks love period talk. They also love white leggings, or did in rural Indiana circa 1995, which is where I was vacationing when my two older female cousins decided to invite some boys (including one my age, for potential making-out purposes: his name was Chet, he had a trampoline) to their majestic rambling farmhouse so that we could watch Speed, and made me wear said white leggings so that I would not scare the boys away with my decidedly un-sexy pants. Oh, God, white leggings. Leggings, which were white, worn in the place of pants. Guys liked them! Or so my cousins explained. I went with it, but there was terror in my soul.
At that time, I had been having my period for a year, in Imaginationland, and also in the lies I told my cousins and any other girls who wanted to compare stats. In reality, I was thirteen, and periodless, and therefore convinced that I was a barren freak, a Benjamin-Button-style womanchild whose body would never reach the ripe flower of sexual maturity. The lies were meant to spare my family and friends the stark reality of my fate. Also, other girls kept talking about their periods, and I didn’t have one, and was jealous.
I got a stomachache while watching Speed. Whatever. Maybe I was caught up in the pulse-pounding action! Maybe I was nervous about sitting next to Chet! He had a trampoline, after all: would I ever see it? If I saw it, would we make out? How would that work? Was I, perhaps, sexually aroused by the prospect? Nobody had ever told me what getting turned on was supposed to feel like, just that you’d know it when it happened, which seemed like a cheat to me; at least boys got boners, like their penises waving “hi” and letting them know what was up, whereas I would just have to make out with people until I felt some thus-far-undefined sensation. Abdominal pain seemed as likely as anything else. Also, I’d heard there was moisture involved, and I was definitely starting to feel some of that going on in the old white leggings. Yep: I was turned on by Chet, I decided. We were going to do it. Probably on a trampoline. The prospect seemed less thrilling than one might hope.
As I pondered the inevitable and rapidly approaching loss of my virginity to Chet, I decided to get a Coke from the refrigerator. Did Chet want one, I inquired? He did. We’d been together for such a short time, and yet I had already demonstrated my essentially giving and generous nature. In our relationship, Chet would always have Coke. So I stood before him, ready to make the long walk to the refrigerator that had come to symbolize our love.
Now, Speed is a violent movie. People get blown up. Dennis Hopper is beheaded. This, at first, is what I thought Chet was reacting to, for the look of raw horror on his face was something I had never before seen in man or boy. You know that scene in The Shining, where the twins are like, “come play with us, Danny – come play with us forever,” and then they’re all bloodied, and then a tidal wave of blood gets aimed right at Danny’s face? Well, that was what my vagina had done to Chet.
“Ummm?” Chet squeaked at me, and then I looked down.
“Oh, that’s my period!” I said. My cousins’ eyes reached maximum censorious boggling width. One of them shook her head slightly, warning me off this disastrous course, as I proceeded to wow Chet by dropping some menstrual knowledge. “Well, it happens every month, you know! It’s totally natural, all girls my age have one. It just means that you can get pregnant! Well, I guess I’d better go put in a tampon now!”
Reader, I put in a tampon. And lo, I have been putting in tampons these many years since. Nor have I ever lost the sense of gratitude I had that day. I was not a freak. I did not have to sleep with Chet. Neither I nor anyone else would ever again be forced to wear those hideous white leggings. The thing that I had been fearing and coveting for two years had finally happened – and it didn’t hurt as much as I’d been told, it didn’t make me crazy, it wasn’t terrible or wonderful, it was so fundamentally unremarkable that I didn’t even know it had happened. Once upon a time, I had no period; now, I had a period. It didn’t change me. It was just there.
Which is why girls talk and write about it, often in a detailed and explicit way. It’s just there. Vaginas are not the mystical dictators of a woman’s inner experience; they just happen to be around. The shame or fear or worship of anything related to the vagina, the mystification and heaping of positive or negative values on it, is fundamentally silly, like being scared of your left ankle. TMI? Oh, spare me. There are nine million articles published daily about women’s skin and hair and teeth and noses and waistlines and upper arms and every other part of their bodies; assuming that the vag is the one unspeakable thing, or demanding that we always present it as a clean perfect man-pleasing baby-making machine, only contributes to women feeling estranged from their own experience.
There was only one regret I really had about the incident of the white leggings: I never got to see Chet’s trampoline. I rued that one for a while. Then, a year later, my family got one, and it was all OK.