I was talking about women and periods the other day.
When I normally do, I talk about it crassly because I hate how everyone skirts around it.
“Oh she’s just having her days.” “I’m just having a wee visit from Aunt Flo.” “It’s just that time of the month.”
As if she’s “just” having a “good ‘ole time.”
In contrast, I say, “Oh is the lining of your vagina peeling away slowly because you didn’t get pregnant?”
Some people may call it insensitive. I just like being honest about it because when I say it, people wince, which feels like a more appropriate response than a mild blush and a wave of the hand, as man-boss says, “Sheila, get over yourself. We’ve got orders to fill and emails to send. If you need me, I’ll be in my corner office doing nothing.”
(I have no idea where the Australian slang came in during these first few sentences. Wee? Sheila? Good ‘ole time?)
A woman’s insides are literally peeling away, and some straight men get annoyed when they can’t have sex with their partner or when their wife is “a bit moody.”
Meanwhile, as bosses and partners complain, a woman will roughly spend 6.25 years of her life menstruating, $1,229.83 on pain relievers, $1,773.33 on tampons, $2,280 on new underwear (I still have underwear from when I was in Bible school), not to mention the stress every month of whether or not to tell her employer or date (only 20% do), and if she doesn’t, what lie she’s gonna come up with if the pain becomes unbearable. And all of that doesn’t include the blood loss, hormone spikes, cramps, and another flushed egg.
Doesn’t this all just suck? No wonder there’s a daily Jewish prayer for men that says, “Thank God that I am not a woman (or Gentile or slave).”
So what the hell? Am I just putting salt to a monthly wound? (I vomited a little.)
Women, I would genuinely say, as fucked up as this is (and granted I’m a man and could be talking out of my ass), I see this shared pain, this shared experience, as a super power.
Every woman, on the entire planet, regardless of culture, language, location, socioeconomic standing, or experience — everyone woman, in spite of all their differences, intimately knows another woman’s pain. And I’m not just talking about her bleeding vagina.
She understands that she will have to work twice as hard to be viewed as “equally” smart or capable as a man.
She understands that she will have to show less affect in the business world to make sure she won’t be viewed as “too emotional.”
She understands that she will have to endure everyone telling her what she should do with her body, her baby, her hair, her breast milk, her career, her sex life, her free time, her fucking ashes after she’s dead and gone.
But the same is true for other populations.
Every Black person, regardless of what state, intimately knows the pain in their gut when lights flash in their rearview mirror.
Latinx communities, regardless of if they are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, or the U.S. before the U.S. ever existed, will know the pain of being told to “Go back where you come from.”
LGBTQ+ people, regardless of color, religion, sex, or location, all know what it’s like to be rejected by loved ones.
That pain unites us, connects us.
Back in 2009, I went to a crazy Bible school. At that school, we had to do an event where we were sleep deprived, thrown into ice water, told to roll down a hill till we vomited, march through the woods with a log over our head, all while quoting scripture and a forced smile on our faces. To this day, if I meet a complete stranger who attended this school, I have instant access to their heart because we have an unspoken shared pain; we instantly connect.
Pain is a key. It can open our hearts to others, knit us together, soften us, make us willing to receive help.
And it can also lock us away. Harden us. Shut out the light. Tie up hope and drown her in waters of despair.
It’s a key.
When I first came out, I locked the door. I was scared someone was gonna come in and hurt me again, and it would be too much. Fear made me turn the key.
But I’m learning that pain is my gift. It’s your gift. To the world. To connect us.
Now, because of my pain, I can reach into myself when I bump into a kid who has been ostracized by their church, and feel with them, be with them, truly love them. They’re no longer alone, and it’s because of my pain. We’re not connected.
Now, when a daughter has her first cramp, a mother can reach inside of herself and say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “You’re gonna be okay because you’re one bad-ass mother! And men will never understand, but you share this now with every woman who has ever been across the entire planet. Pain transcends language and culture, time and space. You’re connected to us all, now, connected to a great cloud of witnesses, and we are at your side.” (And is this not true? When was the last time a young girl was left to fend for herself when her vagina screamed and bled and she didn’t have a tampon or pain reliever? Other women always come to the rescue because they know, because they feel.)
I think this is one of the primary reasons why women are more empathetic than men — their shared pain.
Pain has potential for power. Empathetic power.
And why are we not surprised that our savior is suffering one. He’s not a savior that is high above. That’s what all the other gods were and it didn’t work. They didn’t heal. They didn’t save. They stayed in their towers and never wept for the plight of mankind.
But the saving God was a god that subjected himself to pain and cruelty, torture and death, a God that came low, who wasn’t too big for us and our pain. And then, after suffering, he says, “Pick up your cross, and follow me,” and “Be one as my Father and I are one.”
Pain, when used correctly, is a connector; it’s a key.
Will you use it to lock yourself away? Or open yourself up?
Side note: I think the world would be better if it were actually ran by women and not just sung about. Their pain could actually connect us, and we could see beyond our boundaries and borders to the humanity in us all, the pain within us all. I’m just gonna leave that there.