Breaking the silence over menstruation: The anthology Gush is filled with laughter, tears and rage
It's known by many names. The visitor. The monthly. Aunt Flow. Moon Time. The Old Testament says a woman in menses is unclean. In many Indigenous societies, this is a sacred time — a time of power for women.
In a new anthology called Gush, over 100 women and nonbinary writers share their take on menstruation through poetry, comics, fiction and essay. Gush is edited by CBC Radio host Rosanna Deerchild, as well as Winnipeg poet Ariel Gordon and Waterloo, Ont. poet Tanis MacDonald. Both Gordon and MacDonald spoke to Shelagh Rogers about the book.
Starting the conversation
Ariel Gordon: "My period has gone haywire over the last couple of years as I trudge or slip and fall into menopause. I was having trouble with it. It felt like I was coming into this adolescence that I knew about intellectually, but hadn't experienced and wasn't emotionally prepared for. On the one hand, I found that a lot of people didn't want to talk about it; they thought it was vulgar and an intensely private thing that I was supposed to know not to talk about. On the other hand, when I went to Facebook to talk about it, all these women writers — the thread was hundreds of comments long — wrote about what they had been going through for years and years and never talked about publicly. So I wrote a poem about it and published it, and when I said 'Oh look, I published this poem,' the conversation was really interesting and useful to me, personally. At this point I thought, why don't we do an anthology of this?"
Coming of age
Tanis MacDonald: "Growing up, there wasn't really supposed to be any conversation about it. Those pads had to be really, really well-wrapped like, hermetically sealed, and put in the bathroom waste paper basket. I had the experience of bleed-through and humiliation that we have pieces in the anthology about. As I get older, the students that I teach and young feminists I know have made such leaps ahead and to find that this was not the leap ahead that had been taken was a surprise to me. I was surprised to find my young friends in the same position that I was in. I thought that shouldn't be true."
Ariel Gordon: "I had a pretty standard coming of age. I was the eldest of three girls and we weren't sure what to do. My mom said she'd take me out for lunch to celebrate this thing that happened to me, but it never quite happened. I had my period quite late. I was 14, so I wasn't sure what was happening, but I was intensely aware that everyone had their period except me. I remember having to call my younger sister in to say, 'Is this what I think it is?' None of us were sure. But my favourite moment growing up was when my dad, when we went to the store to get pads... there was a male cashier and we put the pads on the conveyor belt and my dad looks at the male teenage cashier and says, 'They're for her.' Clearly, they're for me."
Range of emotions
Tanis MacDonald: "We strove to have pieces that run the gamut in terms of affect, emotion and people's experience. There are sad and mournful pieces, hugely rage-filled angry pieces and a lot of humour. In some ways we wanted a place for people to laugh. Deep ambivalence happens over and over again, as well.
"With my contribution, Free Bleed Rock Anthem (With Canadian Content), I'm filling in the pop culture gap and fantasy gap in our submissions. We have a lot of realist pieces of people writing very effectively of their experience and what they felt at the time. I thought, what if we had grown up in a culture where we were allowed to refer to our periods whenever we wanted to? What if there had been rock songs dedicated to what it meant to have a period? I thought I'd pick up what are almost always, with one or two exceptions, male singers singing about blood and freedom and fit that together with the free bleed movement."
No more secrets
Tanis Gordon: "In some ways I've been surprised that this has been an anthology that has incited so much relative controversy, with some people saying, 'Ew, that's gross' or 'An entire anthology of menstrual writing — where did you find all that?' The fact is, we could've published a book that is much larger. It's a moment where women and other former menstruators are surprised that there's still a taboo of talking about this.
Ariel Gordon: "It feels like we can talk about almost anything else. But menstruation is sort of seen as one of the final frontiers. It's this wonderful/terrible thing that happens to us once a month. I don't feel like I have any secrets in the rest of my life, so why would I need to keep having my period or not having my period a secret? I don't get that."
Ariel Gordon and Tanis MacDonald's comments have been edited for length and clarity.