Bloody Book Club: Red Moon Gang
Updated: May 27, 2021
Over the past few weeks, BGP’s Bloody Book Club volunteers have been reading and reviewing a new book for those who menstruate - Red Moon Gang: An Inclusive Guide to Periods by Tara Costello. On the blog today, we're pleased to share some of their reviews! Enjoy… and join us for an Instagram Live with Tara on Thursday 27th May: deets here.
Rammiza: "From taboo to ta-woo!"
This book is your one stop shop for all things period! A refreshing take on everything menstruation. Full of anecdotes that will make you laugh out loud, it is a journey from what a period is (something the English education system woefully under prepares us for) to period traditions in different cultures.
From taboo to ta-woo! Red Moon Gang is not just a clinical examination of what menstruation is, it is a thoughtfully written and illustrated illuminating look at periods in all their glory. The good and the bad! As a society we are so often told to focus on the negative aspects of periods we forget to recognise the positive elements of menstruating. For example, period sex. My favourite section of the book by far was this chapter. People who menstrutate so rarely get to experience the joys that period sex can behold (for those not too squimish of course). Reading this particular chapter was validating and a good place to direct friends who have hang ups about it.
Informative yet light hearted, I devoured this book in one sitting. It allowed me to be introspective about my own body and how I experience my period (I’m a cis, hetero, half-pakistani half-fijian woman) and generally have a pretty ‘normative’ experience of what we are told a period ought to be like. Yet, I still found myself discovering bits of information that were new to me. The fact that premenstrual symptoms may get worse during the winter months - mind blowing! This is something I have clearly experienced for years, but never knew was a ‘thing’.
Normalising the plethora of period related health conditions that one can have was of particular use to me. (I experience severe period pain which means I usually have to take a couple of days off work). The normalisation of this is extremely important to me. Even now whenever a male colleague asks why I was off work I hesitate to immediately answer “oh because I was on my period and my uterus felt like it was on fire!” But upon reading, recognising and picking up on some of the medical terminology I feel like these conversations will be easier to have.
Reading about the unique traditions around menstruation was enlightening and helped me think about things we do within my community that are unique to us. I spent some time unpacking these issues with the people who raised me and discussed how we can go about dispelling the negative associations individuals may have surrounding menstruation.
I was amazed at the ease with which Costello wrote and how readily I was consumed with the parts I hadn’t thought about as someone who menstruates. A beautifully considered chapter on period experiences around the globe rounds off the book. Before you can go away and do hours of research on organisations around the world who are working to remove the stigma around periods. This book is a delightful must read for people everywhere and should be made a staple of every PSHCE class in the country!
Rebecca Sinnott: "the book I wish I had been given"
Red Moon Gang is the book I wish I had been given when, aged 11, I nervously texted my best friend on my brand-new mobile phone, desperately asking her advice on how to tell my parents that I had just started my period. Visually striking, it combines beautiful illustrations by Mary Purdie with language that is inclusive and, crucially, accessible. Tara Costello does not compromise on accuracy when discussing complex biology, but presents the information in such a way that, with careful reading, anyone could understand the science behind periods. This is particularly important when considering the fact that public education seems to fail young people across the globe, leaving them underprepared and unaware of what is happening to their bodies – a topic that Red Moon Gang also covers comprehensively. The clear and accurate scientific discussions offered by Tara Costello are also vitally important, because simply talking about periods is not enough if we continue to talk about them with language that patronises, hyper-feminises, and demeans those who menstruate. Surely, we want to feel equipped with knowledge, rather than bombarded with stupid metaphors designed to cover our discussions with shame? No wonder so many young people are terrified of menstruation – I would be too, if I’d ever heard it referred to as ‘shark week’!
The real strength of Red Moon Gang lies in its breadth of information, and the fact that it doesn’t claim to have all the answers to suit everyone who might have picked up a copy. Rather, it offers a plethora of essential advice and tips for helping people to get to know their own bodies, reaffirming the mantra that nobody knows your body better than you yourself. This makes for very enjoyable reading, but also conveys an important message – that bodily autonomy is not something to be compromised, and that if you suspect something is not right with your body, trust your instincts. Red Moon Gang encompasses a wide range of voices, and some of the most effective anecdotes come from people who have been systematically disempowered and ignored by medical professionals. While this is obviously not intended to shame the medical profession as a whole, it’s extremely powerful to hear about the ways in which people have overcome the stigma, shame, and even gaslighting they experienced at the hands of people who were meant to take care of them. Hearing their stories is undoubtedly going to inspire readers to persist in demanding the equitable healthcare they rightfully deserve.
It’s difficult to find the balance between platforming periods in order to destigmatise, and falling back on the use of cliches in order to make sure everyone reading knows what is being discussed, and sometimes Red Moon Gang veers towards the latter. But the information is invaluable, and the discussion is both reassuring and inquisitive at the same time. Plus, period positivity is not about having the perfect conversation, because how could that exist? It’s about asking questions, sharing answers with as many people as possible, and fundamentally, just getting everyone talking about something that we have for so long been told that we must not talk about. And Red Moon Gang does a fantastic job of this, especially by including the voices of activists such as Shona Louise, and through the most comprehensive set of period-focused resources I’ve ever come across (and trust me, I’ve looked for A LOT!). By combining activism, information, and conversation, Red Moon Gang illustrates the power of communication to destigmatise periods – something that we all can, and should, be working towards every day. Once I get my friends to read this, I’ll be proud to be part of my very own Red Moon Gang!
Phoebe Hitt: "you are not alone"
I LOVED THIS BOOK! As someone who has been menstruating for 17 years, I was completely blown away by how little I knew about my own body and a process my body has gone through roughly 12 times a year since I was 11.
The first chapter is the most science-heavy; describing the processes your body goes through each month. I will probably need to read this chapter several times before I 100% understand it but even on a first read I couldn’t believe how little I knew about my uterus and what a period really is. The rest of the book is divided into different sections on PMS/period products and how periods are seen throughout the world. In every chapter I gasped, laughed and went down a Google hole because I HAD to know more.
The thing I loved most about this book, however, was the author’s voice which underpins everything in the book. Every time you start to feel a little stupid for not understanding your body and your period Costello throws in a little personal anecdote to remind you that you are not alone. The problem with period education is not with you but is systemic and I think everyone who reads this (even the most period positive gynaecologist) will discover something new. This was also backed up by other personal stories included in the ‘Period Conditions’ section. Obviously, Costello hasn’t experienced everything personally, so she includes quotes from people who have and it’s so useful to be able to relate to different symptoms and feelings and come to terms with what is going on with your uterus once a month.
The ‘Period Toolkit’ at the end was definitely the most enlightening chapter. From Tracking Your Cycle to Managing Period Pain, this chapter had me doing all the quizzes, downloading all the apps and starting to plan how I can manage my period better in the future. As Costello explains, it’s a lot of trial and error, you have to find the apps/products/contraception that works for you, but I feel a lot more equipped going out to discover better ways to understand my menstrual cycle and I’m a little (dare I say it?) excited for my next period, to give these new tips and tricks a try!
Megan Wyborney: "the exact book I was looking for as a teenager"
In her comprehensive guide, Tara Costello busts down the door to the elusive world of
periods and invites everyone to join her Red Moon Gang. I grew up with very limited access to educational resources about my period. As a result, I have had to spend my adult years untangling my own internalized period stigma and working to re-educate myself about my own body. This guide covers everything from the phases of the menstrual cycle to the pros and cons of the different period products. Overall , this is the exact book I was looking for as a teenager. It is also exactly the resource I was looking for during my time as a community engagement facilitator, and I am ecstatic that other professionals will be able to recommend this to their students or clients. Costello takes no prisoners in addressing period stigma, welcoming everyone into frank conversations about the realities of periods. Red Moon Gang signals the beginning of the end of periods being dismissed and downplayed. Maybe most importantly, it promises the end of the popular ‘it’s just not common knowledge’ and ‘we don’t need to talk about that’ excuses. This guide is lighthearted and accessible, reading through feels like having a talk with your friends, or maybe a super cool aunt. I am certain that I will reference Red Moon Gang in the future, and I have already recommended it to many of my colleagues and friends.
Red Moon Gang offers an entirely shame free approach to period education, common period symptoms are discussed in depth. Not only can you read through and feel seen, but you can also develop a baseline knowledge of what is “normal” for a period. A section on period conditions lets you check what different symptoms, like excessive pain, might be signs of. It is empowering to know what to expect and how to manage your cycle, and it is necessary to know when something is not quite right. Costello gives excellent advice on how and when to get help, and it starts with researching different period conditions so that you can bring specific concerns to your health care provider. Often period conditions can take some time to diagnose, so knowing how and when to advocate for yourself is vital. Additionally, period positivity (or neutrality) has always seemed like too vague of a concept to me, and until this book, I had never made an effort to learn about it. Costelo explains period positivity in a very attainable way, and gives concrete steps to get you started. This guide contains multiple interviews, that all provide different viewpoints on periods and period conditions. An extensive resource section in the back provides further opportunities for community connection, including different period product brands, online movements to keep an eye on, and a further reading list that I am very excited about. Tara Costello succeeds in creating a welcoming and informative introduction to the menstrual cycle, and you will feel well and truly inducted into the Red Moon Gang.