Disabled people bleed too. Period.
By Cathy Kamara, @thatsinglemum
Cathy Kamara is an editor, journalist and proofreader, specialising in education, disability, and dating as a Disabled single mum of two. Cathy has achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism. Despite her disability having zero effect on her periods and menstrual cycle, growing up, she was consistently excluded from conversations and experiences relating to periods. In her blog for BGP she’s reclaiming her place in the conversation, and telling us why it’s so bloody important.
As a young child, I was treated like any other girl. They told me I looked “cute” when I put a dress on, my friends and I would play with makeup and jewellery. I was dressed in all things pink. I was invited to celebrate my femininity in all the obvious Hallmark ways.
When my body began to change, there was a mental shift in how others viewed me. I was shedding my girlhood, but somehow there was a societal mental block towards my unavoidable entrance into womanhood. My breasts ballooned early, my deep-set curves were sharply accentuated, and my skin sprouted hair, everywhere, fast! My body changed extremely quickly, but as soon as it did, people stopped seeing me. My girlfriends stopped inviting me to play with makeup, they started discussing boys when I wasn’t around, they’d scheme ways to snog the class stud and my only role was to watch out for the teacher coming. They spent hours comparing cup sizes and stuffing tissue down their chests while the boys plotted how to sneak up behind them to ping the back of their bras. They rushed into the classroom excitedly to tell each other when their first gush of blood arrived, and they’d envelope one another in tampons and solidarity at the same time every month.
I was 13 when my period started. I remember feeling a distinct disconnect when I revealed my bloody knickers to my mum. I knew it would happen to me, but even before it came, society robbed me from the chance to celebrate or even feel any certain way about it. Because although the exact same things were happening that happened to my peers (dwarfism has no effect on your period patterns, or show), I wasn’t invited to talk about it. Typical of the early days when you’re getting used to your flow, I had accidents, but they were cloaked in shame; it wasn’t enough that I was hiding it from boys, I had to hide it from my friends, too.
It wasn’t until a decade or so later that I learned that I was being othered, as a lot of Disabled people are, because we are desexualised by society. As periods are essentially the key to fertility, and cishet young men (however problematic in itself) view fertility as really sexy, I was locked out of the whole damn cycle from the first sight of red.
Things haven’t changed all that much. Despite having had numerous romantic relationships and two children, people often other me when it comes to conversations on sex, romance and sexiness. I’m finally allowed to talk periods, though, so long as I’m not too gross about it… because that’s less acceptable when it comes from a Disabled person’s mouth.
Regardless of whether or not society has changed, I have. I spent my teenage years feeling disassociated from and embarrassed about my periods, ‘til I realised I needed to stop internalising everyone’s projections and really own my body in all its bloody glory.
Nowadays I don’t really care if I have a little accident, or if I need to ask someone for a spare pad. I feel zero embarrassment telling men it’s that time of the month, and at any given opportunity I’ll talk the hind legs off a donkey about menstrual cramps.
I’m sharing my story with BGP because I want everyone to know that Disabled people who menstruate deserve to feel and to express all the physical and emotional changes that come with growing up. We deserve to feel sexy, to celebrate all our femininity, to join those conversations as teenagers, and as adults, if, and in whatever way, we choose to. We deserve to participate in period chat with our friends and to be part of the unspoken support bubble they have with one another as their bodies change.
No menstruating person left behind. Including us.
Follow Cathy on Instagram @thatsinglemum