Watching Turning Red with my family was delightful – we laughed, we cried, and now we’re jamming out to the 4*Town album. Unfortunately, after watching the film I went online and was appalled at the outcries from people who thought that a film about puberty was inappropriate.
How are children and a typical progression of life inappropriate?
I will tell you what happens when people do not take the time to discuss normal, everyday facts of life. When I was growing up (raised as a female, though I identify as non-binary today as that label makes more sense for me and fits me better), no one told me about puberty. I was unaware of what changes were happening in my body and was horrified to discover that I was bleeding.
I ran to my mother who looked at me puzzled, wondering why I was so panicked and told me there were things under the bathroom sink for me to use. I thought I was dying of internal bleeding. I rushed to the bathroom and pulled out a pad, but didn’t know how to put it on, so I put it on upside down, resulting in a very painful removal a little while later when the blood went everywhere.
I didn’t want to wear bras (gender dysphoria began pretty young for me), and I cried while my mother forced me to wear makeup. She made me wear my hair and clothes in a typically feminine fashion, and then forced me to stop eating (while I was growing) and instead made me exercise. To this day, I struggle with eating, fitness, and basic hygiene.
My periods were incredibly intrusive, painful, and harmful to my quality of life. I couldn’t keep a regular job, medicine wouldn’t work, I couldn’t eat or sleep for four to five days every month, and doctors either shamed me for being “melodramatic” or ignored my pleas for help. When I was 30, I had surgery for a partial hysterectomy and it was discovered that my insides were riddled with endometriosis. If only someone had listened earlier. I endured fifteen years of agony that could have been prevented if I had been educated and if professionals had listened to me.
While my case is a bit extreme, I have heard the gist of this story over and over from contemporaries who also were not educated about their bodies and what happens during puberty, which is incredibly harmful. If we do not know what is going on with our bodies, how do we know to tell someone when something feels off? How do we know what is normal? How can we prepare for the inevitable?
Instead of shaming, criticizing, and humiliating people for talking about natural body processes, we should be open and aboveboard. We should talk with our children at the appropriate time (which is different for every child and family), we should ensure that they are provided with pads, tampons, medicine, chocolate, etc., so that they know that they are not alone.
Whether we identify as female, trans, non-binary, etc., if we have uterii, ovaries, and at least somewhat functional systems, we will have periods. They are nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, they can cause pain. Yes, they are messy. Yes, they are sometimes incredibly harmful (especially in cases with gender dysphoria and those who have health considerations that make the monthly cycle even more of a burden). However, they are not something to be hidden. This issue isn’t one we should be silent on. We need to ensure that those going through puberty and begin their monthly cycles have what they need in order to take the best care of themselves.
Do you know what happens when we don’t? We have governments trying to control women’s bodies, even when (and especially when) they don’t understand them, like the politician who thought women were wasting time in the bathroom because they could just “hold it”, or the politician who thought that women couldn’t get pregnant by rape because bodies have a way to “shut it down”. People who menstruate in prison have an incredibly limited supply of pads and must work hours and hours before being able to afford them.
This is the horrific present we have created. It doesn’t need to continue. So what can we do to ensure that everyone (not just people who have or will have periods) understands the process, the potential outcomes, and how to care for themselves and/or the people around them? Starting by watching Turning Red and having a conversation is a good start. But don’t let it stop there. Donate pads and tampons to women’s shelters and schools. Put together packages for those in your life who will need pills, menstrual products, heating pads, etc., so that these things are always available. You don’t have to have a vagina to care about someone and do something productive to support those in your life with a vagina.
The more we talk about periods, the better we understand how our bodies work, which will hopefully lead to people without vaginas realizing that they in no way, shape, or form, should be making decisions for people who have them.
You can watch Turning Red on Disney+, and get correct information on periods and how to support those who have them at https://period.org/.