Let’s Talk. Period.

No one talked periods in my house growing up.

Here’s what I remember: being about 8 years old and climbing around in the backseat while we were making the never-ending drive from South Florida to North Florida to visit my grandparents (y’all, Florida is an exceptionally l-o-n-g state. Those drives went on until the second of FOREVER). I didn’t have a seatbelt on (because the 80s) and was rifling around in some of the stuff packed on the floorboard, probably looking for a snack.

I came upon a box of maxi pads. I held them up. “Hey, what are these?”

If my mama’s eyes could’ve shot lasers, I’d just have been a little burn mark on the backseat. “Put that back,” she said, evenly but in that scary mommy’s-had-enough-of-your-bullshit way that still to this day stops me dead in my tracks.

“But what are they for?” I have no idea what got into me that made me think I should push the issue. My mom’s word was the final word forever-and-ever-amen.

But I needed to know.

“Kendra. We. Will. Discuss. It. When. You. Are. Older.,” she said, barely above a whisper, through clenched teeth.

But we didn’t discuss it later. Not really. We went to a Focus on the Family talk about adolescence where I learned 2 things: 1) Mutual masturbation was BAD (I think it had something to do with potentially catching the gay), and 2) Cocaine could kill you the very first time you tried it.

Neither of these pieces of info was particularly helpful to my 10 year old self.

My mom also handed me a Focus on the Family book about puberty and told to let her know if I had questions.

IF I had questions?!?

That was it.

Obviously, it just wasn’t something that we were going to talk about.

Now I find myself at an interesting crossroads where I’ve started menopause just as my daughter is about to have her first period (all signs point to probably in the next year for her).

But we’ve never been hush-hush around the monthly bleed. The kid was with me all the time when she was real little. She’s seen me change more tampons than I could possibly count.

Truly, she didn’t think anything about it.

And then, probably 2 years ago or so, we started talking about what the tampons were for.

You bleed from WHERE?!? she shrieked.

I had to promise it didn’t hurt. But then I had to backtrack on that–because I want to honor the fact that for some women menstruation is very painful. But I did promise that the whole thing is very normal.

But then, recently, I read Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic. And I began to remember what I’d long forgotten since my Women’s Studies Class approximately 100 lifetimes ago: that a woman’s cycle is powerful. It’s something to be honored and celebrated. It’s not a source of shame, but a guide to knowing.

Menstrual cycles, moon cycles, life cycles… all full of great wisdom. All a gift.

So, now I’m reading graphic novels about periods. And ordering all kinds of books on puberty that celebrate a girl’s body, and talk honestly and openly about the most natural thing in the world: becoming a woman.

And about periods.

Dear God, half the world bleeds. It’s not a shameful secret. It’s a fact of life. A divine mystery. The source of all kinds of walk-in-your-power-awesomeness.

I’m going to give my daughter a different script, a way to see her monthly cycle not as a curse but as a blessing.

“The Curse” is so patriarchal. And that’s so yesterday.

There’s a whole different way to see the world that centers a woman in her own power. And that’s the kind of inner-knowing I want to hand off to my kid.

How Reading Fuels the Resistance

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

Last night, Alice Walker and I hung out. Okay, so there were some other folks there, too–approximately 300 of them. But, unsurprisingly, Alice Walker made me feel as though she was speaking directly to me. So, like I said, Alice Walker and I hung out last night. She talked. I listened.

“The work you do in the world is your legacy.”
–Alice Walker, Agnes Scott College, April 22, 2018

I occupy a place of privilege, as a white person on the United States. That privilege is one that I didn’t understand until relatively recently. But now, navigating that privilege–and ultimately dismantling it–seems inherently tied to the work I do & the legacy I will leave.

Raised up (well, in college at least) on works by primarily white feminists, I quickly identified my own oppression at the hand of the sexism and misogyny that runs rampant in the United States. But I didn’t grasp the ways in which women of color deal with layers of oppression–sexism, yes… but also racism, sometimes classism. I didn’t understand the ways that white feminism often leaves women of color behind, failing to address their issues–sometimes failing to even include them in the conversation at all.

Enter Alice Walker.

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

The very first truth I took from The Temple of My Familiar was that, as a woman, I had to consider all women in the struggle for equality. In fact, that novel pushed me to see that I needed to fight for the liberation of all people (men included).

As one does with truths they aren’t quite ready to reckon with, I filed that knowledge away to be applied later.

Fast forward 20 years…

I do believe that the work that you do in the world is your legacy. 

And I am ready to work.

I didn’t just get ready on my own. I had a push. On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in 2016, I sat and listened as Andrew Joseph’s father shared the story of his son’s death at the hands of negligent law enforcement. A black child dead. And no one held accountable.

That afternoon, something shifted for me. Before that, my responsibility–as I understood it–was simply to raise my child to know right from wrong, to be a good and decent person. But, coming face to face with another parent’s pain introduced me to a greater responsibility: to raise my child with an awareness of the joy and pain in the world and to give her tools and a voice to fight injustice and to demand equality–for everyone.

Living in Southeast Atlanta puts me in close proximity to both the beauty and struggle of being black in America. I’ve discovered–through experience–that living in community with people who are not all just like you cultivates empathy and understanding. Creating community takes more than just saying hey as you pass each other on the street. It’s working side by side on community issues. It’s navigating hard conversations. And (if you’re white like I am) it’s knowing when to listen (instead of speak).

I have come to understand how much our liberation is bound up in each other. And that I must fight for an end to systemic racism (and homophobia, and transphobia, and anti-semitism, and islamophobia, and xenophobia, and toxic masculinity), just as I must continue to speak out against the sexism that plagues American culture.

Recently, at a friend’s house for dinner, we heard our kids chanting something from the next room. “Where do they learn to do that?” I wondered. My friend laughed: “It’s all those marches you take your kid to!” Huh. Maybe it is. But, really, it’s Alice Walker’s fault.

Alice Walker’s work, her words, her activism have changed the way I think and move through the world. She challenges me to see the world beyond my own little sphere–to fight for the humanity and dignity of all people. All while celebrating who I am.

Pretty heady stuff. But it’s also the making of a legacy.