Pink and red: a rejection, a reconciliation

It’s a red underwear day, and last month I promised I would, eventually, tell the story of my first period — after all, so many of you did (thank you!). But first, let me set the stage:

Growing up, I hated pink.

I mean, really hated pink. Irrationally, completely, unceasingly hated pink.

I also hated hair (though I refused to allow mine to be cut — I just hated fussing with it or styling it or, um, brushing it. that led to tears not a little.), and skirts, and sometimes dolls (but sometimes not), and make up, and fashion, and, well, anything “girly”.

I got really pissed off in the third grade when the school photographer called me Mr Red. But I wasn’t about to stop wearing plain t-shirts in dark colors and boy’s shoes (they fit better) and nondescript pants, my unbrushed hair pulled messily back in the same pony tail for days on end.

It wasn’t that I had “gender dysphoria”, though perhaps gender role dysphoria. No, I think it was simpler and more insidious than that.

I think it was internalized misogyny.

Now, really, truly, one doesn’t have to like “girly” things to be a girl (cis or trans). And boys (again, cis or trans!) can like “girly” things and still be boys. But what I experienced, and to some extent still struggle with, was not just a simple lack of like for the “girly”, but an active, complicated rejection of it — not each thing on its own merits, but the entire category out of pure prejudicial loathing.

What else is that — hatred of the feminine — but misogyny?

I don’t know quite where this hatred came from. In part perhaps because I was the daughter of second-wave-era more-or-less-feminists, raised at a time when rejection of prescribed (and severely limiting) gender roles translated to rejection of all accoutrements of that gender. In part perhaps because I’m not particularly femme, but had no model for not-femme that wasn’t anti-femme. In part perhaps because I bought the lie, fed to me by every part of my culture, that there were “girls”, who were vapid and shallow and adored pink, and there were people, who weren’t and didn’t — and I was raised in the certain knowledge that I was a person (thank you Mom and Dad). In part perhaps because my mom didn’t wear make up or read fashion magazines or shave her (very sparse) body hair — though unlike me, she always wears skirts, and carries a purse. In part perhaps because I was simply a weird kid, raised by nonconformists but not, at so young an age, sure of the difference between nonconformity (good) and anticonformity (not so good). In part perhaps because I was already manifesting early signs of my neurological atypicalities and mood disregulation.

For whatever reason, I was really not comfortable with this whole being a girl thing (which I could not then distinguish from the doing the girl thing).

And then, at barely 10 — though already around 5’7″ (eventually to end up at 5’10″) and well on my way to well-endowed — I started menstruating.

My coping mechanism? I ignored it, as best I could.

It wasn’t that I had menstrual shame, exactly — I would happily stay up until midnight telling all the other Girl Scouts at camp about sex and pregnancy and busting “but tampons will take my virginity!1” myths, I’d gleefully bring my copy of Where Do Babies Come From? to school and pass it around at recess, I’d say “period” and “vagina” and all the other words considered “dirty” or “bad”. I had no problems — and no lack of knowledge — discussing the reproductive cycle.

But that was all academic. Theoretical. Separate from me. The idea that I menstruated, that I was a girl-going-on-woman, that I had to deal with this tangible, inescapable reminder of pinkness every month forever (given that I most completely and emphatically and seriously did. not. want. children)… it horrified me. And, yes, embarrassed me. I hadn’t yet come to grips with my female-ness, and I was supposed to relish talking about my need for “feminine hygiene products”?

So, mostly, I didn’t. I used a lot of toilet paper (the first true bleeding came when I was at school — on an elementary school campus, like that helped the situation! — and I used those little pre-folded toilet paper squares for the  rest of the day), and I filched from my mom, and eventually — truly, I don’t remember how — I found a favorite brand and style of pad and tampon (and for a short while, disposable menstrual cup) and managed to make sure I generally had enough in stock.

But I also tried to flush the pads2.

Eventually — as you can tell — I got more comfortable with both my gender and my sex. I stopped longing for uterine replicators. I started letting people hold open doors for me (though I, of course, also still hold open doors for others). I stopped using toilet paper (except in emergencies!) and trying to flush unflushable things. I started saying “I’m having cramps”. I never did stop cringing at staining the bed, but I did start buying dark red sheets, and I didn’t let the stains stop me from getting help moving our uncovered mattress from The Man’s burly, macho coworkers. (I always was fine having sex and masturbating while menstruating, once those were happening at all. So no change there.) I stopped sending The Man out to buy paper pads, and started making cloth ones myself — and soaking them in the sink.

And I started blogging about it. Which you may take as a sign of my complete recovery, but rather has been a rather key component of it. Because I’m not just talking about menstruation in general, which I’ve always been comfortable doing, but telling you, my readers, that I am currently bleeding. Which, well hell, is half the time how The Man knows my period’s here, because I still haven’t figured out a way to say “And by the way, honey…”. (To be fair to myself, the other half of the time is split between me asking him to bring me a pad while I’m on the toilet, or him happening upon one in the sink.)

But now? After telling a few dozen/hundred/thousand people about it, um, many times, it really doesn’t feel like a big deal any more. It’s just something I do, because that’s the type of body I have.

I still don’t like pink, and am a bit neutral on red, but I don’t hate or reject either any more. It’s just a color, just a body function, and although I still can rage with the best of them at the meanings assigned to each by my society, I don’t have any arguments with them any more. We’re ok, pink and red and I. And I’m happier for it.

  2. Pro tip: don’t.
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10 Responses to Pink and red: a rejection, a reconciliation

  1. You write good. Me, not so much. Thatisall.

  2. you do write well… but I guess you know that already. You kind of reminded me of my own fucked-upness when I was that age… but I was more Jekill/Hide about it

  3. Either you or Annie must right about how red/pink were the “masculine” color and blue was “feminine” (think Virgin Mary’s outfit)

    • I think it’s on my post Raising Him Purple that I have a link to an article by US historian Jo Paoletti about that. Yes, blue for CENTURIES, in Western cultures, was “feminine”, red (and pink by extention) was “masculine”.

  4. Politicalguineapig

    Another pink hater too. I still can’t use tampons (haven’t figured out how to jam those suckers in) and I spend my period in a growly mood because for that part of the month I want to be a man.

  5. I like this. It reminds me of those times in high school when I would be in so much pain from cramps and would have to try, ever so hard, to sit without fidgeting or flinching in my classroom seat and pretend on the outside that nothing was wrong. It didn’t help that my mother didn’t believe in cramps (!). All I can say is, thank goodness for childbirth, because now things are much better, physically, but I hope I never forget and tell any future daughter that cramps don’t exist.

    But what was my point? Oh, yes, the hiding. The shame. The not wanting to appear weak in front of others. It’s all wrapped up, yes?

  6. I was like that too. I hated all things girly as a child except for one brief period where I wanted to fit in with a cool girl who happened to like this particular style of dresses, so I wanted some of those too.

    I always hated pink, until I was pregnant with a girl. Before I even knew that she was going to be a girl (perhaps subconsciously I did?), the pink clothes were jumping out at me in the maternity stores. I do wear pink now, but I certainly don’t think anyone would accuse me of being girly.

    My daughter, on the other hand, is all things princess, fairies, and fancy things. She is world’s different from me and I’m not sure whether to celebrate the fact that she is figuring out who she is or mourn the fact that society has told her who she needs to be (because I’m not really sure which one it is).

    Oh and she told me today that she likes watching me take the box out of my bum and empty the blood into the toilet (this is where I need your footnote capability within the comments….box = diva cup, bum = vagina).

  7. Pingback: Menstrual Monday « Raising My Boychick

  8. 5’7 at 10?? I am 24 and only 5’2. Life is unfair.

    I definitely relate to the part about girls being vapid and you wanting to be a person instead.

    I got my period at 11. I was upset even though I was prepared and my mother and I have always been open about those types of things. I’m envious that you were so comfortable, because I definitely wasn’t, although I suppose I did feel a bit special to menstruate so far ahead of my peers – my best friend didn’t get her period until she was 16!

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