The first time I had my period at Grinnell, it came by surprise during my second week of classes. Normally, unexpected bleeding was not a problem for me. I would do the typical, hushed shuffle performed in every high school around the country, grabbing the small bag from my backpack and slipping quietly out the back of the room. This day wouldn’t have been any different had I not just gotten a new backpack for my collegiate career. When I felt the familiar, anxious warmth move up and down my body I was paralyzed with panic. The very moment it happened I knew that I didn’t have anything with me; no pads, no tampons, just fresh school supplies and mostly blank notebooks. But when you bleed, you bleed and there is no negotiation. I excused myself from class hoping the blood hadn’t seeped through my jeans and made my way to the nearest bathroom.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that unpreparedness has happened once or twice, or even fairly regularly, in the span of every menstruating individual’s life. If you’re lucky, a friend has you covered. If you’re not so fortunate, you find yourself in the bathroom stall of Mears Cottage, friend- and quarter-less, with your very large, very expensive supply of tampons on the opposite side of campus. After eight years of menstruating, I think I’ve come to anticipate this fate. Just as my bleeding predecessors taught me, I bundled toilet paper in my underwear and carefully made my way back to class. That Tuesday morning in Professor Gellar’s film tutorial I sat unprepared, with only a bundle of single-ply and my wishful thinking pulling me through the remainder of the two-and-a-half hour class.
But what if it wasn’t my lack of foresight that was the problem? My body bleeds and it just so happens that over half of our campus bleeds, too. So who really has the lack of foresight: the unexpecting, bleeding body in the second week of their tutorial, or the institution that fails to provide accommodations to those in their time of need?
In my day-to-day life at Grinnell, I often find myself engaged in conversations about equal opportunity education, an especially hot-button issue right now considering the campus climate. Entering a classroom as a bleeding body is not easy, is often uncomfortable, and, quite honestly, can be very distracting especially when you are feeling far from equipped. If a person is bleeding from any other part of the body beside the vagina the proper supplies would be provided, but I guess menstruation is just too goddamn special.
Grinnell College, I want you to know that I get it. We don’t know how to talk about the blood weeping from inside of us. We’re learning, slowly, to talk about the many other functions of bleeding bodies: about their sex, their pleasure, their anatomy, their autonomy, their trauma, and their complex beauty. But our blood, the crimson ebb and flow that punctuates half of our lifetime, remains a subject of relative silence. I have felt silenced, and it is in this quiet that I’ve been trapped for so long, trapped by a system that wanted me to hide an inextricable part of my life. This silence left me as a cog in a machine, cranking the lever on another dispenser to pay for a naturally occurring process.
In hindsight, it isn’t a surprise that I found myself in front of one of those same dispensers last Friday, two bobby pins in hand, and a beautiful hysteria brewing in my belly. I broke into all the tampon and pad dispensers I could find. I freed the products that should be free in the first place. Bleeding bodies are already asked so much: we sit through class despite the cramps tearing at the insides of our abdomens, the pain pulsating in our spines. I have sat in class and bled through my jeans. I must say these things with the understanding that I come from an incredible place of privilege because my bleeding body has not kept me from being where I am today, while so many other bodies cannot fathom an opportunity like mine. My blood has not kept me from the classroom; my blood has not dictated my lifestyle. But, Grinnell College, you are in a position of privilege, too, with the means to fund periods for generations of Grinnellians to come. So, I freed your tampons kept behind lock, key, and quarter. Bleeding bodies deserve to think about Foucault and microorganisms and the history of the bleeding bodies that came before them. When we menstruate, however unexpectedly, we should not feel fear in the pits of our stomachs because of your lack of foresight. We are a part of this college. Accommodate our needs so there are no more bodies quaking in their chairs because the bundle of single-ply toilet paper, haphazardly placed between shaking legs, might not be enough this time. Provide free menstrual products to students who need them so I can stop picking the locks on your bogus machines.