At age thirteen, in class, waiting for my science teacher to arrive. I am glad to be at the next school level, excited to learn new things. This science teacher seemed promising. He started with a bang and said we would cover lessons on our bodies. In these sessions, we would learn why things will start to change, that girls would get their periods, and boys would start having wet dreams. He told us that the transformation would happen and we would carry these things for all our life.
We learnt a lot that day, but my attention was on what would happen to the girls in our class. Every month they will do what he called ‘pay rent.’ He talked of menstruation, how their bodies would be in pain, and they would have to bleed for a few days every month.
At my age, it was easy to assume that it was not my business. So, I opted to deal with what concerned me, reading whatever the books said, and becoming more aware for the sake of passing my exams. I was a boy; it was not my business, well, until one day when my best friend couldn’t walk to school due to abdominal period pains.
I saw her smile fade and the life within her seemed so frail for three days or so. This sparked my curiosity and I could not wait for the next science lesson. Unfortunately, I was transferring from the private institution to a public one, so I didn’t know what to expect.
Here we had a male science teacher who didn’t touch much on the menstrual cycle and menstrual hygiene. But fortunately, we had an amazing class teacher who took us through the lesson. At first, I thought she was angry, but it was courage (this I learnt at my advanced age when I could comfortably revisit such lessons without much of a hustle and smile to myself). You could sense how much energy it took to tackle such a topic in her voice, but she was ready, and she did a great job.
From explaining what pads were to g how we could acquire them and request them at the counter. She demonstrated how they were used and exposed us to the fact that menstruation was normal and natural.
One of the students asked why she involved boys in conversations that only concerned girls, and she got angry. With all the effort and courage it took to cover the topic, she snapped and called him stupid. To him, it was a joke; to her, nothing about the situation was laughable, so he had to face the consequences of his childish recklessness.
She drove the point home, made it clear that while menstruation did not concern us, we had mothers and that we had sister, and we knew of a girl who went through all this. That one day, we would be husbands and fathers, and such topics would need to be covered and faced head-on. That our sisters might need or our help with handling these things; that our wives would need us. Every menstruator around us might need assistance from a person with an understanding of periods.
That day I learnt that it was painful to be in pain and be afraid to talk about it. I understood the need to go get pads to show support. I learnt that periods were normal, and there was nothing to be ashamed of. And when there was a pad drive at school , I took two. The lady who was handing them out asked who the pads were for; at the time I had a girlfriend, but I could not say they were hers. First, because it was a crime to have one in school, and secondly, she had received her number of packets.
“They are for my mum, the only girl in my life and my family,” I answered, and she smiled.
As a teenage boy, her reaction felt nice.
When I got home, I had no way to address this. I was shy about talking about certain things with my mum, and this was one of them. I had practiced several ways to give them to her, but none seemed to work how I expected it. Well, I could not keep them, and for what if I did? I held my head high, with courage on my shoulders, and went to her.
My hands folded at my back and holding three packs of sanitary towels. I said my hellos and hugged her as was the norm, then gave them to her. I saw her smile. I did not know why but I knew she was glad I had learnt about menstruation.
Editor’s note – conversations on periods go beyond societal gender constraints. Reproductive education should include everyone. Teaching non-menstruators about what periods are and how they affect the body, physically or otherwise, reduces the stigma and shame. As such, it is crucial to eliminate the concept of exclusion in the name of creating and upholding a sense of privacy and secrecy when it comes to menstruation.