Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Identity Theft Redux

My trusty laptop has been on the fritz since Sunday, so I've been unable to respond adequately to comments, but here I am now at the Freeland Library computer and able to post and check email so I know what's happening out there. It is so weird to be without my computer! I am realizing that I am totally addicted to it!

Anyhow, to return to the idea presented in Identity Theft part 1:

My concern about female identity and the ability to suppress menstruation arises from my personal experience. And at the risk of oversharing, I will say more. I had my first period at age 11; I was prepared for it by my mother, it wasn't horrible, I was very pleased to have joined the ranks of womanhood. But I didn't have a second period or a third or a fourth, at least not at any kind of interval that could be called normal.

I'd have perhaps one menstrual period a year, and while this was hugely economical and convenient, it also made me seriously question whether or not I was actually female. I had breasts, I looked like a girl, but I didn't menstruate. It didn't help that my normally-helpful mother compared me to my Aunt Anna, who never had periods and couldn't have children, saying maybe I was like Aunt Anna, who presumably "strained something" and couldn't have kids.

We didn't go to the doctor in those days about such things, and I would have been mortified to have been examined. The doctor was my friend's father and I didn't want any attention paid to "my problem" at all. I did some reading, learned that menses were often irregular at first, and wrote it off to adolescence.

But I became a young adult and I still didn't have more than one period or so per year. I assumed I was not truly female, would not have children, might not marry, nor do the things that other young women do because they are female. This was all in the 50's and early 60's.

I was definitely attracted to males, but I did not feel ready to be sexually active until I was almost 24. Losing my virginity to a man I cared for a lot felt appropriate, but when he used a condom I was faced with the reality of the possibility of pregnancy, though I assumed I could not get pregnant. However, I wasn't willing to take a chance! So when I met the man I would marry, I got birth control pills, and, voila! my periods started.

When we married and began to discuss pregnancy, I assumed I would have a hard time getting pregnant, so we explored fertility treatments. It turned out that we didn't need much help and our son was conceived not long after we started trying.

What all this means is probably pretty clear, in terms of why I feel the way I do about the suppression of menses. Not being a menstruating female for my entire adolescence and beyond really affected my female identity. I felt androgynous and out of place in female society. I felt weird when I related to males because I wasn't sure I was really female and felt I was being dishonest. To confuse the issue more, I was molested in my early teens by Aunt Anna's husband (not raped, but fondled) and this added to my sense of disconnect with my femaleness.

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the topic. It has been a great conversation!


Ms. Theologian said...

It always strikes me how so much of our own experience shapes our views. I suppose that's totally obvious, but often we just get an opinion and don't know the backstory. And I'm really sorry to hear you were molested.

LinguistFriend said...

Unfortunately, the interactions between sexual biology and personal history have a background which goes several levels of detail beyond what most mothers can tell their daughters.
There is a wonderful book for the general reader on biological aspects of being a woman: "Woman: an Intimate Geography" by Natalie Angier (Pulitzer-prize winning biology reporter of the NY Times). It is scientifically intelligent, sane, readable, and has a sense of humor about the relevant aspects of human biology. And thank you, Kit, for being able to talk about your own experience of such things with us. My goodness, you folks are complex.

Christina Martin said...

Thank you for sharing your own experiences so candidly. I had intuitively felt that something like this was the case, about the relationship between menses and womanhood, but was unable to put the thought into words. You did it beautifully.

There are times when being female can be a genuine inconvenience, but I wouldn't trade it for the world!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts. It's been a fruitful discussion.