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So you probably know by now that, at OHNE, we’re pretty big into talking about period taboos, bitching about period taboos, and finding ways to flush those taboos right down the toilet where they belong. And we like to think we’re pretty good at it – if the number of customers proudly posting pics of their OHNE tampons on social media is anything to go by (we ❤️ u).
We have some pretty specific ideas about how best to fight the stigma attached to menstruation and female bodies in general, which can mostly just be summed up as refusing to treat periods as if they *are* taboo. You know how people say you should “fake it til you make it” when it comes to having self-confidence in your career or social circles? Well, it’s kind of like that. If we insist on talking about periods, tampons, and female bodies as if they’re nothing out of the ordinary (which, um, they’re not, but you’d have a hard time knowing that from the way they’re hushed-up in society and the media) then our hope is that this attitude will spread; first throughout our little OHNE community, then society more broadly.
And, for the most part, we’re really not interested in entertaining theories that go against this mission (there’s enough ‘ew periods’ content on every mainstream media site, big-name tampon brand, and in every school yard, ta).
So when we were introduced to Kate Joyner, and her show The Blood Tales, we were initially cautious. Kate’s approach to tackling period taboos seemed to be by focusing on the very ideas we reject. But that’s just it – she was, still, attempting to tackle period taboos. So we knew we had to have a chat with her to find out more about her attitudes to periods, taboos, and whether the female body should ever be referred to as a ‘mystery’ (OHNE’s answer is still a firm no on that one, I’m afraid!)
But first, here’s our obligatory disclaimer: the views expressed by our lovely interviewee do not, on the whole, reflect that of OHNE. But we had a pretty bloody great chat and came to understand each other’s approaches and opinions so much better by the end of it – and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Learning from each other, sharing our fight-the-patriarchy tips n tricks, and opening up as many conversations as we possibly can about periods – period. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Hi Kate – firstly, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! The show sounds like a fascinating and really unique way to open up a conversation about period taboos – which, obviously, we’re totally here for. How would you sum up the show?
Thank you for having me and for all of these great questions. In a nutshell, the show seeks to dispel the outworn beliefs about what women’s blood is and offers the promise of a new paradigm as seen from the moon. It’s really a piece of magic in the form of a culture-changing theatre show.
What initially inspired you to write The Blood Tales?
Over the last 7 years I’ve been on a journey of feminine awakening and soul initiation which has lead me to dig deep into my own true nature as woman, peel back some skins and come home to my core. On that journey I began a conscious exploration of my menstrual cycle and began to tap into the magic that’s available to us during that time of the month. I saw there was so much misunderstanding about [periods] so I was inspired to write the show because of these discoveries – and because my muse told me to (and for anyone who knows how to listen to their muse, when she speaks, you act).
You say that you locked yourself away for three cycles to write the poems – what was this process like? What did you take from this experience back into your regular life?
I had been naturally going into retreat during my moon time for some time before this so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but for those three moons cycles there was a specific focus of listening and transcribing the voice of the Blood into poetry.
If anything, it really affirmed the magic that’s stored in the Blood. I booked a theatre three months before the show and spent those three months listening to the Blood and in the end came out with a show. I didn’t know what I was going to say when I booked the theatre, so it was all a bold experiment and it worked. The Blood Tales was born.
Why do you link periods so strongly with the moon? I’m aware of the link in a historical way – that, previously, the average 28-day cycle was thought to be linked to the moon’s 28 cycle – but I’m not very familiar with it still being a common term. What is the significance of it for you?
The moon in a mystical, archetypal placement is linked to the feminine, and our bodies as women are linked to the earth, the rhythms of the tides and the waxing and waning of the moon. When we were more connected to the land and nature, we lived in tune with these rhythms. The phases of the moon can act as a map for our own energetic journey through the menstrual cycle.
You’ve spoken a lot about the ‘mystery’ of the female body and it’s blood. Do you think that the notion of ‘mystery’ can help us to change the narratives we tell ourselves about our bodies to make them more empowering?
Through my own journey of reclaiming a deep relationship with my body, I’ve had first hand personal experience that once we connect with the notion that we are part of something much bigger than us, once we begin to feel ourselves as part of the ecosystem and the mythical landscape that awaits us there, that our bodies are in tune with the tides and the moon, then that’s a very empowering experience for all beings. And because women’s wombs are so interconnected to the web of creation it can help us tap into our innate powers that have been laying dormant for many a moon.
When I speak of the Mystery, I speak of a connection to something much bigger than us, to something beyond us. How one has mystical awareness and experiences is very unique to each individual.
What do you make of the suggestion that the notion of ‘mystery’ can actually contribute to some of the stigma and shame; this idea that our bodies are ‘unknowable’ could actually be said to come from a culture in which ‘women’s issues’ (I say that with a massive eye-roll) are not taken as seriously as men’s and so are afforded less scientific, medical, and academic attention?
This is something that I address in the play. At one point I say that we lost the connection to the Mystery because we lost connection to the land and our bodies. We swapped all that in for test tubes and scientific experiments, rational thought and tangible explications. And that has served us and also at the same time destroyed the more soulful part of ourselves, the poetic, the imaginary, the sensitive, feeling, intuition qualities of our human nature.
Without that we are set to eradicate ourselves as a species. There might still be much judgement of the spiritual but it’s only a shift in consciousness that’s required and that comes from each person’s experience.
I am very much on board with the way you’re trying to provide a beautiful, poetic alternative to periods which have so often been deemed ‘gross’ and so heavily stigmatised that they’re not discussed. But I do have to confess here that, personally, I really struggle with accepting some of the terminology and theories of menstruation that you’re expressing. I am interested in fleshing out some of these differences as I think the question of how to tackle any kind of stigma or oppression is an endlessly fascinating one.
My approach to tackling period taboos and the shaming of women and other people who have periods (and their bodies in general) is centred around de-mystifying them. It’s very much prefaced on the idea that, to raise a generation of people who don’t think periods are shameful, where it isn’t taboo to talk about them, and where there is adequate education, scientific and medical research, and access to period products for everyone who needs them, we need to normalise periods. We need to make it clear that some people have periods and some people don’t and there’s nothing better or worse about either. I have my doubts about perpetuating a narrative that, while still very much focused on empowerment, deliberately places the female body or it’s functions into a more mystical realm, especially given the long history of female-bodied people suffering because their bodies were treated like unknowable mysteries rather than simply different from male ones and equally as worthy of respect and medical treatment.
Thankfully, society is changing and I am now in a position where I can say that I don’t want the fact that I have periods to mean anything except that I have to remember to buy tampons. I think we’re living in a time where, more and more, gender is seen as something fluid and our biological sex is gradually growing less relevant to the kinds of lives we’re allowed or able to lead.
Have you come across similar questions or apprehensions in your conversations with others – or perhaps even asked them of yourself? Every approach and opinion is of course as valid as the next! I’m just very intrigued by different ways of doing things and would love to hear your arguments against ‘my way’, for example!
That’s very sweet Bella. [I] appreciate your kind enquiry in the face of differing viewpoints. So first of all, I’m very aware of the increasing ways we are becoming gender fluid and less emphasis is being placed on the biological sex and I wholeheartedly support and celebrate the whole spectrum of the human experience. For some, that means an exploration of gender fluidity and for others, like myself, the enquiry is leading me more deeply into reclaiming who I am as a woman and this includes a reclaiming of the ancient root of the Blood Mysteries and the mysterious ways my body flows in rhythm with the natural world.
I can only speak for my own experience […] I have had trans-gender people come to me, also wanting me to include their voice in the show. My response has been that I would love for them to create their tale, from their experience, and I would love to come to see it. I would not be able to do service to their story as it’s not my experience.
My near-future plan for the show is to create a workshop where people can craft and present their own Blood Tale (I’ve been piloting this in Barcelona and it’s been rather magical), and of course this would be open to everyone and anyone who would be interested in getting deep and dirty with their own Blood Tale story. I’d be overjoyed and super curious to support and hear how gender fluid, non binary and trans people experience their relationship with their blood and to support the crafting of a tale from that place.
As a white, cis gender, heterosexual woman, my own internal experience of bleeding has also been deeply marginalised. I identify as a woman, and with everything deeply feminine, including that which has been demonised [within] our current cultural paradigm.
I don’t want to put in a tampon and ignore that there is something unique and profound that is happening to my body each time I bleed. I want to go more deeply into it, because I wholeheartedly welcome that my body is different from a male body, and at certain times of the month, my biology and hormones make it difficult for me to function in a ‘normal’, culturally conditioned way and I absolutely celebrate that. Part of my empowerment is recognising that I have these other qualities, that don’t have a space in our current culture and I take space for them, which includes going into retreat, switching off my phone, and taking some time to tune into this altered state of consciousness which puts me in touch with the mystical experience of my existence during my bleed.
Through my own personal and intimate journey with myself, my body and my sexuality, I have come to see there is something deeply profound that happens at a biological, emotional, psychological, spiritual level when I bleed that is totally ignored in our culture. My experience has been the more that I’ve gone into that space the more I’ve claimed more of my feminine essence. And as woman who identifies as such and fully embraces my feminine nature, reclaiming the mystery of my body, that I am connected to something much bigger than me, such as the earth, the moon and the tides, has been deeply empowering.
I’m not looking to shape my body so I can fit into a culture that has demonised women’s mystery. I use ‘re-mystifying’ specifically because its been my experience; my empowerment has come from reclaiming that which has been deeply feared by us as women and those who sought to control the mystery by oppressing it. I’m holding up something quite different from shaping my body, cycle and moon time to fit in with a culture that at its is root is invested in the commodification of the human body and soul. I’m offering a complete paradigm shift and that includes normalising the experience of our menstrual cycle on all levels, practical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. What I’m speaking of is not exclusive of the normalising you speak of. For me, to re-mystify is to also de-mystify.
Thank you for explaining your views so eloquently! I suppose it’s another example of the fact that everyone who has periods will experience their period differently, will want to talk about it using different language, and will recognise it as a part of themselves and their identities in very different ways – if at all. I think the problem arises with our tendency to generalise the personal – to talk about our own experiences with periods as if they are everyone’s experiences, or to conflate our own experiences as people who identify as women with those of other people who also identify as women, or who are similarly marginalised along the gender lines.
Do you think menstruation is still the most taboo subject when it comes to talking about and representing the bodies of women and other people who have periods? And what do you think the practical implications of these taboos are on women and society more generally?
I think there’s still a lot of unconscious, collective shame about our Blood. I think as long as that shame resides, unspoken and hidden, that’s it’s simply accepted as a norm and not questioned or bought out for airing, then there is a part of feminine essence that is also in hiding. And this, in turn, keeps women away from their power and the deepest expression of who they are. If a woman carries shame for her blood, she carries shame for who she is. We only have to look out into the world to see the practical implications of what that taboo has done to us a society. It’s made us loveless. The feminine essence is love and as women, who identify as so, we are the carriers of that love, and our Blood is the portal that brings us closer to that essence.
One of the quotes on your website is from a man in the USA saying that after seeing your show he ‘really wishes’ he could menstruate, which is unusual to hear from a (cis) man, to say the least! How do you feel about the role of the male gaze in relation to your show and in conversations about menstruation more broadly?
It makes my heart sing. I fills me with delight when the men are willing to come on board with the conversation. The ones who are ready are also hungry for the true essence of the feminine, so I love seeing the men in the audience and seeing how their perception changes as a result of seeing the show. I have men who work behind the scenes on the production of this piece and it’s so beautiful to feel so fully supported by them.
Do you think it’s important for individuals – for all of us – to address our complicity in our internalised shame? That’s not to say to blame ourselves for the things we have internalised which harm us, but hold ourselves accountable for the ways in which we might be perpetuating them and actively seek to unlearn and confront our shame?
I think in an ideal world, yes. And not everybody might be called to that journey in this lifetime and there is no judgement in that either. It’s an extremely empowering journey, albeit sometimes excruciating too. You have to be deeply resourced to embark on such a journey. So the first step is in cultivating our internal resources to be able to go to these depths within.
Unless we are willing to turn towards our shame then there will always be a part of us in hiding and that part is where our magic and creative genius lies… Imagine a world where everybody’s creative geniuses were turned on. We would create a different world from the one we are living in now. What’s that phrase… “the revolution will not be televised” – that’s because it’s going to come from the inside. If we can touch into our shame and free it from the internal prison then we are free.
Thanks again to Kate for speaking with us and being so willing to dive into the nitty gritty about our differences when it comes to approaching (and smashing) period taboos! Join in with the discussion in the comments below – and check out more about The Blood Tales, as well as Kate’s other projects, right here.
Header image: The Blood Tales
Senior Content Creator
Bella is a pet-less animal lover, serial plant-killer, and obsessive playlist-maker. When she’s not writing about periods and waxing lyrical about the joys of organic tampons, you can find her writing here. She listens to too many podcasts and thinks you should probably drink more water.
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