There are some shows at every Edinburgh fringe which are so inspiring you simply have to see them twice. Last year it was Permission by Hannah Chutzpah and in previous years, Becoming Wonder Woman by Sophia Blackwell and That’s Not How You Spell Pedantic By Jim Higo were worth a second view. This year however the winner of this accolade was not only highly entertaining it was challenging, funny, and thought provoking tackled a subject which somehow even in these enlightened times remains among the last of the sexual taboos.
The show was Adventures In Menstruating by the gabby and highly likeable American comedian Chella Quint. Chella though originally a New Yorker from Brooklyn is now living in Sheffield so I ask myself does that mean she’s a native of New Yorkshire. Well to be honest I don’t know, what I do know however is that she had one of the funniest, most challenging, most thought provoking shows I saw in the whole of Edinburgh 2016.
This show wasn’t just entertaining it was also enlightening and educational with a significant degree of audience participation in an action packed 50 minutes. During this period (sorry I don’t usually do period puns), Chella who is a sex educator by profession exposed some of the more bizarre myths around the topic and tried to remove the stain of shame from what is a natural if painful part of being female.
As she introduced the show Chella (pictured below) told us that it was bloody funny and that it starts off heavy but it gets light. With her puns done and dusted Chella then reassured us that no real or fake blood was used in the snow but she said a had a plushy which anyone could hold for a few minutes if they felt in any way squeamish.
Having completed her preliminaries Chella started the entertainment with a game of twister. Yes you did read that right, we started the show in full interactive mode which means that this must be the only show I’ve ever seen which starts with a game which has the potential to end in carnage.
There was however a very good reason for this and that was to test out how much we knew about the topic. The idea was that we would put our right foot on one of three colours which coincidentally the colours of traffic lights depending on what we know about periods. If we know nothing we would put our foot on red, if we something about them but not as much as we should we put our foot on amber and if we knew everything we needed to know we would put our foot on green.
As a trans woman I put my foot on Amber because I did have some knowledge of the topic. This knowledge however didn’t flow gently in to my mind like a nice wee stream, it came like a flood in the night because it didn’t come from books or magazine articles it came from my mother one November night when as a young trans girl of about 13 when I was dressed in my beige top navy skirt and tan tights, (Having to rely to on my mother’s cast offs was never easy for a fashion conscious trans girl in the 70’s ) she gave me what she called the full horror story of what I was lucky not to get. So I think I knew I enough to go amber rather than red.
Having avoided potential catastrophy and gained at least some knowledge from her audience as to where we were at with regards to the topic, Chella waited till we were all safely back in our seats before setting about educating us by tackling some of the most commonly held myths and misconceptions on what is seen by far too many in our so-called polite, civilised society as something to be swept under the carpet at the fastest possible speed.
This list of myths included the ‘fact’ that period cycles are an exact science and therefore the same for every woman and girl. This is not true and as Chella pointed out the cycle can vary between 21-35 days depending on the individual. Chella also said that the biggest fear faced by many girls on getting their first period was that of leaking in class. This I have to say is very understandable and had I born biologically female as I would have wished it would certainly have been my number one fear when mother nature called for her monthly visit. This was an issue Chella dealt with later in the show with her brilliant and sensitively written poem Leaking Girl in which she showed empathy and compassion to every girl who has ever had one of those moments.
One of the more unbelievable but true misconceptions Chella revealed during the show was the fact that some girls thought periods were blue and not red. Yes, I know this surprised me too and to any rational, mind would seem ridiculous. However when you take a closer look at it, you will see that right from the beginning of time which was 1926 in the case of female hygiene products, they have always used varying shades of light blue for advertising purposes.
Why this colour was chosen when everyone’s blood is red I can only guess. My hunch is that I think it had more to with polite society not wanting to deal with what it saw and still sees as women’s issues and that men should not be troubled by the sight of women’s blood.
This to me seems ever so slightly strange but I have no doubt that it was society’s rather middle class of telling women to calm down. Now I don’t know about you but I have never met a woman whose calmed down because she’s been told to calm down.
As Chella showed us some of the adverts and took us on a guided tour of periods through the generations she highlighted the fact that when it comes to language and imagery used talk about periods nothing much has really changed in the years since tampons were invented.
In the first advert in our historical tour which is from 1926 words like fear and embarrassment were used to describe what the ruling classes thought was obviously a very messy business. Now you may think that was fair enough and probably chimed well with the attitudes of early 20th century Britain.
However as the adverts progressed through the decades and generations the language used was still as negative as it had ever been and words like shame, and secret were and still are commonly used or at least implied to describe a woman’s time of the month. This it has be to said, does nothing to enhance positive body images for women and instead leaves us and yes as a trans woman I do say us, with negative stereotypes of what periods can mean rather than the reassurance needed that nature will run its course.
As she mused on this issue Chella performed her poem Leaking Girl and came up with a revolutionary idea that we could reclaim the stain with unique period style jewellery or as she called it leak chic which of course would go national and eventually global but it’s headquarters would be in the Kent town of Staines. Well it seems logical to me.
At this, it was time for some more audience interaction as Chella invited us to reclaim the stain and be proud of our right to be women. After talking us period jewellery she invited us embrace the stain and pass it round the audience. This, she said was our chance to a get a selfie and as you can see from the picture below I took full advantage of the situation.
This, was a brilliant piece of interaction as it got you however briefly to be involved in a common experience of sharing a moment with the girl or women next to you and just like twister it worked to perfection. I think there may be a lot of Instagram photographs of this.
Chella ended the show with The Crimson Tide a song which emphasised the need for women and girls to be period positive and left us more aware of why made women feel the way we do about such a female issue .
During a fast paced well crafted show Chella made the crowd feel as if we were all going on a shared journey and the interactive nature of the show was enjoyed by all who saw it. You see this wasn’t just entertaining it was educational and groundbreaking in the way it tackled the issue.
As I left the show I chatted to my fellow audience members and I have to say the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Believe me when I say this show was the talk of the ladies room where most of had gone to reapply our make up and for me at least the aftermath of the show led to some pretty life affirming conversations
Like for example the one I had with a young woman of 19 who told me how scared she was when she got her first period and then without pausing for breath told me that it must have been even more scary for me because I was about ages with her mum and sex education wasn’t as good in her day as it was now. As a trans woman this was a double result for me as not had seen me as just another woman but when I found out her mum’s age she had knocked about 14 to 15 years off me.
Nice though this compliment was and no matter how it was to get it , I had to tell the girl the truth about my trans identity. On doing this, the girl who seemed completely unfazed by my revelation said, well since you must be on hormones to have gained such a female shape you must experience some of the symptoms we get so if anyone tries to give you grief about being a woman just tell them to bolt. Trust me this is good advice and I will remember to use as and when required.
Other comments on the show were that any man who attended, will have a new respect for women. No girl should ever be ashamed to leak ever again, and that starting the show could have halved the audience before we had taken our seats. However I conclude my review by quoting Felicity from Edinburgh, the audience member who sat beside me on the Friday night show. As we made our way up the stairs she said that this was one of the most important shows she had seen in very long time and it was both educational and inspiring and should be touring the UK so as many women and girls as possible get the chance to see it. I have to say I agree with her on this It was a brilliant way to spend 50 minutes. It was packed with with passion, power and period pain though it did have some moments of light relief. To me this was intelligent comedy which left no stain on our character and that more than anything made this adventure a jewel of a show for the girls.
Love And Best Wishes