*Content notice: Piece includes discussion of sexual assault and body trauma
“You should really start taking birth control.”
He flung those words in my face after forcing himself, no protection, on me. It was more than just the filmy latex barrier that was lacking. He ripped through what I can only describe as the sanctity of my soul, which knew not how to protect itself in its naïve belief that human beings, especially those of friendly nature (from Brown, no less), would never violate another’s personal space or body. My soul had no defense line prepared for what would eventually haunt me, permanently seared to the back of my eyelids for years.
After that night, I vowed never to let anyone rob me of ownership of my own body again. I conflated this quest of ownership with a stubborn refusal to take birth control pills or get an IUD. Admittedly this sounds foolish, but it was the only way I could protect myself from those infuriating words ringing in my ears. It was an act of rebellion against him and everyone else who would dare tell me what to do with my body for their own hedonistic gains. The physical latex protection partially compensated for my damaged psychological one. I regained a little bit of power every time my partners respected my body and my wishes. I was healing, slowly.
It seems almost ironic that birth control would serve as an oppositional symbol to ownership of my body, considering its purpose of controlling the menstrual cycle, a central component of my female body. But I had never experienced the abnormal menstrual patterns or bleeding that prompt many women to begin birth control. I had never wanted to manipulate my body with externally administered hormones when it was functioning perfectly on its own. My body was naturally in tune with itself. I remember my cycle even now: a steady 32-days with a seven-day period. It was on the longer side, but I could always rest knowing that my body was balanced and healthy; that I was in sync with it; that it was my own; that we were as one. My body would always remain faithful to me, stable and supportive. At this point, birth control was unnecessary, even wearying. The thought of it only provided a painful reminder of how it could be manipulated to force ownership into the wrong hands—hands that should never have crossed my boundaries in the first place.
Last August, I stood confused in front of the bathroom mirror with a sheen of sweat across my forehead from the summer heat and sunken shadows underneath my eyes. Next to the toilet, a trash can full of discarded tampons. I narrowed my eyes at myself through the mirror, trying desperately to decipher what my body was trying to tell me. At that point, I had been bleeding for 14 days straight. Every day was dark red. 15, 16, 17. I saw red in my sleep. 18, 19, 20…my insides were being drained…24, 25, 26. My body had revolted. It tore away from its natural place, bleeding red and magenta and bruised purple; it wrenched my carefully reconstructed ownership away from me—to give to whom? Who had control over my body? Fate? …Bullshit. But who else? Powerless, I lived as skin and bone. Lifeblood and energy trickled out of me day by day.
To blame a physical being for violating my body is in some ways more straightforward than to accept that an unknown something is destabilizing it from the inside. To be helpless in the face of my body crying tears of blood, to know that I have no control over my bodily rhythms, is eternally unnerving. Moreover, to lose control of a phenomenon so fundamental to my experience of womanhood—the exact cause of this unknown—is mentally debilitating.
I take birth control pills now, putting to rest a long fought rebellion I started four years ago. Reversing the actions but to accomplish the same task: to regain control over my body as a woman. Not for anyone else’s sake, but for mine.
[My] body, [my] blood.