Today I have a dull ache in my lower back, a dragging sensation in my pelvis: a ghost period. My body is fulfilling some of the hormonal functions of menstruating, but since I had an endometrial ablation three years (almost exactly!) ago, my periods are a shadow of their former selves. No more horrorshow bathroom and bedsheets, no more agonising pain. Just irritability and some achiness.
Apparently this is how some people experience menstruation all their lives! It’s unimaginable to me. My periods were always a site of pain. But as my regular readers know, choosing to stop them altogether – and meaning I was putting a firm full stop too on the idea of having more children – was still a complex decision.
Ultimately, though, I got the lining of my womb burned out, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I thought about this today as I rubbed my aching back, and as I saw a twitter controversy about book burning flame on.
Grace Lavery, a professor of English and a trans woman (not an incidental detail, given the way the wider public responds to her), was accused of encouraging book burning. She has written a cogent thread here summing the controversy up, so I won’t repeat it. In short: no, Lavery didn’t call for book burning, but does point out that “the destruction of a commodity by an individual, or even a private group, would be different to the state-sponsored destruction of that commodity”.
The book at the centre of this twitterstorm is Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier, which essentially argues that a “transgender craze” is brainwashing young women and girls into transitioning into men. The front cover of the book shows a pretty vintage paper doll with a huge void where her womb should be.
I burned (or rather had a qualified surgeon burn!) out my womb because it was inhibiting the quality of my life. I hope it’s obvious why that is quite a different act from the government forcibly performing a hysterectomy or sterilisation on me, a historic and continuing problem for many marginalised people. Likewise, it’s clear that a marginalised person choosing to symbolically burn a book that oppressed them is pretty different from a state or institution burning all the copies of that book.
Abigail Shrier probably wouldn’t put me in the same category as the men she sees as deluded girls. After all, I am a cis woman who has used her uterus to produce a baby. But I wonder just how closely adjacent she would place me. After all, I now too have a void in my body, if we accept the disturbing implication that a non-productive womb (or not having a womb at all) renders a body into something fractured and not whole.
My life was not unbearable when I chose to have an endometrial ablation. I think that’s worth emphasising. A lot of the narratives around women’s reproductive health, and around trans people’s gender confirming surgeries, emphasise problems that are unbearable; they imply that radical solutions are only to be offered when there are no other choices for living a good life (or choosing to live at all). I lived in a great deal of pain and discomfort, but I could have gone on living like that. I had done so for many years and still had a good life. I chose not to. Why should I? And why should trans people often only be given the opportunity to physically transition if the alternative seems to be risk of suicide?
We do not have to make radical choices only if the alternative is despair. Burning does not have to be destructive. Sometimes it is the best way to clear ground to allow new growth. If you want to, you can burn yourself down, phoenix. I can’t wait to see what comes out of the ashes.