By Franny Choi
“Periodic” is a monthly column by poet Franny Choi. Every month, she writes a short column on the first day of her period—a check-in that might cover issues of gender, queerness, writing, health, and/or love. This series is an experiment in occasional writing and an exploration of what it means to write about menstruation with a queer imagination.
This month, my period comes while I’m in Arkansas, far from home and most everyone I love. What’s on my mind, therefore, is distance—the distance between me and my partner, between today and next month, when I’ll finally move across the country to join him in Massachussetts. Usually, I feel distance most keenly when I’m ovulating. For about a week every month, it feels like death not to be touched, like there’s too much space inside my skin. I press my body against all the furniture, stay up late because I can’t stand the thought of lying in bed alone. When I look back at my poems, I can almost tell which ones were written during this point in my cycle; everything in them is on fire, a slithering cat, a throat filled with seawater.
Last year, when I lived in Ann Arbor, far away from most everyone I loved, I’d install Tinder once every month, and then, when my period came a week later, delete it again. In spite of all of its discomforts, the arrival of my period has often been something of a relief in that way. In the days before, my need to be touched would stretch, cover my entire field of vision, until I forgot there was anything else—just miles of longing from horizon to horizon. It was the kind of desire, you know, that makes a mess of the maps. And then one morning, I’d wipe, and it would come away pink—and I’d think, Oh, thank God, I’m not terminally horny after all.
Like so many of us (and probably all of us who grew up Catholic) I’m still trying to practice not thinking of sexual desire as evil. I have this early memory of being caught masturbating by my mother, of her scolding me and warning that it would make me sick. Who knows why she said that, or whether I’m even remembering it right. But it’s true that desire feels, sometimes, like a kind of sickness; like a terrible, dangerous glitch.
“I want so desperately to be finished with desire,” writes poet Aaron Smith. Coming home from a bad hook-up, shaking and sore, I feel Smith’s words deeply. I say them to myself after hurting my ex by breaking the rules of our open relationship; after sleeping with someone I hate; after going to the apartment of a man who puts himself inside me without asking, without using a condom. So, when I see that first, faint bit of blood each month, it can feel a bit like being released from duty. A sort of there, there, on the part of my body: Be finished, for now, with desire.
Ovulating as a (for lack of a better word) lesbian is a funny thing, of course. Weird that my queerness is both located in my body and also something that my body is apparently too stupid to understand. That is, it can’t decide which biological imperative to go with—the imperative to procreate by fucking, or the imperative to mostly fuck people I wouldn’t be able to procreate with. Similarly confused, my mother corrects my father when he calls me “bisexual” instead of “queer,” and then, later that evening, mourns that I turned out the way I did (“queer”) even after being raised in the church and going to an Ivy League school. Both of these things are true. My mother loves me fiercely; and, fiercely, she can’t understand my desire as anything but a sign of failure. Meanwhile, my body runs stupidly toward its own wants, full-tilt, in opposite directions.
When I talk to my partner about, say, wanting to have kids despite all the ethical and environmental arguments against it, he responds that he knows a thing or two about following one’s body’s weird imperatives. Cameron’s cycle is weekly rather than monthly because of the testosterone he injects into his thigh every Saturday. I remember the first time I watched him walk across a room naked, thinking that I’d never seen a more perfect body in my whole life. Oh, I thought, Here’s who I’ve been looking for. It’s the most at home I’ve ever felt in a relationship. And yet, sometimes, in public, I’m aware of people looking at us and seeing only incoherence: some sort of interracial, confusingly-aged, vaguely-lesbian situation they can’t make sense of.
Which makes it, maybe, all the funnier how obvious it is that I’ve been running toward him all this time. Sometimes, I picture us as sad teenagers, both reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower or whatever in our separate corners of the country. (It’s all pretty adolescent, after all, the unbearable loneliness of ovulating in a long-distance relationship!) I know this makes it tempting to think of moving to be with the love of your life as a kind of solution to all those years of queer teenage incoherence, though of course it’s not. So, in the absence of perfect coherence, I’ll hold, instead, for points of perfect overlap.
What I mean is that I can’t get this bit of Cameron’s poem out of my head: “Here is the circle of my life / & here is yours, tangent extending / indefinitely away & here is the place / where, by definition, they always meet.”
Last week, we lucked out. It was one of those rare convergences in which my ovulation-fever lined up not only with the right point in Cameron’s T cycle, but also with a week when we were actually in the same place, for once. Our stupid bodies, with their bad maps and impossible geometries, ran in different directions and somehow (by definition) found each other anyway. There, there, in other words. Be finished, for now.