Spring/Fall 2020

How to Erase Femininity

By Leah Gaus

Buttons on your grey and teal The North Face backpack:


I love my vagina.

Vote feminist.

Thoughts that cross through your head as you pin them on: Do I really want the word “vagina” on my bag? It’s not a curse word. Right?

Tiny crimson pinpricks on bright white toilet paper—an omen of what may or may not come, an echo of the stress you’ve been consumed by.

The cold tinge of ultrasound gel on your lower abdomen, slowly moving dangerously close to the edge of the white towel the technician tucked into your jeans. You’re not here because you’re pregnant.

A hand resting on your stomach, gentle but strong. Your eyes close on their own, the calmest smile falling across your face. You start giggling breathlessly. “What?” he asks.

“Nothing, it’s just…” You sigh, running a hand through your hair and turning your head to look into those ocean eyes. Something inside you forces an explanation out of your mouth, hoping he’ll feel the same. He never will.

“100 Things I Cannot Do Because of This.” Alternate Title: “100 Reasons Why You Should Help Me.” You came up with 196. Among them: roller skating, jumping jacks, coughing, sneezing, too much toilet paper, gym class, missing school, severe pain, your brother’s comments.

Viscous blood trails down your leg, pooling on the shower floor and crawling down the drain. You frantically waste an entire roll of toilet paper trying to make it stop.

“You don’t miss school because you have your period.”

Did you know that the majority of pads have nylon in them? Feminine products have ingredient lists, just like boxes of cereal or fuzzy socks.

Sitting on the royal blue bleachers while the rest of your gym class runs laps on the track outside, all because you have “asthma.” You showed the warning signs for it, but that wasn’t the real reason.

“Do you ever wonder what it’s like to have your worst fear come true?” Your freshman-year college roommate asks you one night, sliding her perfectly arched feet into a pair of black velvet wedges. No, I don’t, you think to yourself. It wasn’t until that moment that you realized it had already happened.

A single slightly thick, shiny piece of photo paper, the edges curling under—eight different photos in pairs of two. The left side an extremely dark red, the right a thousand shades lighter. The aftermath of a single blood clot. “No wonder exercise triggered it,” someone mutters.

Bang, clink, whirr. Bang, bang. Only you would be able to write poetry inside an MRI machine.

“Sex means a lot to me,” you declare at a strategically-placed, long-stressed-over moment towards the beginning of every potential relationship. No, I’m not abstinent. Yes, I’m a virgin, you’ve rehearsed how to answer their follow-up questions. I had a bicornuate uterus, which means that there was a wall dividing my uterus in half. You’ve reduced your trauma to a scientific explanation—one that is yours to give, not theirs to take.

You remember writing six long paragraphs on your Samsung Galaxy S5 in the waiting room of the Sears Optical down the street from your house, explaining your “complicated situation” to your first and only boyfriend. “I need time to think,” you quickly read as your name is called. You don’t remember the rest of what he said.

“Count down from ten for me, sweetie.” Her voice is gentle as she places the oxygen mask over your face. “Ten, nine, eight…” When you wake up, every cell in your body is sore.

They called it an outpatient procedure, but to you, it will always be surgery.

“apparently it is ungraceful of me / to mention my period in public / cause the actual biology / of my body is too real / it is okay to sell what’s / between a woman’s legs / more than it is okay to / mention its inner workings / the recreational use of / this body is seen as / beautiful while / its nature is / seen as ugly” – rupi kaur

You wanted to bolt the doors to your cellar shut, but they wouldn’t let you, and you’re still learning how to thrive in slivers of light.

Leah Gaus

Leah Gaus studies creative and professional writing and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Miami University in Ohio. Her creative nonfiction has been published in Green Blotter. When not reading queer theory, you can sometimes catch her sipping a chai latte at the local coffee shop.

Spring/Fall 2020