“One is not born a woman, but rather becomes,
a woman.”
– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

The menstrual flow, call it a blessing or a curse, marks the beginning of a female-born child’s becoming a woman. From that moment, we are on moon-time: our body cycles ebbing and flowing like tides. Suddenly we are sexual beings, aware of the power of our beauty and our capacity to bring life into the world.

On My Period is the most personal and introspective project I have ever attempted. This cyclical devotion to that special week of the month when I bleed has become a way for me to creatively explore my femininity.

When I began this project, I used tampons. The cotton string that dangled out of my vagina reminded me of a tail, giving birth to Devil Girl, the first of becomings that emerged on my period.

May Ling Su devil girlRaised in a Catholic environment, I was made well aware of “the devil” that lurked waiting to consume my innocence. The beginning of my menstrual flow marked my awareness of sex, questioning religious and societal norms, and the formation of my own identity. An external force when I was a child, “the devil” grew inside me as I bled monthly.

Devil Girl is fierce and full of PMS rage. I began wearing two red chopsticks through buns on either side of my head to complement my “tail.” Devil Girl opened me up to the many images throughout art history portraying horns as a metaphor for the crescent moon (such as depictions of the Moon Goddess, Artemis/Diana, goddess of the hunt).

When I learned about the dangers of dioxin in cotton tampons, I switched to wearing the sea sponge on my period, from which arose a new becoming, The Mermaid. She smells of the ocean, but is seductive to sailors. Dwelling in life-giving waters, The Mermaid reminds me to care for the environment. Wearing the reusable sea sponge added more washing to my monthly rituals, but instead of tossing disposables in the trash, the bloody wash became a nutritious treat for my house plants.

My blood soaked sponge also inspired a new ritual, body painting. The designs are different from month to month, connecting me to Prehistoric Matriarchs whose blood offerings were their monthly feminine flow, unlike patriarchal counterparts whose offerings to the gods were products of violence.

It was only a matter of time before my flow paint reached my face. Sometimes I wore PMS war paint boldly. Other times I wore my flow as rouge on my cheeks and lips, reminding me that the roots of make-up lay in a woman’s desire to advertise that she is of childbearing age.

In 2003, my photograph titled, The Moon and I (NSFW), was on exhibit at Art @ Large Gallery in New York City. Attending the art opening was my first flesh and blood public appearance alongside my work.

The Moon and I by May Ling Su
The Moon and I by May Ling Su

In 2010, On My Period was nominated for the Feminist Porn Award for Best Website.

Metropolis TV in the Netherlands opened their 2010 season with “That Time of the Month,” in which I am featured painting my body with menstrual blood on a beach off the Pacific Ocean. Here is a (NSFW) preview:

As I approach my last decade or so of menstruation, I have been using a menstrual cup, exploring a new kind of becoming, that of a fully realized woman raising her cup to the menstrual flow — its monthly presence, its temporary absence during pregnancy, and its eventual end at menopause — as a life-affirming, cyclical, ultra-feminine phenomenon. Cheers!