Writing by Zadie McCracken // Photograph by Sandra Lazzarini
I’m sitting in an abandoned classroom. It’s just become spring, and sun filters in through a half-open window. The ceiling is pattern with holes, and I’m lounging on a desk, my laptop open in front of me. Next to me, Dharani Kommalapati and Elvy Swan sit side by side.
My Second guests are: Dharani Kommalapati and Elvy Swan
Dharani Kommalapati is a uniquely hilarious, creative and kind high school student and artist. She’s wearing a soft green jumper under a pair of classic denim overalls, and flicks her newly cut hair back with a delicate hand. Dharani possessesa a sense of mystery and wisdom, along with her ridiculous and distinctive humour.
Elvy Swan is an excitable, joyful, unintentionally funny and wise young woman. A student and skilled musician, Elvy is known for her extreme kindness, beautiful songs and loveable nature. She sits with leg crossed on the table, blush in her cheeks, her soft brown hair tied up. She smiles as we begin.
How old were you and where were you when you got your first period and how did you deal with it?
Dharani: Oh my god! I was in Paris. It was a week before I turned thirteen. I’d had this massive fight with my mum…actually, it wasn’t even a fight, but, like, I was crying with my mum before, then I went to the bathroom and realised I had my period. I was like, ‘woah’.
Z: In Paris!
D: At some cafe. One of the millions. A great birthday present, actually.
Elvy: I got mine in Year Seven, I think. Everyone thought I would get it in Year Five because I was the tallest in my class for years. And when I got it–because my mum’s quite hippy–she had gotten Bella, my sister, and I, a big box of all these things celebrating our periods. So she opened up this box and in it we had some nice new underpants, and some chocolate, and this book called Reach For The Moon, which is, like, a girl’s book about periods. And there were big ribbons and lots of red tissue paper.
Z: (laughs) I wish I’d gotten that! I wish my mum had presented me with a nice care package!
D: I know! But I did do a weird ceremony
Z: My mum just freaked out. She was like, ‘Oh my god!’ and told everyone in the house.
E: I had a massive celebration with all the girls we knew. Mum hung this red silk and I had to walk through the red silk into a room. Then we sat around a candle, it was so funny.
Okay, do you get and how do you deal with PMS, cramps and other lovely period side effects?
E: Ugh! Do you get cramps, Dharani?
D: Like, kind of. I don’t get them that bad. When I do get them I just lie down. That’s about it! (laughs)
E: I try to make the biggest deal out of my cramps so I can get the most empathy from other people (laughs)
Z: (laughs) You’re so evil!
E: But they hurt so much! I get really bad cramps. But I do overreact because that’s in my character too. I just – I wish that if you had your period, you didn’t have to come to school. Because then you could just have the day off, it would be so nice…
Z: Yeah. You know those tribal women who all bleed at the same time and would just go off together and, like, bleed under the sun?
D: Yeah! That sounds nice.
E: In Australian Aboriginal culture the women all go off and do ‘women’s business’. I think that’s what they call it. They do ceremonies and stuff, and all the women bleed together.
D: But I don’t feel like my emotions change too much around my period.
Z: Yeah, same. Not anymore.
D: Yeah, I used to get a bit sad but now I don’t.
E: One time I came back from England and just cried for ages. I didn’t know why and then I got my period the next day!
What is your funniest, favourite or best period story?
D: Oh no, it’s really embarrassing, I don’t want to tell it! Well, my period got on my pants—I was wearing these very overalls!—when I was in the theatre –
Z: (gasps) I was there for that! You used my flannel!
D: (laughs) Yeah! I was like, ‘Zadie, I need your flannel!’ I had to cover it up.
Z: Did it get on the seat?
D: No, thank god. And then Lillian gave me a pad and it was all great.
Z: I had my period as well that day and I was really worried that I was going to bleed all over the seat! But it was Dharani.
D: It was me.
What is one thing people don’t know or are mistaken about when it comes to menstruation?
D: Oh, like you’re dirty – this isn’t a very Western thing but you’re considered dirty or impure when you’re on your period. And you can’t go certain places.
E: Yeah, tell us more about that because it’s really interesting.
D: Yeah, like, in our family temple there is an area that only little girls and people who have passed menstruation, who have gone through menopause, can go because, you know, they’re pure. While girls on their periods can’t go there.
E: I remember Rupi Kaur talked about how everyone is born from a vagina but no one wants to talk about how it works. Like, that’s so weird!
How much and what did you know before you got your period?
E: I learnt a lot because I was born into a hippy family. And in Steiner you do this thing, in year four or five, where all the girls get together and one woman stands in the middle and does all this stuff, talking about your period. I went to the one with the year above me because everyone was like, ‘Oh, she’s going to get her period, she’s so big!’
D: I did know what it was, but I learnt how it could hurt people through my sister. She would cry and throw massive tantrums on her period.
How open are you about your period and do you talk about your period and do you talk about your period often?
D: Yeah, I’m open with my friends.
E: I feel like I’m more open than you, Dharani.
D: Yeah but that’s with everything (laughs).
E: I think in our class we’re all pretty open about it.
D: Yeah, we’re like, ‘I’m on my period!’
E: We love creeping boys out about it. So entertaining!
Do you use pads or tampons?
D: Well, I got this weird cup thing –
Z: (gasps) Did you use it?
D: Yeah! It’s called the Diva cup or something and you just put it up there and take it out.
Z: I really want to use one, but I’m scared!
E: I want to use one too but I don’t know where to get one.
Z: Yeah, that too. And you have to fold it and put it up there, and then it expands! Oh my god, terrifying!
D: But you don’t notice it once it’s up there. And you just change it when you go to the bathroom.
What advice do you have for people about to get their periods?
Elvy decides to burst into song here.
E: Welcome to the circle of life! (laughs)
D: I would say be prepared. Because you never know when an emergency situation might happen.
E: And be happy, you’re a woman now, darling! I think it’s beautiful to get your period.
D: It’s a magical time! Also make sure you know what makes you happy when you’re on your period.
E: Eat chocolate! Always helps.
D: For those who like chocolate, that is.
Alright! Any last thoughts?
E: Periods are great because you can treat yourself!
D: And you can use it as an excuse!