Cunt.

Most days, my morning starts with coffee.

Other days, it begins with finding myself being equated to a Nazi mass-murderer by some random online stranger, who happens to disagree with me about the need and function of public protest in any functioning democracy.

So, yeah. That.

I wondered, as I stared at my computer screen this morning: why am I the one in this exchange feeling trapped and tongue-tied? Why this stab of pain at witnessing the shameful barbarism of another human’s ill-informed—and ill-intended—imagination?

I have been trying to write about shame for days, y’see. The way it clots the throat. The way it steals intent and stillbirths action.

When functioning properly, shame polices the edges of propriety. It’s the tool our social herds use to cull those whose behavior transgresses the untransgressable. But often when we speak of it this way directly—“Have you no shame?”—we are merely evoking the presence of its absence, trying to summon the effects of a boundary on someone who has long since abandoned our thought-to-be-agreed-upon rules.

Shame is a double-edged knife, sharpened even through its hilt. It cuts in unpredictable directions, as often burying itself in the flesh of the sinned-against as in that of the sinner. More often, perhaps.

Still unsure what I’m getting at? Ask any rape survivor.

Ask if they felt shame.

sheela-na-gig_kilpeck_church_sequence

***

Lexical Interlude 1

The word “cunt” is, according to some sources I’ve read, “perhaps the most offensive word in the English language.” I dunno ’bout that (seems to me, ****** can more than give **** a run for its money), but since I see no value in ranking dehumanizing racial slurs against dehumanizing gendered epithets, let’s just agree “cunt” is considered pretty damn bad, as far as derogatory language choices go. It hurts the ear.

It reduces the recipient to nothing but her sex, and then deems that sex garbage. 

***

In semi-related news, I continue to think through what writing will become for me now, post-remembering project. What my writing is, and what I want it to be.

What function voice, words, stories.

What purpose targeted.

What meaning sculpted.

In a recent interview with poet/filmmaker/photographer Vivek Shraya, I came across these words: “art as a site of protest.” Shraya, a Canadian transdisciplinary, transgender writer and artist who “work[s] at the nexus of race, colonialism, gender, sexuality, violence, and history,” explains her commitment to presence in the world:

“I am always hesitant to call myself an activist, mostly out of respect for the activists who are using their bodies and voices to protest or activists online who are constantly engaging and educating others… That said, I do use art as a site of protest, particularly in relation to dominant narratives.”

Still resonating to her reasons for not claiming the title “activist” (I too hesitate, for similar reasons), a thought pops into my head, unbidden: I want to use shame as a site of protest.

To feel shame is to carry silence in your body like the swallowed sword of a circus performer; no movement in your core, no sound, not even a gulp of air for fear of slicing your guts to hamburger. But consider: when that lady in the spangled leotard at last pulls the broadsword from her gullet, she instantly becomes the most dangerously-armed badass under the big top.

What might it mean to ‘use shame as a site of protest’? What does ‘using shame’ mean to me as a writer, as a survivor, as one who nearly drowned in decades of my own shame and silence? I don’t yet have answers.

But I’m prepared to sit here in my cunning cunt cap and start to think it through.

***

Have you heard of the mythic hero Bellerophon? [Just go with me here. I’ll explain shortly.]

I mean: you’ve almost certainly heard of Bellerophon, even if you don’t realize it (he was the dude who rode Pegasus), but other than “oh yes, that winged horse probably had a rider at some point,” do you know the stories of Bellerophon? Do you know how this winged beast-riding, fire-breathing monster-slaying, beloved-of-the-gods-and-bearer-of-their-curses ancient hero was defeated at Lycia by a band of women and the fierce power of their collective crotches?

He attacked their city with a tidal wave, you see, after praying to his friend Poseidon for a favor—which seems to me dirty pool; how can mere mortals with spears combat a raging ocean as it towers over them, threatening to sweep away all life as they know it—and when the men’s pleas for mercy (“have you no shame??”) went unanswered, the women of Lycia marched out to confront him. And as they marched, they lifted their robes high: a phalanx of exposed pudenda defying fear, defying drowning, despising death.

And Bellerophon retreated, taking his tsunami with him.

[This is Plutarch’s version, fyi. In another telling, it is the women’s licentiousness that causes them to lift their skirts and this would-be god’s own purity and disgust that causes him to withdraw. Don’t you believe it.

When we of shamed bodies link arms and display our truths in straight-backed solidarity, when we return-to-sender the shame that has been put upon us? We become fearsome.

We become unstoppable.]

***

Lexical Interlude 2

The Latin word vagina (meaning “sheath, or scabbard”) is the root source for our present-day word vagina (meaning “pussy, or cunt”).  Only over time did the warrior’s word bleed over to the mother’s body. But I reject any linguistic algorithm that would render me de facto deficient, my body mere housing for an absence that forever craves a phallic presence to fill and fulfill it.

No. If my body be deemed sheath, I’ll forge and carry my own weapon. Pull it from out my throat, as need arises.

***

Much sound and fury, of late, about what gets called “identity politics.” As if any politics can be separated from identity, as if “I believe” ever stands separate from “I am.” Those incensed by the idea of functional coalitions, rooted not in uniformity but in the centering of difference, would have you believe that common cause only thrives when mouths are stoppered. That we only functions when I, I, I gives way.

Make no mistake: those who rail loudest are arguing on behalf of a politics of shaming instead. They seek to split the world into those who would eat shame, and those who would (grinning) feed shame to us.

And, of course, the dead and the soon-to-be-dying.

But hush, they say, let us pass over in silence such a spectacle of gross and fleshy decay.

***

Sword-swallower.

Sword-spitter.

Sword-wielder.

I am not the one who first made this body into a battlefield. But neither shall I be first to abandon the plain.

***

[I too can divide all people into two kinds. All depends, not on a red wheelbarrow, but on the answer to this riddle: How does one face humanity’s common destiny?]

The world is a huge, loud, overwhelming experience. Control is an illusion. Love is impermanent. We are all going to die.

Fight against these truths, and you become the very monster you once feared.

Or—you can soften. Make space. Let such truths break you open.

Crack your chest wide and hear the red, red beating of your most human heart. Now turn to a person beside you: can you hear the gentle thump, thump of their heart too?

***

Last night, I have a dream:

We are assembling on a beach. All of us together.

Assaulted bodies. Non-masculine bodies. Trans bodies. Black and brown bodies. Fat bodies. Queer bodies. Native bodies. Disabled bodies, and able bodies with disabled minds. Incarcerated bodies.

Sex workers. Refugees. Police victims. Food stamp recipients. Soldiers back from war. Soldiers still asked to make war. The raped, the abused, and the neglected.

Me.

An army of us gathering—robes lifted to our naked waists, throats wide open—and we are driving back tides into the ocean with the heat of our collectively-refused shame.


[Image of Sheela-na-gig at Kilpeck Church: By Nessy-Pic – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.]

47 thoughts on “Cunt.

    1. Whoa, high praise — thank you! Much of my thinking on shame has been influenced by Brene Brown’s work; I’ll leave some links to her eminently-watchable TED talks below, in case you (or anyone else) is interested.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Humiliating, shaming, assaulting — they’re all strategies designed to tell us we are less than we are, less than others are. That our voices are lesser; that our voices do not even matter. Lies, all of it.

      You are not less, and you are not alone.

      (glad to have you here!)

      Like

    1. Glad to have you here!

      Maggie and I only recently connected with each other’s work, but are already becoming strong mutual fans. I expect us to start braiding each other’s hair or possibly building a club house any day now…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yesterday, my youngest was talking about how she was trying to pronounce a word and said cunt as part of the word on accident. I don’t remember the word… sorry. Anyway! Her older sister immediately jumped all over how she can’t say that word. I asked her who told her she couldn’t? She had no idea. I told them I’m fine with that word, but best not to use it around teachers and mamaws and whatnot. Seemed to go alright. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, don’t we? Like learning when to speak up and when to stay silent?

    I always love reading your posts. You do turn a clever phrase.
    “Crack your chest wide and hear the red, red beating of your most human heart.” So good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, probably not the best word to use around mamaws (or papaws neither), but I agree: we police children’s language to a bizarre extent, especially the mandate on little girls to be so sugary sweet and innocent — even when such learned silence can, over time, leave them vulnerable to harm way beyond “dirty words.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ❤️ Oh, synchronicity. I have been thinking about the same things, feeling silenced by the “we must be all love, empathy and unity” stuff being passed around these days, as if rage plays no part in our persevering and strength.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not so sure love and rage are clearly separable. Not love in any sense that matters, to me at least. My love sets expectations. My love calls out evil.

      I did weak and mushy love for the first 45 years of my life. No more. NO MORE. Any “love” that pretends we are all just rainbow farts on peppermint clouds is really a weapon, softening you up so you are easier to mow down.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. “…when that lady in the spangled leotard at last pulls the broadsword from her gullet, she instantly becomes the most dangerously-armed badass under the big top.”

    Bravo, my badass blogger friend.

    My head is spinning at the latin root for vagina.

    Please keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a little head-spinning, ain’t it? Never underestimate the ability of centuries upon centuries of power-wielding cishet phallus possessors to weasel compliments to themselves into every corner of the language… #IsThatASwordInYourPocketOrAreYouJustHappyToSeeMe

      (I *will* keep writing. 🙂 You should too.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oddly enough, the British use of cunt is–well, odd. You can call a man a cunt and no one will think that’s strange. Somewhere along the line it went gender-free. And it’s not the worst thing you can call someone; it seems to roughly equivalent to dickhead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny, isn’t it, how vulgarities and insults shift from location to location? Stateside, we found it terribly amusing that British marketing for “Austen Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” basically renamed the movie in order to avoid printing “shag.” And body-derived insults, perhaps oddest of all — I’m realizing, reading your comment, how rare it is to hear a woman insulted as a “pussy.” That’s almost strictly a bro-on-bro dis.

      [Yknow, I actually thought about you as I was committing to this post’s title. About you, and your irregularly-scheduled rundowns of the search phrases that bring folks to your site. Cuz, whoo-eey! is this one NOT gonna help me out in the “please don’t type gross searches and end up on my page!!” department. Already bracing for the moment when I find myself wishing for as pure and pristine a searcher as some dude looking for hawt lesbriab dog-on-dog action…]

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Um, yeah, I can see this causing problems. And just to add to them (sorry, I can’t help myself), I have to mention that the movie Free Willy apparently caused a minor meltdown over here. A willy’s a penis, which made it a sort of odd title. I’m not sure it offended anyone, although it might have, but it did leave a lot of people scratching their heads.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is the first post of yours I’ve ever read, and I’m deeply inspired by your style of writing and the imagery you evoke. You’re a powerful writer, and I love the message you’ve taken courage to share. I’m often too afraid it’s pretentious to give an opinion on politics and media, so I’ve gradually stopped all together and focused on misc topics instead. You inspire me to look back at the unshameful will I used to have and maybe I’ll open my mouth online a bit more again…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome, Willow, and I’m glad this left you feeling inspired. Not all resistance happens online and not all speaking is most valuable in public — but if you have silenced yourself in response to feeling targeted, then by all means SING OUT!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always wondered why the hate gets thick when people asking for simple respect and dignity speak up. The thing is putting people down even by something as horrible as sexual assault just isn’t rare. Lots of people out there are abusers. We have to keep talking and questioning the abusers and the people who minimize the the garbage behavior. Don’t ever forget we’re brave and strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The folks who don’t want to give simple respect and dignity don’t really want to *get* simple respect and dignity themselves, either. They want outsized respect; they want adulation. If they can make others cower and feel small, it helps themselves feel bigger.

      And you’re exactly right: we are braver and stronger than any such hate-filled coward.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  7. When I was tossed to the garbage pile with that label, that branding as cunt, flung out in a rage by a man too shameful to even say it to my face, I felt no shame, nor would I accept any guilt. I finally felt nothing but freedom, and the door opened and I think that I stepped through onto that beach with you, exposed and poised to take back everything I had lost.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I admit, part of my giggling is probably because of the increasing amount of posts I’ve been finding about women, about the cunt, the vagina, the period, the crimson wave, etc., and how they’re said without shame. And breaking down the meaning and such…It hit me why I started to “giggle with approval”. It’s because it sounds more and more like we–women–are taking ownership of the terms used on our bodies. That might’ve been it.

        Liked by 1 person

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