A rape survivor’s moderately non-literal response to a country’s monumentally unthinkable decision.
[And yeah, GOP Senators: I’m looking at you.]
* * * *
I would believe myself one of the Stoics, born again, if I could.
I would convince us both, if only I could believe, that the fire I have undergone tempered me like steel, rather than reduced me to bone chips and fragments of teeth. The debris of a mortuary’s kiln.
Understand: I have long since abdicated belief in humanity’s innate goodness. Our impulses may tend always to sociability, to companions and to tribe. But—friends, a family, a troop of bullies, a rape gang, an army, a Senate… In the end, how is difference measured?
We learn to live with our hungers—to make peace with them—or we never learn to live. The trick is how to soften into one’s fear, whether of connection or abandonment. To sink, to collapse gently, yet still stand tall. I settle myself in the chair and reach for vulnerability. Try to let myself go, to let myself turn soft.
Soft like a paunch, my anger whispers back. Soft and bloated like a liver gone rotten with cirrhosis.
I spent my afternoon, as one is wont to do, getting interviewed on my thoughts regarding vaginas and vulvas. (As one is wont to do, WHEN ONE IS ME, I should perhaps have specified.) I’ll share that piece with y’all when it’s published—but in the meantime, an observation: ain’t it wonderful how brains are pliable, and how writing plies them?
See, I wrote this post last fall about our cultural reluctance—and my own personal resistance—to using the word “vulva.” Today, what I found? Personal resistance gone! Another plank of internalized misogyny fallen! Appears I am now fully aboard the vulva-train.
And so I invite you to join me in raising a glass to the liberation of sexual bodies and sexual vocabulary alike, and to tell me about a time you wrote yourself into a different way of thinking.
Just please refrain from using the word “moist” in your comment.
In a revelation that will shock exactly zero readers of this blog, I must confess that I’ve always been obsessive about using words correctly. About knowing both literal and connotative meanings. About finding le mot juste for every occasion.
Add gender into the lexical mix? At that point, “obsessive” becomes, well…
Lemme put it to you this way. I still feel pissy about the idiotic joke made by some fellow Unitarians when I was 11 and the UUA was revising the official church hymnal to remove gender-exclusive language: “Maybe we should just call this new HYM-nal an IT-nal, since you hate men so much.”
[Picture here a tween-sized Alice, hands on her hips, fuming at her male peers. . . and more than a few grownass male grownups.^]
In those days, if I heard you call someone a “girl” who was clearly a grownass female grownup? Them were fightin’ words, far as I was concerned.
Coming out to my 91yo grandmother, that spring I first broke the news to her about dating a woman, did not proceed according to plan.
My mother’s mother took a long moment, squinting at me intently, before she spoke.
“So…when are you going to lose the weight?”
I sputtered back incoherently, shifting quickly into defensive mode while still trying to confirm if she had heard and understood what I had said. But once begun, Gram was not to be dissuaded. From critiquing my body, she moved on to my brother’s, and then my brother’s wife. When her litany of complaints reached the circumference of my preschool niece’s thighs, I stood up to leave the room.
“I don’t understand what happened,” my grandmother’s querulous lament followed me. “You used to be so young and thin.
“You used to be pretty.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
This is not a story about living in a fat body, though I do and I could tell it. Nothing has felt so loud as flesh pressing out against my clothes, belly spreading across my seated thighs.
This is not a story about living in a thin body, either, though I have and I could tell it. Nothing has felt so fragile as bones emerging from flesh, the butterfly wing of my collarbone arching delicately below my throat.
Dear Producers of the Marketing Campaign for Playtex TruSupport Bras:
I have a bone to pick with you.
In fact, let’s call it a whalebone to pick, since you are so fond of punning.
It’s about that video ad series you did a few years ago — the one that gets run every summer, and always just in time for the 4th of July.
Ring a bell? No?
You must not watch much Internet tv. This thing’s been on so much rotation with every show I watch, I can almost recite it from memory.
But here, let me jog yours:
All bras are not created equal. And all women are not the same. We should all be endowed with certain rights. Some of us are more endowed than others. The right to a gorgeous TruSupport bra….
We declare our independence — from frilly bras that don’t work. And bras that work, but aren’t pretty. Hello?!
Playtex. Be uniquely you.
Pursuit of happiness? Check.
Look, I get it. The word “endowed” is kinda old-fashioned and fuddy-duddied — and today, most commonly functions as a reference to women and their breasts. Women like me, with our B.O.U.S.’s [Boobs of Unusual Size].
Well, not exactly like me, since I am also an entire Person of Size — and middle-aged, to boot — unlike the thin, hourglass-shaped young women in your ad. (We do all have whiteness in common, though, with the exception of your one, very light-skinned black actress. But let’s come back to that.)
This ad makes you seem like the kid in my 10th grade class who, when his turn came to read aloud, always put a drawn-out emphasis on every word that had the slightest sexual connotation. (And many words that didn’t, which made us all wonder about the education he was receiving at home.) I can still hear him reading: “Balanced on the narrow ledge, the man pulled himself EEEEEEE-RECT.”
It was super-annoying, coming from an immature kid whose idea of courtship hadn’t yet progressed past the “oooh! you have TITTIES, har har!” stage.
It’s even more annoying when it comes from a massive, international conglomerate, which clearly thinks the way to court my dollars is by cooing “oooh! some of the PATRIOTS have TITTIES, har har!”
Here’s the thing: my rights are not dependent on my body. My citizenship neither starts nor stops with my mammary glands, nor my ability to embody certain racialized and/or cis-heteronormative standards of female attractiveness.
I am not an after-thought member of the polity.
Except when I am.
And that’s the super-SUPER annoying aspect of your ad: it reminds me just how often women are still seen that way.
[CN: this post discusses marketing materials for vaginal surgery that are clearly directed towards an exclusively cisgender clientele. I want to acknowledge that not all people who undergo vaginoplasty or similar genital surgeries are cis women, and that some of the language I cite or use below may be triggering.]
A long time ago, I met a kickass young woman who was into all kinds of kickass things like science and healthy bodies and female agency. She was one of about seven young women who were all into kickass things and who hung out together under the loose gang affiliation of The Sultry Dames of [Redacted] College^.
In the fullness of time, this particular Sultry Dame — let’s call her K — grew up to become a kickass OB/GYN who is very into the health and agency of her patients.
As an OB/GYN, K often receives things in the mail from companies that would very much like her to support and promote their ladybody-oriented services. Since K herself wants very much to support both ladies and their bodies — and knows that this blogger often writes about ladybody-oriented topics — she sometimes shares her mail with me.
Recently K forwarded me this brochure from A Very Important Center for Vaginal Surgery as something my readers might be interested in.
Given how critical these kinds of surgical interventions can be to ensure a woman’s profound socially-reinforced body insecurity mental and physical well-being, K and I both felt concerned that some of the brochure’s language might be a tad confusing to the layperson. We agreed that I should translate as appropriate.
Let’s start with that brochure cover, shall we?
[^Disclosure: The author of this blog herself belonged to the cohort known as the Sultry Dames from the years 1989-1992. The author maintains this affiliation today for the sole purposes of college reunions and Facebook shout-outs.]
Pink! Lavender! This is FOR YOU!
[Afraid your private coloration may be less than appropriately delicate and pastel? Don’t fret — we can get you help for that too!]
“What’s vaginal surgery?” you may be asking.
Why, surgery for your intimate butterfly, of course!
We take inspiration from the immortal words of Louis CK:“There should be a butterfly fluttering around every vagina, all the time.” Though our brochure-butterflies flutter carefully near the statue’s armpit — and not where her actual genitalia would be, if she were, in fact, a human woman with genitals.
Or a head.
In our experience, arms on a woman encourage too much independence — including the temptation to flick her own bean, as if the mossy cleft’s true value resides in giving pleasure to its owner rather than its onlookers!