It should be called: The Most Awesomest Kids Book Ever!
For starters, my own 5th-grade Sex Ed instruction used the original, 1972 edition of The Joy of Sex as our in-class reading activity. So, yknow…that sets the bar pretty high for any other would-be contenders to the title of “Most Traumatizing-to-Children Graphic Illustrations of Sexual Intercourse EVER.”
And I took this class in church, y’all.
Granted, it was a Unitarian church. But still.
Compared to that marvel of art history, Per Holm Knudsen’s 1975 How a Baby Is Made is downright cuddly! Like two muppets kissing!
[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!
I’ve never been depressed, not officially.
Maybe not at all except the once, at age 15; might have been depression
what my mother called “adolescence” and “defiance”—
there was an eating disorder back then too,
an anorexia nervosa, that got missed; named instead “late blooming”
(which won my skinny bones a lead in the spring musical
whatever one called it, so clearly nobody minded, not even me).
I’ve been holding onto this encounter for some time, unsure of the story I wanted it to tell.
Do I use it to highlight the limitations of our current system of mental health care, with its reliance on psychiatry and medication, and tell the story of how a man in suit-and-tie sat behind a large and stately desk and — after interrogating me for just over half an hour — passed inaccurate judgment in the form of a new-to-me DSM category and lifelong course of pharmaceutical intervention? Do I tell you how he dismissed every past diagnosis I’ve received from every past psychiatrist I’ve met (already a tangled web of contradictions) with a self-satisfied grin and a wafting of his fingers through the air, as if to say: “Pfft! Amateurs, the lot of them!”
I could make a good story telling it this way, full of juicy details like how he responded to my apprehensive “That sounds like a death sentence?” with a xeroxed copy of a newspaper article about the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise and instructions to follow-up with his office “if you think you need to.” (He didn’t quite say, “Take two jogs, and call me in the morning.” But he came close.)
Or do I frame this event as a fable about the challenges sexual minorities can face when their very existence is illegible to health care providers of any kind? How subtle changes in the way one poses questions about medical history or behaviors can either create welcoming space for patients/clients — or put them on the defensive, deciding just how important it is to assert an identity that may or may not have immediately-apparent relevance to the health condition under discussion? Each time it happens, patients must decide what is at stake if they stay silent — and if they even have the spoons that day to out themselves, yet again, to a person they may never see a second time. Because this issue seemed to be where the whole interaction with Dr. Asshat-Behind-the-Big-Desk completely left the rails.
If people are interested in public health then they can work to make sure that everyone has access to the foods they want to eat, safe movement options, and true information, and that their choices are respected. They can also stop trying to use public health to make individual’s bodies the public’s business, or to suggest that everyone whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is not between 18.5 and 24.9 should be eradicated/prevented.
I have reached the point of pink ribbon fatigue to the point of anger. My Pinterest feed is filled to overflowing with images of breast cancer tchotchkes: pink and beribboned images, with butterflies and flowery fonts, and gimmicky faux-empowerment statements like “To Do: Kick cancer’s ass!” But this t-shirt–“I have an angel watching over me. I call her Grandma! [pink ribbon]”– I just can’t take it any more. Seriously, what is the message of this shirt supposed to be? “Hey kid! Buy and wear our cutesy t-shirt and we’ll donate 5 cents so maybe you won’t die of what killed Grandma too!“??