Body Lessons (Genealogy of an Orgasm)

[CN: rape, rape’s aftermath, emotional abuse.]

This piece can now be found at The Manifest-Station.



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Shame thrives in isolation and silence. Thank you for witnessing these stories, and for lessening my burden by doing so. 

I invite all who would like — whether you typically comment on blogs or not — to share in the comments any part of this post that resonated for you, any memories it may have brought up, or any other thoughts you wish to convey. 

❤ alice

“Body Lessons (Genealogy of an Orgasm)” is part of an ongoing memory project. 
The entire series can be found here.

[Image: L’Origine du monde. Painting by Courbet (1866). Discretion by Alice (2016).]


Quiet please. The vulvas are talking.


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.

I’ve since mellowed on this particular issue, though violators still risk getting called out as asshats on my blog. It’s not that final victory has become ours [isn’t that right, Dr. Asshat?], but the gendered-language battle, like language itself, moves as a constantly flowing river. Besides, now that “You’re a girl?!”/”No. WOMAN!”-style exchanges have reached the status of TV cliché indicating “strong female character ahead,” it’s clearly time to set my sights elsewhere.

Like crotches.

That’s right, folks. It’s time for the grand showdown of vulva vs. vagina.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Otherwise, consult your gynecologist.

It’s become almost a handshake by which feminists recognize one another online. A coded knock that earns entrance into the speakeasy. A password that enables members of the resistance to distinguish friend from foe.

“That’s not a vagina. 

[Deep sigh.]

“It’s a vulva.”

It’s the primary reason I wish webpages could be corrected with sharpies. So I could send you pictures of the Great Wall of Vagina Vulva. Or laugh with you at how Snopes pixelated the vagina vulva cookies purportedly brought to snack time by a 2nd grader’s mom. Or pick out our favorite vagina vulva cupcakes together.

Dr. Jen Gunter, OB/GYN extraordinaire, recently channeled her own irritation at how the word “vagina” gets used as a stand-in for everything in the lower reproductive tract of people with uteri by creating this super-useful, highly-technical diagram:


As Gunter points out, there are substantive reasons [namely, health and pleasure] why this distinction matters. But even if there weren’t—even if we were talking about nothing more than semantics, and “jeez lighten up / you know what I meant / why does it matter”—I’d still be riding my high horse on this one. After all, people don’t constantly mislabel the other guy’s sexual anatomy the way they do mine.

Nobody goes around defining intercourse as testicles-in-vagina [you mean ‘penis’ / aw jeez lighten up] sex.”

Which is why, when I shared this story about Flirtmoji’s new set of fun, definitely-NSFW emojis a few weeks ago on Facebook, I prefaced my post with a brief “yes, we all know these are vulva-not-vagina emojis” disclaimer, and my friends mostly commented not about the language but about which cartoon vulvae we liked best. (I’m partial to the blue-and-purple chubby one in the top row, myself!) I didn’t think any more about it until a week later, when the story changed.

One of the changes? In the new round of press, every headline now refers to them as “vulva emojis.”

It’s the age-old story of eggplant meets taco, eggplant loses taco…

Continue reading “Quiet please. The vulvas are talking.”

Humans and Monsters Redux; or, WT-everlasting-F, Salon

[CN: pedophilia, sexual molestation, intimate partner abuse. Oh — and a quite-possibly-excessive amount of Adult Language, too.]

Disgust me once? Shame on you.

Disgust me twice? Shame on — well, actually…

Maybe at that point,,  it’s time to put aside shame and instead ask why in the name of everything unholy and rank an editor in your Life section keeps publishing rot that trivializes victimization and reads like something straight out of an abuser’s handbook.

Just a thought.

what is this ish
Srsly, Salon. WHAT are you even doing.

So we’re all on the same page: Yes, I am referring to that “Pity the Poor Pedophile[NB: not its real title] article^ you published last month.

It would be disingenuous of me to say I’m entirely surprised, of course. of course. I’ve long approached your site in the same way I do Playboy’s: the articles are often interesting (at least Playboy’s flowcharts are), but best avoid anything marketed as explicitly sex-related unless I’m prepared to give myself a HUGE mental tidy afterwards. Which is why I was completely prepared — eager! even — to let this article go by without comment. Honest.

But then a short while later, like a dog eating its own vomit, you decided to run a second essay by the same self-declared “celibate pedophile.” For convenience, let’s refer to this one as “Pity the Poor Published Pedophile. Because Conservative Wacko-birds Have Been So Mean to Me About that First Thing I Wrote [NB: not its real title either].^

In a word: No.

The central argument of these pieces: Pedophilia is really just a form of “sexual orientation,” and — as long as the author pinkie-swears not to molest any kids — we should all feel bad for him and listen to him talking about himself as much as he wants. Because protecting children. Because not a monster.

[Got that? Errybody up to speed?

You, in the back?

‘K, great. Moving on.] 

Since the points I want to make are rather specific, I’ma borrow from Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville to do the heavy lifting of outlining the holy-jeez-this-crap-isn’t-even-original problems with that first essay [I encourage interested parties — and, really, all of you who can — to check out her whole response]:  Continue reading “Humans and Monsters Redux; or, WT-everlasting-F, Salon”

Just Because the Book’s Not Pornographic, Don’t Assume There’s Nothing Obscene Going On

As a former high school English teacher — and longtime analyst of the US’s weird dance between puritanical prudery and enthusiastic sexualizing of…well, EVERYTHING — I shall forever find entertaining the books parents want to ban their children (and everyone else’s) from reading. I mean, the most challenged book of 2013 was Captain Underpants, for heaven’s sake. Captain Underpants!

So this recent headline was guaranteed to catch my eye: Tennessee Mom Calls Book On Cervical Cancer Cells ‘Pornographic’

Turns out the book in question is Rebecca Skloot’s New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, described by the author as “a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more.”

immortal life_skloot

I’ll come back to Henrietta Lacks (and why you should know who she is, if you don’t already) in just a moment. First I need to alert everyone to Tennessee Mom’s disturbing discoveries: Bodies have insides.

Those insides have organs. 

And sometimes those organs develop cancer. 

If this is ‘porn,’ I’ve been doing masturbation all wrong

The mother’s objection to this book being read by her 15yo son [and, lest we forget, by all his classmates at a Knoxville magnet school for STEM education — and all the other students in Knox County, period] centers on two passages: 1) the first describing infidelity on the part of Henrietta’s husband, and 2) the other detailing the moment in which Lacks discovers the lump on her cervix.

Curious to hear the wording that’s too “graphic” for teenagers? Cuz I sure was! Thankfully, The Guardian‘s got us covered:

Continue reading “Just Because the Book’s Not Pornographic, Don’t Assume There’s Nothing Obscene Going On”

I Stand with Planned Parenthood


This is some major bullshit.

This is some major misogynistic, woman-hating, femme-hating, people-with-uteruses-hating, poor-people-hating, body-hating, science-hating, health-hating, sex-hating, pleasure-hating, family-hating, love-hating, life-hating, liberation-hating bullshit. 

And I am out of words to express my outrage and contempt.

So I’ma let Cameron Esposito handle business for me today. You’re welcome.

[Featured image via. ]

Let’s Talk About Sex (and Poetry!)

Many thanks to the good people over at The Good Men Project, for publishing The Octogenarian Asks the Feminist Sex Educator, a poem in which (according to their website):

Alice Isak raises important questions
about consent
and what it actually looks like and means.

[I really love this tagline description, for whatever reason! Makes me feel all full of important and impactful questions!]

TGMP has a lovely poetry series, which you can check out here. If you do decide to head over for a little poetic Monday reading, please consider paying a visit to my friend S‘s lovely love poem, Stars–They’re Just Like Us, in which she “uses a familiar image in a fresh, stunning, sustained way.”

And how are all of you? I’m curious what impactful questions you’d like to raise today. About sex or about poetry? About something else? About how to handle the familiar feeling of a Monday morning in a fresh and sustaining way?

[See, this is why I don’t write taglines. I managed to alter that perfectly delightful series of words just enough to make it sound like a reference to feminine hygiene products, didn’t I? Oops.]

Talk about these things! Or don’t. Whatever makes you happy. Life is short.

[EDITED: Confession — I actually wrote this poem not so much to “raise questions” as to “transcribe almost verbatim a completely sh*tb*lls wacko conversation.” Just so’s we’re clear.]