Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'gender' Category

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Last week, this eloquent missive arrived in the Scarleteen general email box:

From: na@aol.com
Subject: [General Contact] Heather Corinna
Date: July 29, 2010 8:50:10 AM PDT

bob sent a message using the contact form at http://www.scarleteen.com/contact.

her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is a SLUT

I don’t know Bob. I also have never slept with anyone named Bob as far as I recall — I have a near-exclusive partiality to lovers or partners with names that start with the letter J or M, followed by A, C and D. The two lone B’s I can recall have both been Brians. This begs the question of how, exactly, Bob knows I’m a slut in the first place. Bob’s agenda is also a mystery. Maybe he thought I had some kind of supervisor who would see this…actually, I don’t know what on earth Bob’s intent was here. No sense trying to suss it out. All I know is that it came in, I read it, and I said, “Umm, okay. It just might. And?” Perhaps obviously, I cannot ask Bob what sort of actionable response he wanted from this very important piece of news, because he, demonstrating exceptional courage, did not use a real email address.

There’s been a lot of talk about sluthood on the interwebs this week, mostly stemming from Jaclyn Friedman’s fantastic piece here and a couple patronizing, backlashy replies. I hesitate to link to them because I hate to send them traffic, but it’s never fair to call someone’s words idiotic without sharing the evidence you’re basing that judgment on.

When Jaclyn’s piece came out, I read it, thought it was great, so real of her, and clearly something that resonated with a lot of women. Jaclyn and I are friends, so I also had a little more inside scoop on what a big deal putting that out there was for her. While I very much appreciated the piece, it didn’t resonate with me on a personal level all that much. I’m quite certain this is not because it wasn’t a powerfully-written and important piece, because I think it was.

I just got off the phone with Jaclyn, in part because some I wanted to try and figure out WHY it didn’t resonate with me, and make sure that in figuring that out, I wasn’t making any assumptions about Jaclyn and her experiences or thoughts.

(By the way, an etiquette tip it appears some people never learned? When someone puts out something exceptionally personal, no matter who they put it out to or where, if you want to have anything resembling manners, you at least try and engage with them directly before you psychoanalyze them for the whole world, and probably mostly for your own benefit. No, no one HAS to do that, but anyone arguing for “values” or “respect” is going to lose an awful lot of face if they have the social graces of a mosquito.)

Back to that email. I got it, had that reaction to it, which was pretty much no reaction. That was followed with momentary amusement at the idea either I, or my mystery supervisor (oh, if only!), was supposed to have some kind of reaction.

See, to me, a statement like that is about as powerful and about as true as statements like:
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a BIG NOSE
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is SHORT
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna was RAPED
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna ENJOYS HULA-HOOPING
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna likes giving and getting HEAD
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a PUG
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is A BIG QUEERO
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna STUDIES SEXUALITY
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is IRISH-ITALIAN
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has been a TEACHER FOR 20 YEARS
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna HAS RENT TO PAY

All true, all part of who I am and what life I live and have lived, and likely all part of what influences the advice that I give to others. Etymologically, being a slut means being untidy and/or being someone with a twat who has either bonked a lot of people or, as the awesome Kelly Huegel pointed out, is a female person who has had sex with more people than any one person calling them a slut considers acceptable. One supposes you can add in the frequent implication that being a slut means being someone of “loose” or questionable character or values.

So, am I a slut? Sure, okay. I am untidy. I have had sex with more people than some people consider acceptable, and on the bell curve of what folks report with a lifetime number of partners, I have had more than most. Since I have routinely questioned both my own values and character for myself all my life as a regular practice, and try to keep flexible, I suppose it’s also true to say mine are both questionable and loose. When you tell me or others something that is true about myself, I’m not likely to get my feelings hurt or be offended, particularly when we’re talking about things that have been my choice, like my sex life.

Jaclyn is getting some of the negative reactions she is just because some people are just idiots. But Jaclyn is also probably getting that kind of reaction because some of what she said is exactly what those people want to hear if they read very, very selectively. She’s a solid writer, which makes it easy to take her statements out of context.

In the piece, one thing she voiced was that what she most wants right now is a long-term relationship; that she has been able to have casual sex of late, and that it has been positive, but what she really wants and does not have is an LTR. While she did not voice a causal relationship between the two (quite the opposite), what she said allowed people who are seeking out such things to cling on to that notion, one they desperately want to believe and want others to believe. She also voiced she had feelings about casual sex that were not unilaterally positive, something else they want to hear and spotlight. And because she said what they wanted to hear and because it resonated with some other women, she’s a great sort of poster child for a carnival show where people pretend to be showing others the poor, broken girl who just doesn’t know any better so that they can avoid her same, terrible fate.

She also disclosed she survived sexual trauma. As I’ve said about a million times, if and when any of us do that, while it’s important we do do that, both politically and because being able to be honest about any part of our lives is major, we become very easy marks.  Almost anything we do or experience ever-after, anything that is anything less than perfect, will often be attributed not even to our rape, but to us being a person who has been raped. I’ve decided my new comeback to this when I get hit with it, by the way, is going to be “Okay, let’s say everything wrong with me or that I’m unhappy about sexually or interpersonally IS because I was raped.  So… what the fuck happened to YOU that made you this screwed up?”

Anyway, in thinking about my non-reaction to that email since last week, to my less-than-super-pow reaction to Jaclyn’s post and to the responses to it, positive and negative, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Jaclyn was considered “the good girl” in her family. In mine, that was my sister, not me. Her good girl distinction and my bad girl one were affixed before either of us engaged in any kind of sexual behavior or even thought about it. Mind, my family was not a unified front in this. One of my parents was extraordinarily sex-positive and very strongly and loudly against slut-shaming and against the whole good girl/bad girl epoch, while my other parent — raised in a very religiously-oppressive household where this stuff was a staple — and particularly my stepparent (an abuser, so no surprises there), slut-crowned me pretty much on the basis of having a first kiss and on trying so hard to meet gender presentations that didn’t feel authentic to me, but that they required. It appears I erred on the side of presenting that way too well. Talk about a backfire. Not girly enough? You’re a dyke. Too girly? You’re a slut. It’s a tough game to win, and one I perpetually lost. It’s also why when I was assaulted at 11 and 12, after one attempt to tell my mother, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I knew my stepparent would feel proved right and I knew it would be used against me in his abuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him any more ammo.

That consistent verbal slur or implication was also based in homophobia: I knew about my feelings for girls, or experienced them, anyway, before I knew about my feelings for boys. I didn’t recognize those feelings for what they were very clearly until high school, but in hindsight, it’s obvious my family did. That may be part of why, while the word “slut” doesn’t hold particular power with me, either as a slur or as something to reclaim, the word dyke very much did and has. I think that has to do with my own journey in getting right with other women and with my gender. Mostly, though, I think it’s about been called a dyke and not being far enough in those journeys that I did internalize it as a slur — something I never did with slut because when it was hurled at my in my pre-teens and early teens, I knew it wasn’t true. About feeling bad about something I wished I’d instead felt good about and had had the strength to refuse to internalize as bad.

Jaclyn and I talked about what our differences in some of this might be, and some of what came up was privilege. While we have or have had some similarities (the self-defense, the communication skills, the fact that we’re both white), we’re also a bit different in that arena. The trajectory of our lives and sexualities have been different: with each decade, for instance, my number of sexual partners has declined: in the last ten years, I’ve only been outside LTRs and single with casual partners for around 2. I have had my work or the credibility of my work impacted by my actual or perceived sexual behaviour. But I also tend to experience a weird kind of privilege in often having little privilege. I figure if it isn’t going to be one thing, it’ll be another, so I may as well just be who I am and put who I am on the table. Like Janis sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Like Jaclyn, I have had times in my life when I have wanted an ongoing, intimate relationship and have not had one, though with me that’s rarely abstract. When I want one of those, it tends to be about wanting one with someone specific (or, let’s be frank: about wanting relationships where I can get some privilege and be spared some of the judgment we get while in other models). It’s fair to say I’ve usually been far more cautious about getting into romantic relationships than I have been about getting into bed with someone.

The first person I deeply romantically loved and wanted a lifelong relationship with died, and I had a while in my teens and early 20’s where I struggled with the idea that I had my shot with romantic love; I met My One Person and since apparently there was but The One, I had had mine and was shit out of luck because that person was dead. I got over that, but it took a while, and all the bullshit about there being only one big love people shove down everyone’s throat did not help at all. Given the fact that in many ways, the people closest to me growing up turned out to be who I could trust the least, I absolutely have had intimacy issues because getting close has always equaled a fear of not just being hurt, but the fear-via-experience of being abused and seriously neglected. I could go on, but the point is I have a very good idea about the why of that (and have already had and enjoyed the psychoanalysis to help me get there, thanks), and it’s simply What Is: don’t see it as anything broken I need to fix, but the person I am based on the life I’ve lived, a person I like, love and respect.

I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life, most of which I’d class as successful: I had good experiences in them and got good things from them, so did the other person or people. Sparing the death of my sweetheart in high school, the person who has left or adjusted almost every one of them? That’s usually been me. Why? It depends, really, but more times than not it’s just been because various needs or wants I had weren’t being met in those relationships or the relationship had morphed from something romantic into a different kind of relationship that felt a better fit for everyone. First time at bat with my current partner, I skeedaddled because of PTSD whacking me in the face without warning or preparation and I dealt with it very badly as a result.

However, I’ve also had just as many times when I wanted more casual sex partners or experiences than I had. Like most parts of life and like many people, I’ve had both feast and famine, and have been delighted about the feast and distressed about the famine. In what things or areas there was bounty or drought strikes me as irrelevant. Bounty almost always feels great while drought pretty much always sucks, for everyone, with everything. Rocket science, this ain’t.

I even miss casual sex when I’m not having it. I can’t always say that so plainly when I’m with someone long-term. But blessedly, my partner (who’s known me on and off for 20 years, a relationship that began in 1989 with a three-night-stand) knows with certainty that I very much enjoy the sex that we have as a currently monogamous couple and also understands that while there are plenty of common threads between sex we have in LTRs and casual sex, also groks the differences and doesn’t see them as being in a cagematch.

When I miss it, what I miss is the adventure, the uncertainty, the dance of the thing. I miss sudden, often unexpected connectivity. For me, there was always something spiritually very cool in experiencing sex as one of the many ways people who aren’t deeply connected can wind up very deeply connecting quickly, be that with the sex itself or with the conversation before or after. While I’m all for taking the cultural unacceptability out of casual sex for those who still cling to it or are very impacted by it, at the same time, there’s this sort of partners-in-crime thing I’ve sometimes had with casual sex partners, where you’re both doing this thing you know some people think is not okay, which can make it all the more playful.

There’s a kind of abandon that I experience in sex period, but which for me has been particularly strong with casual sex. There’s that thing where it’s really very much up for grabs as to whether or not you’ll have sex that day or night or not that’s a lot tougher to come by with sex in ongoing relationships, long or short-term. There’s a lack of expectation I appreciate. Heck, I miss being able to blog more about the sex I have: that’s a lot more tricky when you’re having it outside casual situations. As well, given some of my history, it’s often been easier for me to say what I want when there are no strings attached than when there are. I can either way, it’s just that doing so with someone who knows me very well is more of a challenge, and feels much more vulnerable to me, so it’s scarier at first than in casual sex.

I clearly prefer ongoing or long-term relationships that start with casual sex. Not that I honestly know much about the alternative, since I’ve almost unilaterally had that thing happen that so many of us are told will NEVER happen with casual sex. Almost all of my ongoing romantic relationships have started with casual sex. Many of my friendships have, too. One of the things I miss when I’m missing casual sex are the friendships that I have found stem from it. Casual sex has rarely meant a lack of love for me. I’ve given and received a lot of love and care in most of my sexual relationships of all sorts; the casual ones have been no exception.

I know a lot of people are very scared of STIs with casual sex, but this is one of those areas where I know too much. Coming of age with a parent working in some of the earliest AIDS care meant I got and saw facts, not fictions. My personal life and those around me have reflected the reality that it’s lack of barrier use and lack of sexual healthcare most responsible for STIs, not what kind of sex we have. Having more partners certainly increases the risks, but only having one or two and not using barriers and having everyone regularly tested presents even larger ones. If I didn’t know this before I went into working in sexual health, including in clinical work, I sure know it now. Someone can tell me all they want STIs are about casual sex, but they’re usually not people working in these fields because we know better. When I hear someone say “she’s risking her life for casual sex!” I tend to wish I could require compulsory volunteering in domestic/intimate partner violence.

I’m aware, especially after going on 13 years of sex and relationships being my full-time work, that there is NO human interaction in which we cannot get hurt; NO one way of having sex or sexual relationships that removes the risk of heartbreak or abuse. There are some bare basics — consent, communication, self-awareness — and then each of us doing our best to make choices and interrelate in the ways that feel a best fit for us and anyone else involved at any given time of our lives.

I know that for people like the two I linked to shredding Jaclyn, of course, there’s also a gender script pretty much running the show. However, it’s not even worth addressing here because it’s absolutely meaningless and irrelevant for those of us who are queer and who aren’t gendernormative. (You also can’t make it meaningful by trying to change the facts of someone’s orientation and partnerships, calling them all male or hetero when they haven’t been. Just a tip.)  I’d posit that even for those who are, much of the time it’s only relevant because they’re so susceptible to those messages, not because there’s some sort of biological or sociological essentialism that rule all.

With both casual and non-casual sex I have not had radically different dynamics when it comes to my partners and their/our gender. In fact, some of the most pervasive messages about gender in the hetero scripts about casual sex sound like science fiction through the lens of my own experiences. For example, in my own sex life, it’s not usually been men who were hardest to hold onto when holding on is what I wanted, but women. It’s not been women who have expressed feelings hurt by casual sex the few times that’s happened, but men. Whoever these “all men” are that fuck and run? I’m not sure I’ve slept with any of them, and if I have, I must have just run through the finish line myself before I saw them start their own sprint.

There’s another difference Jaclyn and I talked about this morning, which is that being slut-shamed is new for her, whereas it’s something I grew up with and which has been pervasive for me for a long time.

I think it’s safe to say I haven’t ever been hurt by my own actual sluttery, per what that word actually means and per how it’s most often colloquially defined. Even being called one when I was young mostly hurt within the context of every name I got called and every way I was intentionally isolated and abused. There’s even a flip side to that, though, which is that being called a slut also gave me permission to go and be one: after all, if you’re going to get called something that involves doing things you may enjoy, it feels silly not to do those things. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten called one, it would have been harder for me to explore that part of my nature, which has involved some of the best parts of my whole life.

The personal disrespect to me in slut-shaming isn’t really what has stung, since it’s generally been clear people who throw that word at others don’t have much respect for anyone, not just me. They also most often seem to be most strongly reacting to women having sex outside the system of sex-for-goods, be those goods marriage, shelter, children, social status, hat have you. That’s a big reality for many women in the world I acknowledge and understand, for sure, and also acknowledge and understand is inescapable for some, but I also feel is nothing close to ideal. I’m lucky to have been able to live outside that system for most of my life with only a few brief exceptions. This is usually also clearly why so many of the folks so attached to that way of codifying sex are so anti-prostitution: it’s critically important their sexual exchanges be seen as radically different, even though I don’t see the big diff myself.

The few times I have felt deeply hurt by being a “slut,” wasn’t in any of the sex (or untidiness) I was having or had, but in the way people who call me or other people sluts; in the way “being a slut” is presented, something Jaclyn spoke so aptly about. It was the verbal abuse — like any verbal abuse — that hurt, not my own sexual life used as a vehicle for that abuse. That’s probably a big duh for those past the 101 of abusive dynamics, interpersonal relationships and sexuality. But for some strange reason, it escapes people’s minds who think that they can say the issue isn’t THEIR chosen words or actions, but what WE did to CAUSE their words and actions to burst forward from their mouths and fingers, which they apparently have no control over because of how our own lives, of which they often have been no part. It’s amazing that the same people who tell women they should just shut their legs don’t seem to have the same standards for their own mouths.

The times I’ve been attacked and nonconsensually deconstructed per what a slut/whore/insert-your-fave-sexual-chick-shame-here I am and it has hurt, the hurt was centrally about something different than I think the folks doling out that epithet imagine it to be. It’s not been about my feeling ashamed of myself or my choices. It’s instead been about profound disappointment and weariness that we still, at this point in history, can’t all be real about who we are in our sex lives and have our divergence simply recognized as the diversity human sexuality and life is, with the understanding that none of our lives is everyone’s right answer. That so many people still just cannot get that because they put themselves and their lives out there as prescriptions doesn’t mean we all do. When those attacks are about you having casual sex and about how much that sex shows how little self-respect you have or how little respect you’re getting, the ironic icing on that cake is that I’ve been very respected and cared for, as have my partners, in most of the sex — casual and not — that I have had. Where I’m not getting that respect isn’t from the people everyone says didn’t or won’t respect me, but from the people presenting themselves as experts on respect who clearly know nothing about it at all.

As someone who has worked many years and long hours to try and repair some of this stuff culturally, it’s particularly frustrating and tiresome and makes me feel like Don Quixote all too often. Which is really no fun at all without a Sancho Panza to have witty, existential banter with or without getting your very own musical.

There’s also a subtext to all of this that has to do with who is perceived as redeemable and who isn’t. If YOU, yourself, are seen as potentially redeemable, you get talked to one way: often with what is presented as gentleness, but tends to feel an awful lot like being patronized.  If you are NOT seen as redeemable, the language tends to be more angry and rough. If who might be influenced by you or what you voice is seen as redeemable and YOU also are, you all get talked to like you’re stupid little lambs.  If you are NOT seen as redeemeable, but who hears or sees you is, you’re really in the shit. And if you get so lucky, you and anyone you might influence are all seen as unredeemable, because that usually nets you a complete and blissful silence where you can just support one another and enjoy your private lives in peace.

I was accused by Walsh yesterday of having “many young women drinking my Kool-aid” who “were unhappy about it.” I’m not sure who these young women are or what my Kool-Aid is exactly. I asked, I got silence. Thus far, in the work I do, I have yet to see reports about how upset someone is that they did something Heather Corinna told them to do, sparing a few people I’ve told to get a GYN exam or a test for something and who got poor care from healthcare providers when doing so. Since I don’t tell anyone to have this kind of sex or that kind of sex at all — on the contrary — I’m not sure what that was all about.

Lest dumb assumptions be made, the reason this is here and not at Scarleteen isn’t because I feel ashamed of myself or my friends or that I think my sex life is de facto inappropriate.  It’s because as much as possible, especially when the young people there don’t ask me for it, I limit what I share anecdotally.  I have these funny things we call boundaries on my planet. I’d do the same even if — maybe even especially, since it’s SO different than where they’re at — I had only had one partner, married them and was with them for 25 years exclusively. The young people I provide sexuality education to usually know precious little about my sex life and sexual history, because they come wanting to talk about themselves, and also because my own sex life often has little to do with them or what they’re asking. How my sexual history would be pertinent to how they can use their birth control method or to where their own clitoris is beyond me. Adults who assume I sit and talk turkey about what’s going on in my bedroom with young people usually do because that’s what they do, not because it’s what I do. Young people also tend to voice to me that older people’s anecdotes about their own sexual experiences can feel like pressure, no matter WHAT those anecdotes are. Just a few weeks ago, a few of them were talking about how they feel pressured by a lot of abstinence-messaging TO have intercourse because it presents it as the only REAL sex. Go figure.

Some of the reaction to Jaclyn’s piece, or this business about my Kool-Aid clearly was about the poor, vulnerable young women we are perceived as having corrupted or may corrupt. Often evidence for this is stated in that wild, crazy “hookup culture” all the cool kids are purportedly part of. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure how people like myself or Jaclyn can be held responsible for any casual sex young women may be having now, I also want to make clear that I feel quite certain most of the hookup-culture stuff is pretty much exactly what happened to me when I was young.  It’s calling people sluts who often haven’t engaged in any sexual behaviour, or if they have, haven’t been doing anything different than what generations before them have developmentally.

Sparing a few limited populations, as far as I can tell and based on what young people talk about in droves in my work, this “hookup culture” where they’re apparently having ALL this sex or ALL this casual sex is mostly adultist sex panic.  (The funny thing is, the only interaction I had with Susan Walsh before this was on a panel where if I recall correctly, Logan Levkoff and I were calling her and another panelist out on exactly that issue.) From what I can tell, they’re considerably more sexually conservative than my generation and a lot of my parent’s generation was, and are having around the same or fewer sexual partners than we were, not more.  Which also makes them a lot more vulnerable to messaging about sluts, whether they’re going to do the name-calling or are going to get name-called; whether they are or are not sluts at all.

In fact, it’s entirely possible Bob is a 15 year-old kid who sees me as a slut simply because I’m a woman who is talking about sex, which he has been told, in umpteen different places, means I must be a slut and means he must try to shame me accordingly.  Hopefully, Bob will grow up, which is more than I can say for many adults talking this way.

P.S. Some other entries have come up today around some of the fracas I wanted to point out:

• From Amanda Marcotte: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/no_laughing_no_screwing_no_learning_how_to_read/
• From The Sexademic: http://sexademic.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/girl-fight-sluts-vs-prudes/ (who also wrote about Oxytocin, oddly enough, as I’m trying to finish a piece on it I keep putting off)

• From Jessica Valenti:  http://jessicavalenti.com/?p=592

Friday, March 5th, 2010

It’s possible I may be stating the obvious here, or saying something someone else has posited before without realizing, but something struck me last night, in the midst of insomnia, I wanted to put out there.  In the case you have read someone else saying the kinds of things I am, please leave me a reference in the comments.  I’d love to read someone writing more in depth about this.

So, you may have seen that I’ve started a large sex study about multigenerational experiences with and attitudes about casual sex.  (If you haven’t, and/or you haven’t taken it, I’d be so grateful if you did, by the way.  Same with getting the word out.  The link explains more of what I’m doing with it.) It’s gotten a lot of responses so far and also some feedback.

Someone tweeted that they were delighted with how I handled sex and gender on the study, and many people commented in the study that it was refreshing, and not what they’re used to with studies, to have so many options with sex and gender. Then, late last night, someone else tweeted that they didn’t understand why anyone was so impressed, because as well as including male, female and transgender, I included trans female and trans male as options.

I was already aware of the issues with “trans male” and “trans female” as identifiers, and understand that, particularly when used by a cis-person, they suggest that someone who ID’s as female but is not female-bodied is not “really” female or “truly” female.  At the same time, I included them because despite that, I still know people who prefer and use those identifiers for themselves.  For the record, even in leaving an open field for gender so people can self-ID however they want, I have a handful of people who picked trans female or trans male as their own IDs, more than chose transgender, and more than chose to ID as one sex at birth, then as male or female with their gender.  So, whatever anyone may think about those terms, some people are clearly still using them to identify themselves by choice.

Certainly, people outside marginalized/oppressed populations often voice an annoyance with the ever-changing language which tends to be common in these groups, whether it’s about the spelling of women, what indigenous people call themselves, or how gendervariant people identify. For instance, none of us in North America have likely been spared someone’s whiny vitriol about how those uppity indians keep trying to force everyone to be PC by asking us to call them anything but indians.  If you are or have ever been a member of a marginalized group yourself, I don’t need to tell you that within these groups, there is often great frustration about language changes and keeping up with them, some general eyerolling from some members, as well as a lot of infighting about proper language.

So, here’s what I’m thinking about ever-shifting language on the margins. The dominant groups, the ones in power, have had a LONG time to have the freedom to firmly establish their identities, with the privilege of not having their identities or language challenged by anyone most of the time who had any power to enforce those challenges: there is a level of flux in language and identity they do not have. Anyone who has tried to question or change dominant language in any way knows this all too well.

On the flip side, there is a necessary inflexibility in their language around identity and in identity overall if they are to firmly sustain their position of power-over: if they change their language, they change their identity, and thus, potentially their level of power and privilege and their stronghold on either.  If a man wants as much male privilege as possible, for example, he’s got to call himself a man, especially within that group.  Calling himself anything even remotely outside that can make his privilege more tenuous, less solid, may put it in question and put him at risk of not being considered a full member — or a member at all — of that group.

It’s really hard sometimes to be patient with ever-shifting language, especially when you want to get it right and be respectful of everyone, to fully acknowledge everyone, but are trying to get it right by everyone, which is always impossible in some contexts as everyone isn’t in agreement in any given group,  or even just when you want to freaking get things done rather than argue about language.  It’s also sometimes tough if you find an identity you like within a marginalized group, one that feels true to you, and are later told it’s unacceptable or out of vogue (I think of how many old-school feminists I know, for example, who still prefer “wimmin” as an identifier but who are going to have to take endless shit from everyone, including other women and other feminists, if they use it).

However, I think it’s a little easier to be patient about it thinking of it in these ways. We’re carving out identities more slowly, are still more in process, because we have only had so much time and freedom to do so, especially without our identities being adjunct to the identities of, or controlled by, the dominant groups. We are still in process, and there’s really no way around or shortcut in that process, especially in groups that have been oppressed and marginalized the longest and/or the most.

At the same time, we also have a freedom in that which those in — or who want to or feel they must align themselves with — dominant groups do not have.  As someone low-income all my life, I’ll often talk with people about how while being poor mostly blows (especially the poorer you are: I may be without a lot now, but I have most definitely been way worse off than I am at the present time), some aspects of being low-income provide some semblance of freedom I appreciate.  I have little to lose, for instance, and am not beholden to certain things people of means are. For example, I have had people say that even if I can’t find a healthcare plan to give me actual preventative care, I should really get catastrophic coverage somehow in the case I get hit by a truck.  However, as someone with no credit cards, no car, no house, the fact is that all that’d be is one more expense, and one that really only makes sense for people of a higher economic class than me. If I had to file for bankruptcy because of a ginormous hospital bill, I’d likely lose little to nothing because I have little to nothing to lose.  Weird as it can seem, there is a freedom in that, and I’m grateful for freedoms like that, particularly given all the downsides and ways that I’m stuck.

The same can go here with identities and language: there is a freedom in having flexibility around our language and identities, of being in flux, that I think often goes unacknowledged and unrecognized, especially when we’re tearing our hair out and driving each other up a tree about language.  The fact that any of us in marginalized groups are able to try on certain words and identities and adjust them as we go is no small deal.  It can allow us/others an authenticity and diversity that those who have privilege/power, especially those trying to make very sure they hold unto it, don’t have (or, more to the point, choose not to have, or feel they have too much to lose to have ) the freedom of having.

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

So, here’s a question: how many of you think male-bodied or identified people are, as a group, earnestly satisfied with their sex lives?

To be clear, we hear a lot about how many women are not, but most men are, but I think that statement isn’t actually about satisfaction, but about who is reaching orgasm, or reaching orgasm most often.

If a given group of people reaches orgasm, then those people tend to be classed as sexually satisfied, just because they have reached orgasm, even though we know sexual satisfaction is a far larger critter.  Vaginal intercourse is a biggie where we see this: because most men orgasm that way (who do have intercourse) but most women don’t, people will say most men are satisfied with intercourse while women aren’t… but are men really satisfied with that activity alone?  Or are they just reaching orgasm that way?

I just wonder sometimes how short the cultural and (especially in the mainstream) interpersonal conversation about male sexuality is being cut short in this because of these kinds of assumptions. I also wonder that if I’m correct in my thesis, one reason we see so many male/female partnerships where women aren’t satisfied is because there are many men who really aren’t either, but since they’re a) reaching orgasm and/or b) getting” the kind of sex men are supposed to like, or told is satisfying for them because of orgasm, there’s a whole world of communication and exploration in many relationships which could be happening, but which isn’t because of this issue.  In other words, that we can sometimes expect one party of a couple to have a whole set of skills in finding out and communicating what satisfies them that they may not actually have (or know they don’t) at all, and expect them then to share or translate skills to their other partner they don’t have in the first place.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Thursday, after working my second job at the clinic, I was effectively kidnapped by my co-worker Gigi and her ten-year-old daughter Sophia, whom I adore.She calls herself Big Sophia around me, my pug being Little Sofia. We wound up driving from their place to my neighborhood for dinner, which is a pretty long haul. On the drive up, I sat in back with Sophia as she showed me how she plays cards on her Zune, shared her teen magazine with me, and put her headset on my ears to share her favorite music.

As I agreed that Paramore are, as she said, so super awesome and cool, I was reminded of my sense that when girls that age think you’re the bomb, you really must be the bomb, and you very much feel as cool as the bands they like when they let you in. It’s quite a gift.

At dinner, we sat together as she flipped through the magazine some more — she still liked me even after insisting she hold my hand as we crossed a busy street, though she may well be too big for that. (She seems to simply accept that her Auntie Heather is a worry wart.) She pointed out a two-page section in it to me about embarrassing moments. The more embarrassing something was considered, the higher it was rated, and they key for the ratings listed the highest as so, so mortifying that one should leave town. Some guy farting loudly in his car with a girl hardly ranked, but, surprise, surprise, the one which involved menstrual blood was top-rated as the worst of the worst.

The scenario was that you were at your older sister’s dorm in college and you wound up leaking on her roommate’s bed. The image showed a horrified girl, a very psychotic-looking screaming roomie, and a pool of blood so large, I suspect there may have been a dead body under the blankets. Maybe even two.

I casually commented that I didn’t understand why you had to get out of town because of something that inevitably happens to women with some frequency, just like people get nosebleeds on things or track mud into the house. I mentioned that this kind of stuff really does happen pretty often, and I’d be pretty surprised to see another girl — since it’s probably happened to her, too — make such a big honking deal out of it. I also mentioned I’ve never had a move where once I totally stripped a bed or futon, I wasn’t reminded of how often it happens with the many Rorschach splotches all over mine. I also commented that a puddle of blood that size was an illustrator taking some serious artistic license.

This brought up questions for her about getting periods, and if that’s always horrifying. I told her my comic tale of the cruelty of the fad of white painter’s pants in the early 80’s, especially when your parent had let you know how to identify malaria, but had not filled you in on why you’d suddenly find a red stain inching down your leg while talking to someone you had a mad crush on. (Thank goodness for Judy Blume, mother of us all.) Her Mom also chimed in with her story and talked about how not having that basic information made what would probably otherwise just be a mere bother a lot worse. We both talked about the wads of toilet paper in the underpants technique one often finds oneself using when a pad isn’t available or you don’t even know what one is yet. We also both mentioned that even if moments like that felt like a nightmare at the time, it doesn’t take long for them to become the very funny stories you laugh about like we all just had been laughing over.

Sophia asked both of us how old we were when we got our periods (I was 11, Gigi was 12 or 13), and exhaled a “Phew!” that she still had some time. Then we both said some words about how she probably does, but it really is only as big a deal as you make it. So, when it happens to her, it’ll be just fine, and once she starts having her period, it’ll get pretty normal after just a little while and not be anything to worry about. And certainly nothing to consider leaving town over if you bleed on something now and then.

I was even able to end the evening sending them home with one of the kickass booklets on getting your period I was part of doing with Lunapads.

Only once they all left and I was home alone did I even realize that we’d had “The Period Talk” with Sophia. I had a brief moment of worry that not having thought about it while we were having it, we didn’t do it right, or messed something up. But in reflecting back, I realized how mellow and casual — and unabashedly public! — it was, how it was even in front of her Dad, who was also being totally unsqueamish about it, how comfortable and conversational Sophia was throughout, and how normal it was all made to be, and I felt great about it, convinced this kid I like so much may have had one of the best period talks ever.

One almost as super awesome and cool as Paramore, even. Rawk!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I have no idea what the heck brought this on, but something I was working on yesterday made me think that it’d be pretty fun and empowering to think of my average vulva as my super, big, GIANT vulva. I suddenly found myself wanting to say, and quite loudly, to no one in particular, “Yeah, well check out my BIG VULVA!”

I came to the conclusion that “big vagina” somehow has a better ring to it, though, likely because however incorrectly it’s often used, it is a more commonly used term, and it’s that part of the vulva which women are so often told or think must never, never — oh, the horror! — be anything but as diminutive as possible. It’s still overall seen as much more okay to have a big labia than a big vagina, and big clits often seem to be seen as fine and dandy, mostly because they’re perceived as being like big penises.

attack of the 50 ft. vulva!You might wonder what on earth would compel someone to somehow get fixated — and in a way that makes her feel giddy and silly and very excited and more than a little powerful — on BIG VAGINA.

Often, activists who do serious and emotionally challenging work can, when pushed to the work-limit, become slap-happy and rather silly at times. It’s also been a big of a girl-bits-themed week for me, and I could possibly blame Christa in part. Plus, I work in sex, which while it is certainly important, and absolutely very serious in some ways, is in just as many ways, something ungodly silly which people do. My partner is used to these occasional bouts of sex-geek-goofy by now, so, while it certainly created a moments pause — and also a question as to if I had been drinking — my greeting him when he arrived home by jumping into the room and bellowing “BIG VAGINA!” was not the surprise it might be for someone else’s partner.

This does NOT mean, by any means, you should discount what I am about to say, or dismiss that ultimately, I’m quite serious about all of this. But you are allowed to laugh, and in fact, I strongly encourage you to do so, because way too many people take the size and appearance of their genitals way, way too seriously, and it is really messing y’all up for no good reason.

Women (though it’s important to put out that we’re pretty much always only talking about heterosexual women when it comes to this) have started to obsess on their vaginas or vulvas or labia just being way too big to a similar degree that many men have long fixated on their penises being way too small. People are tossing away ungodly piles of money daily to attempt to change the shape or size of their genitals, and some — a lot, really, vaginal “rejuvenation” surgies rose a whopping 30% from 2005 to 2006 — even risk going under the knife for surgeries which not only pose serious risks to their overall health, but also put their sexual function at risk, all for the sake of appearance or sexual performance concerns which are almost always completely unfounded and unrealistic, and which most often do NOT impair sexual function.

Genitals are small. ALL genitals are small, because in this big planet we live on, in the far bigger context of the whole cosmos, people are amazingly small, let alone a handful of inches of genital tissue. Even when we’re looking only at people, we’ve got parts of our bodies that make our genitals look microscopic: our small intestines go for 20 feet and our blood vessels quite literally are 100,000 miles long. My dog, a pug, is a small breed — so small as to be considered a “toy” breed — and she’s far bigger than anyone’s genitals could ever aspire to be. But my dog, even though she thinks quite otherwise, is but a very small dog. If I had a dresser drawer the size of any genitalia, that drawer would be really useless. Sure, compared to say, one of my freckles, my vagina or clitoris is big, and it’s all relative. But let’s face it: genitals aren’t big, even though they can sure feel big, and can even make us feel bigger or emotionally amplified.

Before I tell you more about my VERY big vagina, it’s probably a good idea to do some basic discussion and deconstruction of genital size. We’ll get to penises in a little bit: for a change, let’s first start by talking about female genital size. To keep this discussion from becoming War and Peace, we’re going to focus on average size ranges, so do understand that average means just that — the middle point of a group of values (in this case, sizes), obtained by taking the sum of a group of values and dividing by the number of values — not “normal.” The sizes of normal, functional genitalia are generally well beyond the averages in either direction, and genital size, even sizes pretty far from the averages, very rarely impacts sexual enjoyment or function unless the person with them gets so hung up on normalcy that their hangup becomes a buzzkill, or unless that person’s sexual partners aren’t making any adaptations that might be needed in some cases.

It’s not exactly an easy discussion to have about women’s bodies, for a few reasons: a) female sexual anatomy is seriously nonlinear, both internal and external, and thus very tough to measure or quantify, b) so few people have given a hoot about our genitals that they still haven’t been studied very much, and c) the parts of our genitals which have been studied have more often been the parts that men deem important to them than the parts we deem most important to us. Plus, the size of our genitals varies a lot based on age, sexual arousal, whether or not we’ve had children, the works. Men’s penises are given measurements for erect and flaccid, which is only so apt for men, but it’s even less so for women as we have more degrees in between in terms of changes with sexual arousal, and parts of us that change with arousal we can’t really measure (since they’re internal), as well as those additional factors.

That said, the things we can look at when it comes to female genitalia and size, which we have some numbers for, are the size of the clitoris, the inner labia, the length of the vaginal canal, and the width of the back of the vagina. We can’t really talk about differences in size when it comes to the vaginal opening once the hymen has worn away — and boy howdy, do you bet your rump I get tired of explaining this every day — because as we all know (and if we don’t we seriously should by now), the vaginal opening is closed unless we insert something it it, or something (read: baby) is coming out of it. It’d be sensible to talk about measurement of vaginal muscular strength, but since scientists don’t seem to find that worthy of study, we can’t speak to it just yet very quantifiably. And the size or measurement of all of these things is often relatively useless and very arbitrary, but for our purposes today, that’s okay.

The vaginal canal: Let’s start by talking about the length of the vaginal canal. To most folks concerned about penis sizes, that’s about the only thing they might consider relevant (even though it isn’t all that relevant, given that when we’re talking about women who like vaginal intercourse, length usually is a non-issue, save when someone is trying to insert something too deeply which is just too long: it’s width that’s an issue, as well as how the penis is stimulating the g-spot and internal clitoris). We already know we can’t talk about the width of most of the vaginal canal, since that depends on what is inside of it, and when nothing is inside of it, its walls are collapsed save at the very back, but I will talk about width in one respect in which we can in a minute. The vagina is often referred to as a “potential” space — a term I can never figure out whether I like or not: on the one hand, very literally, the world of potential really is all about vaginas, but on the other hand, I think that term is often used to suggest that the vagina isn’t “actual” in any way unless something is inside of it, which is absolute crap.

From the vaginal opening to the cervix, the average vaginal canal length is 3 to 7 inches, unaroused to aroused, with an average capacity to stretch — when something is inside of it — to around 8 or 9 inches deep (it can also stretch from side to side). It might be helpful when we’re trying to illustrate this range to consider the range of adult speculum sizes: they range from around 3 inches to long and one inch wide to just four and a half inches long and one and a half inch wide.

Vaginal anterior width: If you really want to talk about vaginal width we have a practical reason — that being to fit a diaphragm to use for birth control — to measure, then we’re talking about the back end of the vagina. In case it’s not clear, the vagina is smallest at the opening and widest at the back, whether we’re aroused or not. Diaphragms are held in place by the vaginal muscles in the back of the vagina — a place we don’t even have the sensory nerve endings to really feel, mind — and sits over the cervix. Diaphragm sizes range from 50 to 95 mm in diameter, with fit determined by the distance between the posterior fornix and the pubic bone. A 70 mm diaphragm size is generally considered average. If it helps to understand how minor a difference this all can be, and how adaptable the vaginal muscles are, most menstrual cups only come in two sizes, with only around an eighth of an inch between sizes, to fit all women, and these two sizes sure fit us all a lot better than the ten sizes of pants we’re all supposed to fit our behinds and thighs into.

Labia minora: Since so many women, especially younger women, are so crazed over it lately, the range of average sizes for the labia minora (bearing in mind that no one ever seems to account for the fact that the size of our labia changes a bit during sexual arousal) is apparently between just less than an inch to just over two inches in length to the longest point. Average inner labia are everything from barely visible to easily seen outside the labia majora.

But obviously, given how incredibly organic and nonlinear the shapes of the labia are — and how vastly they vary amoung women, to a degree that there’s no way you could try and make the kind of easy comparisons men make between penises — it’s not exactly easy to measure, or even to determine what the longest point of some labium is. It’s often said — and anyone who had had their face or hands around even a small sampling of vulvas knows this — that the largest range in size, shape, color and texture that we see from vulva to vulva is with the labia minora.

Clitoral glans: When we’re talking about the clitoris (which also changes in size with arousal: measurements done with averages have shown an average change of 1.5 cm with arousal in XX women: intersexed women are sometimes a different story), the developed clitoral glans when “resting” is about an inch long on average, but it’s not really something there has been a lot of focus on, probably because when it comes to clits (or ovaries, or vaginas, or…yeah, you get it), many researchers just aren’t that interested and you also don’t have to tell women that something does not have to be big to do Very Big Things, especially when you consider we’ve got more nerve endings in our clitorises than there are in any size of penis. Heck, if you want to pick something that includes everyone, let’s not forget that sperm and eggs are microscopically small, but look what they can do! Too, the clitoris as a whole, when we include the internal clitoris, is basically the same size as most penises, but again, so spread out and organic in form, we can’t really measure it well, and can’t really measure it at all in live subjects at this point.

(You’ll note, if you have to torture yourself by ever looking at FAQs for genital cosmetic surgeons that they are very reluctant to say or even ruminate what normal and average sizes are, and more often will say that “normal” is determined by if the owner of said labia likes them or not — in other words, if a woman, for whatever reason, by whatever standard, doesn’t like her genitals, then it’s apparently sage for her to then consider them abnormal. Oy. It should also be noted that in double-checking the things that already live in my head on all of this, I kept falling upon studies showing that for most men and women looking to surgically “correct” their genitals, most of them have perfectly normal, functional and average genitalia.)

Take a break from the words for a minute, and before we move on to penises, check out this handy visual reference I’ve made for you, especially since it was a total pain in the bottom to make and try and keep as right as I could get it. While in even the largest version, things are still not exactly actual size, they’re awfully close, and the relative differences are correct. The anterior width circles were the toughest, but I just happen to have a wide array of diaphragms sitting around here for a project. Just because I love you so much and want to be sure everything is on the up-and-up, I really did sit putting diaphragms against my computer screen to double-check the sizes.

You’ll note I went ahead and provided an extra, very practical item to give you an idea of scale. If you want to see that graph a bit larger, click here, and if you want to see it life-size, click here.

(If you can’t see the graphic on the page for some reason, click here.)

The idea of “large” and “small” vulvas or vaginas really is silly, but it’s not like ideas about large and small penises are any less silly.

We may as well go ahead and talk about penis size, since let’s be honest: male worries and fixation on penis and genital size seems to be what created and in large part enables any sort of female concern about genital size, especially since lesbians don’t give a damn. This would likely be of NO issue to women if a) men didn’t go on and on so much about genital size and put genitals under the perpetual microscope, and then become fixated on ours, then bring women into the whole mess by making them think they’ve cause for concern, and b) if vaginal intercourse was not both defined as THE sex — even though for most women, it’s not the most satisfying, and also isn’t for plenty of men, too — and if problems with intercourse weren’t very foolishly all thought to be due to someone’s genital size, rather than due to the fact that the activity defined as “the” sex was, overall, a poor contender for the title who only got it due to being an incredibly savvy politician.

Plus, sensible or not, lots of guys care about penis size, and so do some women, which makes it important enough to talk about, and if we’re going to talk about one set of genitals being big or small, then it doesn’t make much sense to leave out another.

The Penis: The average range with penis length is between 5 and 7 inches, and the average girth (the distance around) is around 4 inches. Studies often show that the deviation between sizes, on average, is just around one inch. We see far greater variation in the size of flaccid penises than we do in erect penises. Penis averages are always a bit suspect, mind, because the men who volunteer for them are usually aware of what the study is, so guys who feel like they don’t have anything to brag about are less inclined to show up to be measured than those who do. In checking my homework here, I also found references stating that at around nine inches of length is the point at which, for women who engage in heterosexual intercourse, most women will experience discomfort. So that guy with the seven-inch penis saying it’s nine with the idea it’ll impress a woman may find that with a savvy chick, that’s not always an enticement.

But since we’ve got to hear again and again from men (and even their female partners sometimes) overstating penis length, you’ll not that in the graphical comparison above, I went ahead and even included a “larger” penis size that really isn’t very common.

(And just for the record, most of the studies on penis size done these days are being done by condom companies, so their work is actually meaningful and important. This is the lone practical need to know anyone’s penis size. Of course, more study on women’s bodies is also important for any number of reasons, but it’s still mighty slow going.)

So, there you have it. Now look at that chart again. Seriously. And not just at the dog.

Things that all vary only THAT little? Calling one SO large and the other SO small? C’mon people, you’ve got to be able to see that it’s pretty loony to get hung up on size differentials when we’re talking about such minor differences, and when those minor differences do not have anything to do with sexual satisfaction or reproductive function. Again, when folks get all hung up on the size of their genitals, the problem that becomes or creates is rarely a problem because of the size: it’s usually a problem because of the hang-up. Lose the hang-up and fixation, lose the problem.

Really, all of this size stuff is pretty deranged from the get-go, about anything when it comes to our bodies (and a lot of other things, for that matters). No matter what we’re privliging based on size, our size — whether we’re talking about height, weight, breasts, genitals, noses, you name it — is almost always mostly or entirely genetic. We’ve got what we’ve got, for the most part, and going nuts over largely unchangeable parts of ourselves, or anyone else, is a waste of otherwise good energy at best and bigotry at worst. And when it comes to genitals, no matter what we’ve got, the size of anything very rarely impairs its function. Differences in size simply — if they even do that — may create differences in the way we do certain things. Since sex is supposed to be individual, not one-size-fits-all, should we ever meet a sexual partner who isn’t down with making sure the sex they’re having is as unique and catered to they and us as possible, the problem is that partner, not our genitals.

Now, all things given, if we go ahead and make the determination that with a variation as minor as a handful of millimeters or a handful of inches, we can really still say big and small and all that jazz, when it comes to myself, I’m pretty darn average in all respects when it comes to genitals. In other words, most of my genitalia is not at either end of the poles of the averages. I wear a smaller-average diaphragm size (I’m a 65 these days), and given the clitorises I have seen up close and personal and via photos, I’d say my clit is right in the middle. One of my labia is smaller than the other, and the longer is on the longer side of the average. To look at my bits, I’ve got what Betty Dodson calls a Baroque vulva. As someone who is all about the spirit of decadence in sensory things, I think that’s quite perfect for me, really. :)

But you know what? Being average has NEVER stopped an awful lot of guys from saying they have a big penis or thinking of their penises as big. And again, this whole big/small business with such a small range is just goofy.

I often avidly protest all this size stuff, and even get ungodly irritated by it daily, especially given how often I have to comfort the “smaller” guys and the “larger” girls in my daily work, who really should not have to worry about any of this at all.

But I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time I tried rolling with it. So, if it’s up to me if I’m big or I’m small, I think it seems a whole lot more fun to have a VERY BIG vagina than an average one.

Which allows me to finally get back to my monumental, super-duper vagina. If what men consider a monumentally big penis is still as long or just a little bit longer than most vaginas can stretch, and the back end of some vaginas within average are still wider around than those penises, AND our clitorises, internal and external, are just as big as penises, then by gosh and by golly, we don’t have diminutive genitals, girls, we’ve got BIG GIANT VULVAS!

I want to give it supervillian names: Vaginormia or Vulvumba or Vagigante! (That one totally needs an exclamation point, because it sounds like a Lucha Libra name.) The Pink Colossus. Vulvuminousa. Monsmonstro. Vagzilla. The Big Vagowski — eh, that’s not going to work.

Now I’ve just got “Mike Wazowski” stuck in my head again (it’s a bit of a constant problem), and weird as I am, mixing vaginas and Monsters, Inc. is even too weird for me.

I am wholeheartedly enjoying this image of Vagzilla, like a very large sea creature of some kind, pulling its pink, fleshy feet (which totally make a noise, it’s like “schlop, schlop”) across the earth. It waves it’s VERY HUMONGOUS labia around like big, flappy, sea-anemone hands, and it makes a huge whooshing sound, like wind through trees in a storm, when it does. It’s absolutely moist, and seriously squishy. It also has a very, very large nose When it moves, it leaves a trail of shiny, clear ooze in its wake. It’s whipping aside commercial menstrual product manufacturers with those big labia-tentacles, and it’s yelling and blowing air from it’s GAPING vaginal opening, causing douches and speculums and the torture devices of cosmetic surgeons to blow across streets like tumbleweeds. Godzilla knows better than to even think about messing with it.

(My partner also had to watch me try and illustrate this image last night through the wonder of interpretive dance. Welcome to life at our house.)

I want to pen a theme song for La Vagina Grandiosa, but until I do, we can certainly already hear her when we listen to Aretha Franklin, Odetta, Paula Cole, The Staple Singers, Hedningarna, Saffire: the Uppity Blues Women, Phoebe Snow, P!nk, Janis Joplin, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, Bonnie Tyler, Chaka Khan, Joan Jett, Diamanda Galas, Loretta Lynn, Bessie Smith, L7, The Heartless Bastards, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks (I know, I had a moment of pause, but then I really thought about it: Edge of Seventeen is totally big vagina music), Michelle Malone, Kathleen Hanna, Pat Benatar or Nina Simone. Big vagina isn’t coy, subtle, delicate or soft-spoken: big vagina is raucous, gigantic, fleshy and eardrum-shattering loud.

I mean, there’s something awesome about it, isn’t there?

Not with me just yet? Okay, I’ll hang on while you get into it. I found it helped to yell one or two of those super-villain names very loudly in the living room (though in retrospect, it might be more fun to do in the bathtub, which I may just have to try later) while waving my arms around, punctuating it all by shaking my head back and forth with my mouth a little open so it made a very vaginal sort of “blubbalubbablubba” noise. The dog was certainly intimidated, I’ll tell you that much, and the pug ain’t intimidated by much. If that isn’t helping, revisit the imagery. If THAT isn’t helping, do remember that when we’re talking about vaginas, in particular, we’re talking about the place that quite literally has given birth to the world and everything in it. If even that isn’t helping…well, I tried.

For those of us who are with me on this, I really love the idea of even voicing this sort of sentiment or battle cry from time to time, just because, given that the very LAST thing any woman is apparently supposed to have, and certainly should be very, very ashamed of is a GIANT VAGINA. If women can succeed at, or even just try, to reclaim words like bitch, the very least women should be able to do, especially given the fact that if men have big penises, then we DO have big vaginas, is kick all this teeny-weeny-darling-cutiepie-vagina stuff to the curb and groove on feeling like our genitals are the stuff of epic proportions. I’m grooving on the Utopian idea that I’ll overhear some guy say to another in a bar, when describing a woman he’s awed by, who did something beyond daring he can’t imagine doing, “Man, it took some BIG-ass vagina to do that.”

In being completely obsessed with this idea over the last day or so, I’m also finding that I can kind of understand the dudes that go overboard with the “my big penis,” stuff to everyone within earshot. I so know that I’m really torturing the people listening to me talk about the vagina as giant in some way right now (but hey: I’m a sex educator, I gross people out all the time for my living), but I kind of dig it, because it’s making ME feel so big by extension that I just don’t care very much if y’all are all “YUCK!” especially since I very seriously feel we should should be awed and impressed with our bigness, that they should covet my bigness and wish it were theirs, rather than grossed out in any way.

It also seems like the more I go on about MY HUGE VAGINA, the bigger it feels. I know full well that everything genital is small in this great big world we live in, I know that the range with genitals when it comes to size is not at all vast, and I’m aware that personally, for the most part, even within that small range, I’m pretty darn average. But when I bellow BIG VAGINA, have images of Vagigante! in my head, and crank up the Joan Jett while giant, labial sugarplums dance in my head; when I envision my vulva and vagina not as small, but as vast and colossal, they really do start to feel that way, and it really makes me feel a bit bigger on the whole.

That feeling makes me a lot more sympathetic for the guys who are fixated on size, and who want their penises to feel big, and are bummed out when they don’t, or when someone else doesn’t see them that way. It also doubly illustrates part of why some women who are so fixated on their vaginas being so small often feel small themselves. While by no means do the size of your genitals — or the size you think they are — influence your size and scope as a whole person, if thinking of them as big makes you feel bigger, and makes them feel more special, I have to say that I think I’m all for it. And I’ve got to say, I really can’t help but wonder if women as a whole couldn’t really benefit from catching the size train in this regard: seems like it’s at least worth a try.

The only caveat is, though — and thus, the heart of my babblefest today — is that if we’re going to think of our genitals as big, any one of us, given the small range between them, we should think everyone’s genitals are big. We also need to accept that it’s ignorant or misinformed (and/or that we’ve clearly got some kind of agenda through which we benefit from our ignorance or misinformation) to think, presume or suggest that penises are big but vaginas are small, because we really are all about the same size. If thinking big is better for one sex, it’s also got to be better for the other. So, if you’re going to go on about your big penis, buddy, you’d best get just as excited about the idea of a big vagina, and make having a big ol’ vagowski just as cool. And if you’re a gal all hung up on the idea that your vagina must, must be as small as it can possibly be, or is such a small thing, then you’ve got to accept that penises are small, too.

But I suggest that you at least try on the “everybody is big” idea for a little while, and embrace the idea that a big vagina is at least as cool as a big penis is supposed to be. Next time you hear someone saying someone had a big vagina, and is meaning it to be an insult, try grinning and saying, with glee, “She sure did! Yeeha!” You certainly don’t have to make up super-villain names or do interpretive dances like me (though while according to some people, it’d probably be better if you didn’t, I personally feel that we just don’t see enough vaginal interpretive dance these days), but if you go through life without yelling


with great fervor at least once, I can confidently say you always feel at least a little bit smaller than you, and your vagina or vulva, actually are.

(The Scarleteen version I just got up of this lives here.)

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Oh, UGH.

Honestly, you know (as if you didn’t already) that gender binaries have gone too freaking far when we have a discussion at the Scarleteen boards where a young female user is informed by another young lesbian user — the former having suggested as much herself — that she couldn’t be straight, but instead must be queer, because she likes pretty, skinny, longhaired emo boys.

When I have to sit and explain that if a man identifies as a man — no matter how he chooses to present — and doesn’t feel HE is cross-dressing himself nor ID’s as a cross-dresser or as trans, he’s not a transvestite (which, FYI, is often defined by youth these days as simply a “feminine,” cisgendered man), and figuring you must be queer or gay because you’re attracted to him, rather than the Brawny man, is pretty messed up…well, bleh.

I mean, sure, I know I was a teen when cisgendered guys — who, stright, gay or otherwise, were all identifying very expressly as male, nor could figure why the way they liked to present even made that a question — wearing eyeliner was all the rage, but from all I can gather, it’s no more or less so, now. Their pop icons are wearing it just like ours were (though they often appear to be usuing much more powder to set their liner, and are awfully handy with the concealer): their emo boys aren’t that different from our punk and new wave guys. The majority? Not hardly, but most of those male-identified pretty dandies then and these boys now tended to argue pretty hard — especially with freaked-out parents — that they were not trying to be women or trying to dress like women: they were expressing themselves, as men. When even with our queer-minded, identifying-as-so-different youth are still coming to gender thinking it’s anyone’s place to decide someone else’s gender identity, things clearly aren’t as improved as we seem to want to think they are.

I do my homework: I’ve seen plenty of sound data that’s made clear that this youth generation overall has some pretty traditional ideas about gender — which often make very lousy bedfellows with a lot of queer theory — but this is just plain SILLY. If our queer youth community starts doing exactly what the status quo and traditionalists do (and I’ve seen this sort of thing more than this once) in terms of second-party gender assignment — he wore a skirt, therefore, he’s not really a guy, nor am I really attracted to men; she wears her hair short, therefore she’s not really a girl, so it’s not like I’m really attracted to women — we are in some SERIOUS trouble, people. And it’s not like it’s the fault of the thirteen-year-old in question for being so confused and so garbled in this: it’s the systems we have set up that are so freaking flawed, as well as the flaws in the systems — based on the existing flawed systems — we have set up to try and make life less uncomfortable for those stuck in them to blame here. Nothing like a barely-teen from Florida to illustrate all of this mess so concretely.

This disgruntled yawp was broadcast to you from the intersection of Queer Theory and Straight Culture, where there’s a 20-car pileup. And apparently some sort of time warp: this conversation feels like one already had in every fifth living room of a Stones or Bowie fan circe 1970.