MY VAGINA AND THE VAGINAS OF MY FRIENDS
My vagina has been through a lot. Oh, and so have the vaginas of my friends.
Together, me and my friends, our vaginas form a kind of network. Word of mouth is the vagina's medium. I know much about the vaginas of my friends without ever having seen them, and my friends know much about mine.
Among us, vaginas have: ripped, itched, burned, wept pinkish tears that could only mean pregnancy or its failure. They have been pried open once annually since we were teens with metal instruments that resemble nothing so much as car jacks. And these are just the everyday, the run-of-the-mill standard operations.
My blonde friend and I thrill at diagnosis. We are horrible to be around, because we feed off each other and want only to talk symptoms, tests, doctors. We delight in this. In the middle of the night we text screenshots of the things we Google: whole body yeast infections; dead butt syndrome. She says she wants to quantify her body.
When Googling her recent symptoms came up "fetus," my blonde friend bought a twin pack of tests and took the first one without telling me. I felt betrayed: this is what we do best! The tests come in twos because the first answer may not be entirely accurate, you have to wait three miserable days for round two. While she waited, we devised a new business plan. Multipacks of tests for all the things we think we might have. You got a test for lupus, one for Chron’s, anemia, all the STDs. Cancer, IBS, MRSA. Depression. Why doesn’t this exist yet?
I don't have anything so glamorous as a pregnancy scare; my "no dudes in bed" policy has served me well for several years. But that hasn't kept them out of my vagina altogether. I went to an urgent care clinic in Austin some time ago for a problem that was at once terrifying, humiliating, disgusting, and hilarious. I got a tampon stuck in my vagina. I think I said, "I got a tampon stuck." I didn’t want to say "vagina" out loud, because whether or not we want it to be, it’s still a dirty word—we can’t say it, I know someone who was fired from her job for saying "vagina" in public, maybe at a school—and I didn’t want to say "inside me" because it sounded dirty in a different way, vaguely sexual, a bit coy. I just said stuck. So my vagina has been fished around in by a bored urgent care doctor who could not hide his disgust for my body and its portals. Who told me to wait while he got the "barbeque tongs." Who asked if I knew what a douche was—look in the mirror, buddy. He intentionally made me to feel that the inside of my body was dirty and ought to be cleaned. The only proper response to this whole experience was to tell all of my friends, so we could convert our outrage into howling laughter.
The female body has been a site for all the fear, disgust, and discomfort that accompany the unclean since the early days of the world’s major religions. Think about the immediate connotations of the word "purity." Pregnancy, childbirth, and menstruation represent a strange, unspoken kind of contamination—the first thing that happens to a freshly born child is a cleansing, a wiping off. But on a more personal level, I keep thinking of the number of people I've slept with who believe that it is important to take a shower before sex. Often immediately before. Does this not evidence a misunderstanding of one of the primary things sex is: dirty? Maggie Nelson is good on this: she writes, "Genitalia of all stripes are often slimy and pendulous and repulsive. That's part of their charm." The truth is that I relish the messiness of my body, and vaginas are among our messiest parts. The truth is that I love when I talk with my friends about our bodies and all of their thrilling grotesqueries.
My blonde friend was having a lot of pain, all the time, in her vulva and clitoris, and she went to the ob/gyn and they convinced her to get her clitoris biopsied. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the kind of pain you'd have to be in to agree to such a thing? When she tells me at the pool I can barely listen, half because I get woozy half because I am filled with rage. When they did it, the mascara had run all over the pillowcase before she even realized how hard she was crying.
The gynecologist is always telling you things like "this is just a pinch," or "you might feel this." The pain scale for women is totally skewed, because women statistically report less pain than they feel. But when the pain is belittled or invalidated before you even experience it? No one acknowledges how pain feels different when it occurs inside of you. For years I cried after every annual exam alone in my car. I hate having metal in my body, forcing it open. Who wouldn’t?
Complaints are ways to acknowledge our bodies. Diagnosis is an avenue to recognition, concern, empathy. How else do we share our bodies with our friends? Perhaps the vagina is an excuse to talk about the body. Then why not talk about want, desire, delight. How limited are our words to express what is not ecstatic but not merely pleasant. "The joy of which one cannot speak." The vagina's joy has long been this: unspeakable, and unspoken.
My blonde friend and I giggle over text about our vaginas playing telephone when we get synced up. I guess it'd be more anatomically correct to say "uteruses"—everyone thinks the uterus has all the power, just because it makes babies. But I don’t know: seems to me the vagina is the one calling the shots down there. Oh messy emptiness! Oh present absence, bellowing deep within! How you bring us together.