I bet you’re worried. I was worried. That’s why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them. I was worried about my own vagina. It needed a context of other vaginas - a community, a culture of vaginas. There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them—like the Bermuda Triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there.

In the first place, it’s not so easy even to find your vagina. Women go weeks, months, sometimes years without looking at it. I interviewed a high-powered businesswoman who told me she was too busy; she didn’t have the time. Looking at your vagina, she said, is a full day’s work. You have to get down there on your back in front of a mirror that’s standing on its own, full-length preferred. You’ve got to get in the perfect position, with the perfect light, which then is shadowed somehow by the mirror and the angle you’re at. You get all twisted up. You’re arching your head up, killing your back. You’re exhausted by then. She said she didn’t have the time for that. She was busy. So I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues. I talked with over two hundred women. I talked to older women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers, African American women, Hispanic women, Asian American women, Native American women, Caucasian women, Jewish women. At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before. Let’s just start with the word “vagina.” It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: “Hurry, Nurse, bring me the vagina.” “Vagina.” “Vagina.” Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say. It’s a totally ridiculous, completely unsexy word. If you use it during sex, trying to be politically correct - “Darling, could you stroke my vagina?”- you kill the act right there. I’m worried about vaginas, what we call them and don’t call them. In Great Neck, they call it a pussycat. A woman there told me that her mother used to tell her, “Don’t wear panties underneath your pajamas, dear; you need to air out your pussycat.” In Westchester they called it a pooki, in New Jersey a twat. There’s “powderbox,” “derrière,” a “poochi,” a “poopi,” a “peepe,” a “poopelu,” a “poonani,” a “pal” and a “piche,” “toadie,” “dee dee,” “nishi,” “dignity,” “monkey box,” “coochi snorcher,” “cooter,” “labbe,” “Gladys Siegelman,” “VA,” “wee wee,” “horsespot,” “nappy dugout,” “mongo,” a “pajama,” “fannyboo,” “mushmellow,” a “ghoulie,” “possible,” “tamale,” “tottita,” “Connie,” a “Mimi” in Miami, “split knish” in Philadelphia, and “schmende” in the Bronx. I am worried about vaginas. Some of the monologues are close to verbatim interviews, some are composite interviews, and with some I just began with the seed of an interview and had a good time. This monologue is pretty much the way I heard it. Its subject, however, came up in every interview, and often it was fraught.

The subject being HAIR. You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair. Many people do not love hair. My first and only husband hated hair. He said it was cluttered and dirty. He made me shave my vagina. It looked puffy and exposed and like a little girl. This excited him. When he made love to me, my vagina felt the way a beard must feel. It felt good to rub it, and painful. Like scratching a mosquito bite. It felt like it was on fire. There were screaming red bumps. I refused to shave it again. Then my husband had an affair. When we went to marital therapy, he said he screwed around because I wouldn’t please him sexually. I wouldn’t shave my vagina. The therapist had a thick German accent and gasped between sentences to show her empathy. She asked me why I didn’t want to please my husband. I told her I thought it was weird. I felt little when my hair was gone down there, and I couldn’t help talking in a baby voice, and the skin got irritated and even calamine lotion wouldn’t help it. She told me marriage was a compromise. I asked her if shaving my vagina would stop him from screwing around. I asked her if she’d had many cases like this before. She said that questions diluted the process. I needed to jump in. She was sure it was a good beginning. This time, when we got home, he got to shave my vagina. It was like a therapy bonus prize. He clipped it a few times, and there was a little blood in the bathtub. He didn’t even notice it, ’cause he was so happy shaving me. Then, later, when my husband was pressing against me, I could feel his spiky sharpness sticking into me, my naked puffy vagina. There was no protection. There was no fluff. I realized then that hair is there for a reason—it’s the leaf around the flower, the lawn around the house. You have to love hair in order to love the vagina. You can’t pick the parts you want. And besides, my husband never stopped screwing around. I asked all the women I interviewed the same questions and then I picked my favorite answers. Although I must tell you, I’ve never heard an answer I didn’t love. I asked women: “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” A beret. A leather jacket. Silk stockings. Mink. A pink boa. A male tuxedo. Jeans. Something formfitting. Emeralds. An evening gown. Sequins. Armani only. A tutu. See-through black underwear. A taffeta ball gown. Something machine washable. Costume eye mask. Purple velvet pajamas. Angora. A red bow. Ermine and pearls. A large hat full of flowers. A leopard hat. A silk kimono. Glasses. Sweatpants. A tattoo. An electrical shock device to keep unwanted strangers away. High heels. Lace and combat boots. Purple feathers and twigs and shells. Cotton. A pinafore. A bikini. A slicker.
“If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?” Slow down. Is that you? Feed me. I want. Yum, yum. Oh, yeah. Start again. No, over there. Lick me. Stay home. Brave choice. Think again. More, please. Embrace me. Let’s play. Don’t stop. More, more. Remember me? Come inside. Not yet. Whoah, Mama. Yes yes. Rock me. Enter at your own risk. Oh, God. Thank God. I’m here. Let’s go. Let’s go. Find me. Thank you. Bonjour. Too hard. Don’t give up. Where’s Brian? That’s better. Yes, there. There.
I interviewed a group of women between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-five. These interviews were the most poignant of all, possibly because many of the women had never had a vagina interview before. Unfortunately, most of the women in this age group had very little conscious relationship to their vaginas. I felt terribly lucky to have grown up in the feminist era. One woman who was seventy-two had never even seen her vagina. She had only touched herself when she was washing in the shower, but never with conscious intention. She had never had an orgasm. At seventy-two she went into therapy, and with the encouragement of her therapist, she went home one afternoon by herself, lit some candles, took a bath, played some comforting music, and discovered her vagina. She said it took her over an hour, because she was arthritic by then, but when she finally found her clitoris, she said, she cried. This monologue is for her.

[Jewish, Queens accent]
Down there? I haven’t been down there since 1953. No, it had nothing to do with Eisenhower. No, no, it’s a cellar down there. It’s very damp, clammy. You don’t want to go down there. Trust me. You’d get sick. Suffocating. Very nauseating. The smell of the clamminess and the mildew and everything. Whew! Smells unbearable. Gets in your clothes. No, there was no accident down there. It didn’t blow up or catch on fire or anything. It wasn’t so dramatic. I mean . . . well, never mind. No. Never mind. I can’t talk to you about this. What’s a smart girl like you going around talking to old ladies about their down-theres for? We didn’t do this kind of a thing when I was a girl. What? Jesus, okay. There was this boy, Andy Leftkov. He was cute - well, I thought so. And tall, like me, and I really liked him. He asked me out for a date in his car... I can’t tell you this. I can’t do this, talk about down there. You just know it’s there. Like the cellar. There’s rumbles down there sometimes. You can hear the pipes, and things get caught there, little animals and things, and it gets wet, and sometimes people have to come and plug up the leaks. Otherwise, the door stays closed. You forget about it. I mean, it’s part of the house, but you don’t see it or think about it. It has to be there, though, ’cause every house needs a cellar. Otherwise the bedroom would be in the basement. Oh, Andy, Andy Leftkov. Right. Andy was very good-looking. He was a catch. That’s what we called it in my day. We were in his car, a new white Chevy Bel Air. I remember thinking that my legs were too long for the seat. I have long legs. They were bumping up against the dashboard. I was looking at my big kneecaps when he just kissed me in this surprisingly “Take me by control like they do in the movies” kind of way. And I got excited, so excited, and, well, there was a flood down there. I couldn’t control it. It was like this force of passion, this river of life just flooded out of me, right through my panties, right onto the car seat of his new white Chevy Bel Air. It wasn’t pee and it was smelly—well, frankly, I didn’t really smell anything at all, but he said, Andy said, that it smelled like sour milk and it was staining his car seat. I was “a stinky weird girl,” he said. I wanted to explain that his kiss had caught me off guard, that I wasn’t normally like this. I tried to wipe the flood up with my dress. It was a new yellow primrose dress and it looked so ugly with the flood on it. Andy drove me home and he never, never said another word and when I got out and closed his car door, I closed the whole store. Locked it. Never opened for business again. I dated some after that, but the idea of flooding made me too nervous. I never even got close again. I used to have dreams, crazy dreams. Oh, they’re dopey. Why? Burt Reynolds. I don’t know why. He never did much for me in life, but in my dreams . . . it was always Burt and I. Burt and I. Burt and I. We’d be out. Burt and I. It was some restaurant like the kind you see in Atlantic City, all big with chandeliers and stuff and thousands of waiters with vests on. Burt would give me this orchid corsage. I’d pin it on my blazer. We’d laugh. We were always laughing, Burt and I. Eat shrimp cocktail. Huge shrimp, fabulous shrimp. We’d laugh more. We were very happy together. Then he’d look into my eyes and pull me to him in the middle of the restaurant - and, just as he was about to kiss me, the room would start to shake, pigeons would fly out from under the table - I don’t know what those pigeons were doing there - and the flood would come straight from down there. It would pour out of me. It would pour and pour. There would be fish inside it, and little boats, and the whole restaurant would fill with water, and Burt would be standing knee-deep in my flood, looking horribly disappointed in me that I’d done it again, horrified as he watched his friends, Dean Martin and the like, swim past us in their tuxedos and evening gowns. I don’t have those dreams anymore. Not since they took away just about everything connected with down there. Moved out the uterus, the tubes, the whole works. The doctor thought he was being funny. He told me if you don’t use it, you lose it. But really I found out it was cancer. Everything around it had to go. Who needs it, anyway? Right? Highly overrated. I’ve done other things. I love the dog shows. I sell antiques. What would it wear? What kind of question is that? What would it wear? It would wear a big sign: “Closed Due to Flooding.” What would it say? I told you. It’s not like that. It’s not like a person who speaks. It stopped being a thing that talked a long time ago. It’s a place. A place you don’t go. It’s closed up, under the house. It’s down there. You happy? You made me talk—you got it out of me. You got an old lady to talk about her down-there. You feel better now? [Turns away; turns back] You know, actually, you’re the first person I ever talked to about this, and I feel a little better.


At a witch trial in 1593, the investigating lawyer (a married man) apparently discovered a clitoris for the first time; [he] identified it as a devil’s teat, sure proof of the witch’s guilt. It was “a little lump of flesh, in manner sticking out as if it had been a teat, to the length of half an inch,” which the gaoler, “perceiving at the first sight thereof, meant not to disclose, because it was adjoining to so secret a place which was not decent to be seen. Yet in the end, not willing to conceal so strange a matter,” he showed it to various bystanders. The bystanders had never seen anything like it. The witch was convicted. - The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

I interviewed many women about menstruation. There was a choral thing that began to occur, a kind of wild collective song. Women echoed each other. I let the voices bleed into one another. I got lost in the bleeding.

Second grade, seven years old, my brother was talking about periods. I didn’t like the way he was laughing. I went to my mother. “What’s a period?” I said. “It’s punctuation,” she said. “You put it at the end of a sentence.” My father brought me a card: “To my little girl who isn’t so little anymore.” I was terrified. My mother showed me the thick sanitary napkins. I was to bring the used ones to the can under the kitchen sink. I remember being one of the last. I was thirteen. We all wanted it to come. I was so afraid. I started putting the used pads in brown paper bags in the dark storage places under the roof. Eighth grade. My mother said, “Oh, that’s nice.” In junior high-brown drips before it came. Coincided with a little hair under my arms, which grew unevenly: one armpit had hair, the other didn’t. I was sixteen, sort of scared. My mother gave me codeine. We had bunk beds. I went down and lay there. My mother was so uncomfortable. One night, I came home late and snuck into bed without turning on any lights. My mother had found the used pads and put them between the sheets of my bed. I was twelve years old, still in my underpants. Hadn’t gotten dressed. Looked down on the staircase. There it was. Looked down and I saw blood. Seventh grade; my mother sort of noticed my underwear. Then she gave me plastic diapers. My mom was very warm - “Let’s get you a pad.” My friend Marcia, they celebrated when she got hers. They had dinner for her. We all wanted our period. We all wanted it now. Thirteen years old. It was before Kotex. Had to watch your dress. I was black and poor. Blood on the back of my dress in church. Didn’t show, but I was guilty. I was ten and a half. No preparation. Brown gunk on my underpants. She showed me how to put in a tampon. Only got in halfway. I associated my period with inexplicable phenomena. My mother told me I had to use a rag. My mother said no to tampons. You couldn’t put anything in your sugar dish. Wore wads of cotton. Told my mother. She gave me Elizabeth Taylor paper dolls. Fifteen years old. My mother said, “Mazel tov.” She slapped me in the face. Didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing. My period, like cake mix before it’s baked. Indians sat on moss for five days. Wish I were Native American. I was fifteen and I’d been hoping to get it. I was tall and I kept growing. When I saw white girls in the gym with tampons, I thought they were bad girls. Saw little red drops on the pink tiles. I said, “Yeah.” My mom was glad for me. Used O Band liked putting my fingers up there. Eleven years old, wearing white pants. Blood started to come out. Thought it was dreadful. I’m not ready. I got back pains. I got horny. Twelve years old. I was happy. My friend had a Ouija board, asked when we were going to get our periods, looked down, and I saw blood. Looked down and there it was. I’m a woman. Terrified. Never thought it would come. Changed my whole feeling about myself. I became very silent and mature. A good Vietnamese woman—quiet worker, virtuous, never speaks. Nine and a half. I was sure I was bleeding to death, rolled up my underwear and threw them in a corner. Didn’t want to worry my parents. My mother made me hot water and wine, and I fell asleep. I was in my bedroom in my mother’s apartment. I had a comic book collection. My mother said, “You mustn’t lift your box of comic books.” My girlfriends told me you hemorrhage every month. My mother was in and out of mental hospitals. She couldn’t take me coming of age. “Dear Miss Carling, Please excuse my daughter from basketball. She has just matured.” At camp they told me not to take a bath with my period. They wiped me down with antiseptic. Scared people would smell it. Scared they’d say I smelled like fish. Throwing up, couldn’t eat. I got hungry. Sometimes it’s very red. I like the drops that drop into the toilet. Like paint. Sometimes it’s brown and it disturbs me. I was twelve. My mother slapped me and brought me a red cotton shirt. My father went out for a bottle of sangria. Over the course of my interviews I met nine women who had had their first orgasms in the exact same place. They were women in their late thirties and early forties. They had all participated, at different times, in one of the groups run by a brave and extraordinary woman, Betty Dodson. For twenty-five years Betty has been helping women locate, love, and masturbate their vaginas. She has run groups, has worked privately with individual women. She has helped thousands of women reclaim their center. This piece is for her.

[A slight English accent]
My vagina is a shell, a round pink tender shell, opening and closing, closing and opening. My vagina is a flower, an eccentric tulip, the center acute and deep, the scent delicate, the petals gentle but sturdy. I did not always know this. I learned this in the vagina workshop. I learned this from a woman who runs the vagina workshop, a woman who believes in vaginas, who really sees vaginas, who helps women see their own vaginas by seeing other women’s vaginas. In the first session the woman who runs the vagina workshop asked us to draw a picture of our own “unique, beautiful, fabulous vagina.” That’s what she called it. She wanted to know what our own unique, beautiful, fabulous vagina looked like to us. One woman who was pregnant drew a big red mouth screaming with coins spilling out. Another very skinny woman drew a big serving plate with a kind of Devonshire pattern on it. I drew a huge black dot with little squiggly lines around it. The black dot was equal to a black hole in space, and the squiggly lines were meant to be people or things or just your basic atoms that got lost there. I had always thought of my vagina as an anatomical vacuum randomly sucking up particles and objects from the surrounding environment. I had always perceived my vagina as an independent entity, spinning like a star in its own galaxy, eventually burning up on its own gaseous energy or exploding and splitting into thousands of other smaller vaginas, all of them then spinning in their own galaxies. I did not think of my vagina in practical or biological terms. I did not, for example, see it as a part of my body, something between my legs, attached to me. In the workshop we were asked to look at our vaginas with hand mirrors. Then, after careful examination, we were to verbally report to the group what we saw. I must tell you that up until this point everything I knew about my vagina was based on hearsay or invention. I had never really seen the thing. It had never occurred to me to look at it. My vagina existed for me on some abstract plane. It seemed so reductive and awkward to look at it, getting down there the way we did in the workshop, on our shiny blue mats, with our hand mirrors. It reminded me of how the early astronomers must have felt with their primitive telescopes. I found it quite unsettling at first, my vagina. Like the first time you see a fish cut open and you discover this other bloody complex world inside, right under the skin. It was so raw, so red, so fresh. And the thing that surprised me most was all the layers. Layers inside layers, opening into more layers. My vagina amazed me. I couldn’t speak when it came my turn in the workshop. I was speechless. I had awakened to what the woman who ran the workshop called “vaginal wonder.” I just wanted to lie there on my mat, my legs spread, examining my vagina forever. It was better than the Grand Canyon, ancient and full of grace. It had the innocence and freshness of a proper English garden. It was funny, very funny. It made me laugh. It could hide and seek, open and close. It was a mouth. It was the morning. Then, the woman who ran the workshop asked how many women in the workshop had had orgasms. Two women tentatively raised their hands. I didn’t raise my hand, but I had had orgasms. I didn’t raise my hand because they were accidental orgasms. They happened to me. They happened in my dreams, and I would wake in splendor. They happened a lot in water, mostly in the bath. Once in Cape Cod. They happened on horses, on bicycles, on the treadmill at the gym. I did not raise my hand because although I had had orgasms, I did not know how to make one happen. I had never tried to make one happen. I thought it was a mystical, magical thing. I didn’t want to interfere. It felt wrong, getting involved —contrived, manipulative. It felt Hollywood. Orgasms by formula. The surprise would be gone, and the mystery. The problem, of course, was that the surprise had been gone for two years. I hadn’t had a magical accidental orgasm in a long time, and I was frantic. That’s why I was in the workshop. And then the moment had arrived that I both dreaded and secretly longed for. The woman who ran the workshop asked us to take out our hand mirrors again and to see if we could locate our clitoris. We were there, the group of us women, on our backs, on our mats, finding our spots, our locus, our reason, and I don’t know why, but I started crying. Maybe it was sheer embarrassment. Maybe it was knowing that I had to give up the fantasy, the enormous life-consuming fantasy, that someone or something was going to do this for me - the fantasy that someone was coming to lead my life, to choose direction, to give me orgasms. I was used to living off the record, in a magical, superstitious way. This clitoris finding, this wild workshop on shiny blue mats, was making the whole thing real, too real. I could feel the panic coming. The simultaneous terror and realization that I had avoided finding my clitoris, had rationalized it as mainstream and consumerist because I was, in fact, terrified that I did not have a clitoris, terrified that I was one of those constitutionally incapables, one of those frigid, dead, shut-down, dry, apricot-tasting, bitter - oh, my God. I lay there with my mirror looking for my spot, reaching with my fingers, and all I could think about was the time when I was ten and lost my gold ring with the emeralds in a lake. How I kept diving over and over to the bottom of the lake, running my hands over stones and fish and bottle caps and slimy stuff, but never my ring. The panic I felt. I knew I’d be punished. I shouldn’t have worn it swimming. The woman who ran the workshop saw my insane scrambling, sweating, and heavy breathing. She came over. I told her, “I’ve lost my clitoris. It’s gone. I shouldn’t have worn it swimming.” The woman who ran the workshop laughed. She calmly stroked my forehead. She told me my clitoris was not something I could lose. It was me, the essence of me. It was both the doorbell to my house and the house itself. I didn’t have to find it. I had to be it. Be it. Be my clitoris. Be my clitoris. I lay back and closed my eyes. I put the mirror down. I watched myself float above myself. I watched as I slowly began to approach myself and reenter. I felt like an astronaut reentering the atmosphere of the earth. It was very quiet, this reentry: quiet and gentle. I bounced and landed, landed and bounced. I came into my own muscles and blood and cells and then I just slid into my vagina. It was suddenly easy and I fit. I was all warm and pulsing and ready and young and alive. And then, without looking, with my eyes still closed, I put my finger on what had suddenly become me. There was a little quivering at first, which urged me to stay. Then the quivering became a quake, an eruption, the layers dividing and subdividing. The quaking broke open into an ancient horizon of light and silence, which opened onto a plane of music and colors and innocence and longing, and I felt connection, calling connection as I lay there thrashing about on my little blue mat. My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny. I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me.

The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure. The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 nerve fibers, to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else in the body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue, and it is twice . . . twice . . . twice the number in the penis. Who needs a handgun when you’ve got a semiautomatic. - from Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier

This is how I came to love my vagina. It’s embarrassing, because it’s not politically correct. I mean, I know it should have happened in a bath with salt grains from the Dead Sea, Enya playing, me loving my woman self. I know the story. Vaginas are beautiful. Our self-hatred is only the internalized repression and hatred of the patriarchal culture. It isn’t real. Pussys unite. I know all of it. Like, if we’d grown up in a culture where we were taught that fat thighs were beautiful, we’d all be pounding down milkshakes and cookies, lying on our backs, spending our days thigh-expanding. But we didn’t grow up in that culture. I hated my thighs, and I hated my vagina even more. I thought it was incredibly ugly. I was one of those women who had looked at it and, from that moment on, wished I hadn’t. It made me sick. I pitied anyone who had to go down there. In order to survive, I began to pretend there was something else between my legs. I imagined furniture - cozy futons with light cotton comforters, little velvet settees, leopard rugs - or pretty things - silk handkerchiefs, quilted pot holders, or place settings - or miniature landscapes - clear crystal lakes or moisty Irish bogs. I got so accustomed to this that I lost all memory of having a vagina. Whenever I had sex with a man, I pictured him inside a mink-lined muffler or a red rose or a Chinese bowl. Then I met Bob. Bob was the most ordinary man I ever met. He was thin and tall and nondescript and wore khaki clothes. Bob did not like spicy foods or listen to Prodigy. He had no interest in sexy lingerie. In the summer he spent time in the shade. He did not share his inner feelings. He did not have any problems or issues, and was not even an alcoholic. He wasn’t very funny or articulate or mysterious. He wasn’t mean or unavailable. He wasn’t self-involved or charismatic. He didn’t drive fast. I didn’t particularly like Bob. I would have missed him altogether if he hadn’t picked up my change that I dropped on the deli floor. When he handed me back my quarters and pennies and his hand accidentally touched mine, something happened. I went to bed with him. That’s when the miracle occurred. Turned out that Bob loved vaginas. He was a connoisseur. He loved the way they felt, the way they tasted, the way they smelled, but most important, he loved the way they looked. He had to look at them. The first time we had sex, he told me he had to see me. “I’m right here,” I said. “No, you,” he said. “I have to see you.” “Turn on the light,” I said. Thinking he was a weirdo, I was freaking out in the dark. He turned on the light. Then he said, “Okay. I’m ready, ready to see you.” “Right here.” I waved. “I’m right here.” Then he began to undress me. “What are you doing, Bob?” I said. “I need to see you,” he replied. “No need,” I said. “Just dive in.” “I need to see what you look like,” he said. “But you’ve seen a red leather couch before,” I said. Bob continued. He would not stop. I wanted to throw up and die. “This is awfully intimate,” I said. “Can’t you just dive in?” “No,” he said. “It’s who you are. I need to look.” I held my breath. He looked and looked. He gasped and smiled and stared and groaned. He got breathy and his face changed. He didn’t look ordinary anymore. He looked like a hungry, beautiful beast. “You’re so beautiful,” he said. “You’re elegant and deep and innocent and wild.” “You saw that there?” I said. It was like he read my palm. “I saw that,” he said, “and more - much, much more.” He stayed looking for almost an hour, as if he were studying a map, observing the moon, staring into my eyes, but it was my vagina. In the light, I watched him looking at me, and he was so genuinely excited, so peaceful and euphoric, I began to get wet and turned on. I began to see myself the way he saw me. I began to feel beautiful and delicious - like a great painting or a waterfall. Bob wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t grossed out. I began to swell, began to feel proud. Began to love my vagina. And Bob lost himself there and I was there with him, in my vagina, and we were gone. In 1993, I was walking down a street in Manhattan when I passed a newsstand and was suddenly struck by a deeply disturbing photograph on the front page of Newsday. It was a picture of a group of six young women who had just been returned from a rape camp in Bosnia. Their faces revealed shock and despair, but more disturbing was a sense that something sweet, something pure, had been forever destroyed in each of their lives. I read on. Inside the newspaper was another photograph of the young women, recently reunited with their mothers and standing in a semicircle in a gymnasium. There was a very large group and not one of them, mother or daughter, was able to look at the camera. I knew I had to go there. I had to meet these women. In 1994, thanks to the support of an angel, Lauren Lloyd, I spent two months in Croatia and Pakistan, interviewing Bosnian women refugees. I interviewed these women and hung out with them in camps, cafés, and refugee centers. I have been back to Bosnia twice since then. When I returned to New York after my first trip, I was in a state of outrage. Outraged that 20,000 to 70,000 women were being raped in the middle of Europe in 1993, as a systematic tactic of war, and no one was doing anything to stop it. I couldn’t understand it. A friend asked me why I was surprised. She said that over 500,000 women were raped every year in this country, and in theory we were not at war. This monologue is based on one woman’s story. I want to thank her here for sharing it with me. I am in awe of her spirit and strength, as I am in awe of every woman I met who survived these terrible atrocities in the former Yugoslavia. This piece is for the women of Bosnia.

My vagina was green, water soft pink fields, cow mooing sun resting sweet boyfriend touching lightly with soft piece of blond straw. There is something between my legs. I do not know what it is. I do not know where it is. I do not touch. Not now. Not anymore. Not since. My vagina was chatty, can’t wait, so much, so much saying, words talking, can’t quit trying, can’t quit saying, oh yes, oh yes. Not since I dream there’s a dead animal sewn in down there with thick black fishing line. And the bad dead animal smell cannot be removed. And its throat is slit and it bleeds through all my summer dresses. My vagina singing all girl songs, all goat bells ringing songs, all wild autumn field songs, vagina songs, vagina home songs. Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me. So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart. Don’t know whether they’re going to fire it or shove it through my spinning brain. Six of them, monstrous doctors with black masks shoving bottles up me too. There were sticks, and the end of a broom. My vagina swimming river water, clean spilling water over sun-baked stones over stone clit, clit stones over and over. Not since I heard the skin tear and made lemon screeching sounds, not since a piece of my vagina came off in my hand, a part of the lip, now one side of the lip is completely gone. My vagina. A live wet water village. My vagina my hometown. Not since they took turns for seven days smelling like feces and smoked meat, they left their dirty sperm inside me. I became a river of poison and pus and all the crops died, and the fish. My vagina a live wet water village. They invaded it. Butchered it and burned it down. I do not touch now. Do not visit. I live someplace else now. I don’t know where that is.

In the nineteenth century, girls who learned to develop orgasmic capacity by masturbation were regarded as medical problems. Often they were “treated” or “corrected” by amputation or cautery of the clitoris or “miniature chastity belts,” sewing the vaginal lips together to put the clitoris out of reach, and even castration by surgical removal of the ovaries. But there are no references in the medical literature to the surgical removal of testicles or amputation of the penis to stop masturbation in boys. In the United States, the last recorded clitoridectomy for curing masturbation was performed in 1948 - on a five-year-old girl. - The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Genital mutilation has been inflicted on 80 [million] to 100 million girls and young women. In countries where it is practiced, mostly African, about 2 million youngsters a year can expect the knife—or the razor or a glass shard—to cut their clitoris or remove it altogether, [and] to have part or all of the labia . . . sewn together with catgut or thorns. Often the operation is prettified as “circumcision.” The African specialist Nahid Toubia puts it plain: In a man it would range from amputation of most of the penis, to “removal of all the penis, its roots of soft tissue and part of the scrotal skin.” Short-term results include tetanus, septicemia, hemorrhages, cuts in the urethra, bladder, vaginal walls, and anal sphincter. Long-term: chronic uterine infection, massive scars that can hinder walking for life, fistula formation, hugely increased agony and danger during childbirth, and early deaths. —The New York Times, April 12, 1996

My vagina’s angry. It is. It’s pissed off. My vagina’s furious and it needs to talk. It needs to talk about all this shit. It needs to talk to you. I mean, what’s the deal? An army of people out there thinking up ways to torture my poor-ass, gentle, loving vagina. . . . Spending their days constructing psycho products and nasty ideas to undermine my pussy. Vagina motherfuckers. All this shit they’re constantly trying to shove up us, clean us up—stuff us up, make it go away. Well, my vagina’s not going away. It’s pissed off and it’s staying right here. Like tampons - what the hell is that? A wad of dry fucking cotton stuffed up there. Why can’t they find a way to subtly lubricate the tampon? As soon as my vagina sees it, it goes into shock. It says, Forget it. It closes up. You need to work with the vagina, introduce it to things, prepare the way. That’s what foreplay’s all about. You got to convince my vagina, seduce my vagina, engage my vagina’s trust. You can’t do that with a dry wad of fucking cotton. Stop shoving things up me. Stop shoving and stop cleaning it up. My vagina doesn’t need to be cleaned up. It smells good already. Not like rose petals. Don’t try to decorate. Don’t believe him when he tells you it smells like rose petals when it’s supposed to smell like pussy. That’s what they’re doing - trying to clean it up, make it smell like bathroom spray or a garden. All those douche sprays—floral, berry, rain. I don’t want my pussy to smell like rain. All cleaned up like washing a fish after you cook it. Want to taste the fish. That’s why I ordered it. Then there’s those exams. Who thought them up? There’s got to be a better way to do those exams. Why the scary paper dress that scratches your tits and crunches when you lie down so you feel like a wad of paper someone threw away? Why the rubber gloves? Why the flashlight all up there like Nancy Drew working against gravity, why the Nazi steel stirrups, the mean cold duck lips they shove inside you? What’s that? My vagina’s angry about those visits. It gets defended weeks in advance. It shuts down, won’t “relax.” Don’t you hate that? “Relax your vagina, relax your vagina.” Why? My vagina’s not stupid. Relax so you can shove those cold duck lips inside it? I don’t think so. Why can’t they find some nice, delicious purple velvet and wrap it around me, lay me down on some feathery cotton spread, put on some nice, friendly pink or blue gloves, and rest my feet in some fur-covered stirrups? Warm up the duck lips. Work with my vagina. But no, more tortures: dry wad of fucking cotton, cold duck lips, and thong underwear. That’s the worst. Thong underwear. Who thought that up? Moves around all the time, gets stuck in the back of your vagina, real crusty butt. Vagina’s supposed to be loose and wide, not held together. That’s why girdles are so bad. We need to move and spread and talk and talk. Vaginas need comfort. Make something like that, something to give them pleasure. No, of course they won’t do that. Hate to see a woman having pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure. I mean, make a nice pair of soft cotton underwear with a French tickler built in. Women would be coming all day long, coming in the supermarket, coming on the subway, coming, happy vaginas. They wouldn’t be able to stand it. Seeing all those energized, not-taking-shit, hot, happy vaginas. If my vagina could talk, it would talk about itself like me; it would talk about other vaginas; it would do vagina impressions. It would wear Harry Winston diamonds, no clothing - just there, all draped in diamonds. My vagina helped release a giant baby. It thought it would be doing more of that. It’s not. Now it wants to travel, doesn’t want a lot of company. It wants to read and know things and get out more. It wants sex. It loves sex. It wants to go deeper. It’s hungry for depth. It wants kindness. It wants change. It wants silence and freedom and gentle kisses and warm liquids and deep touch. It wants chocolate. It wants to scream. It wants to stop being angry. It wants to come. It wants to want. It wants. My vagina, my vagina. Well... it wants everything. For the last ten years I have been actively involved with women who have no homes, women we call “homeless people” so we can categorize and forget them. I have done all kinds of things with these women, who have become my friends. I run recovery groups for women who have been raped or suffered incest, and groups for women addicted to drugs and alcohol. I go to the movies with these women, I have meals with them. I hang out. Over the past ten years I have interviewed hundreds of women. In all that time I have met only two who were not subjected to incest as young girls or raped as young women. I have evolved a theory that for most of these women, “home” is a very scary place, a place they have fled, and that the shelters where I meet them are the first places many of them ever find safety, protection, or comfort, in the community of other women. This monologue is one woman’s story as she told it to me. I met her about five years ago, in a shelter. I would like to tell you it’s an unusual story - brutal; extreme. But it’s not. In fact, it’s not nearly as disturbing as many of the stories I’ve heard in the years since. Poor women suffer terrible sexual violence that goes unreported. Because of their social class, these women do not have access to therapy or other methods of healing. Their repeated abuse ultimately eats away at their self-esteem, driving them to drugs, prostitution, AIDS, and in many cases, death. Fortunately, this particular story has a different outcome. This woman met another woman in that shelter, and they fell in love. Through their love, they got out of the shelter system and have a beautiful life together today. I wrote this piece for them, for their amazing spirits, for the women we do not see, who hurt and who need us.