The Vagina Dialogues
June 27, 2008 104 Comments
Eight years after hearing about it for the first time, I finally watched The Vagina Monologues. Wish me a happy birthday since I’m being reborn. On second thoughts, don’t say a word. Just listen as we speak – my vagina and I.
I hated being a woman. The restrictions, the rules, the fears of my mother, it made me angry.
I hated being a woman. Being smaller built than the boys, slower than them at games, lagging behind them on my bicycle, my scrawny legs pedalling furiously to keep up. I never could.
I hated being a woman. It took me a long time to get used to my curves. I walked like my flat-chested 12-year-old self till I was 17. Till a classmate told that it wasn’t the done thing for a girl to walk with such a straight back. Till, a boy said, “You walk with your boobs thrust right out at the world.” And when I did get used to them, I took them on with a vengeance and used them as lethal weapons. Bait? Hah! Call them Venus fly-traps! I loved their power and I hated them for the compromise they were.
I hated being a woman. Bleeding every month, feeling pukey and giddy-headed and sticky and smelly.
I hated being a woman. 10 years old and being told, “Boys can do whatever they like. But a girl’s reputation is like glass.” Twelve and my tuition teacher’s voice, “What a horrible laugh, so loud and monstrous! Look at Sonya, how prettily she covers her mouth when she laughs. And she doesn’t make a sound.” Thirteen and being admonished, “Sit with your legs together. Only a slut sits with her legs apart.” Yes, I really and truly hated being a woman.
But I didn’t always. I didn’t know I was a woman for some time. And then suddenly I did. Or more accurately, I suddenly knew he was a man. As he introduced me to his manhood and asked me to pat it, hold it, feel it.
Oh stop! I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I held myself back. And I held myself in. Realizing suddenly that if I didn’t, everything inside me would fall out of the hole. And in that moment, I seperated my vagina from me.
Sometime later, I summoned up the courage to tell my parents. I said he had tried to kiss me once. ‘Tried to’, not did. ‘Once’, not many times. ‘Kiss me’, not….
My classes were stopped and we didn’t speak about it again. I gave up trust that day as well as faith in men. I even stopped hugging my father. I assumed a genderless identity. And later, sexuality was paraded as an accessory, not experienced from within.
As the years passed, I built armour upon armour. The strongest of them was the desicion that when I was uncomfortable or hurt or unsure or unwell, no one would know, least of all the person who caused me pain. I banished the fears. I suppressed the blushing and giggles. I stifled innocence and wonder. I held back pain. I shut down tears. I sent them all to the dungeon to keep my shameful prisoner company.
I didn’t speak of it for ten years. One day a neighbor asked my mother about the guitar lessons I’d taken, since she wanted to send 8-year-old daughter for them too. When my mother told me, I asked her to tell our neighbor what had happened. She admitted that she was too embarassed to. I said, “If someone had told us the truth a decade ago…” and I left the room. There was nothing more to say.
Four years later, I was playing a silly game with my boyfriend, slapping and giggling. Then in a dramatic flourish, he pinned me down and held my wrists. That’s the last thing I remembered. The next thing I knew, he was shaking me very gently and asking, “What happened? I was only playing.” I didn’t say a word. Apparantly I’d gone all stiff and began whimpering.
My vagina was locked away into a dungeon when I was nine and went into silence after that.
As I watched the monologues and the vaginas of women around me sing and squeal and laugh and moan, I asked myself,
If my vagina could speak, what would she say?
And I heard her stammering, painfully shy reply so clear it made me cry.
I AM SORRY.
I’m sorry I disappointed you.
I’m sorry I hurt you.
I’m sorry you are in pain.
I’m sorry that I remind you of my existance.
I’m sorry I exist.
I’m so very sorry that I didn’t make you happy.
I’m really sorry that I don’t make you proud.
I’m sorry that you’re ashamed of me.
I’m so, so very sorry.
And as she spoke, her fellow prisoners stepped free from two decades of confinement. I had scratched off the worst I’d seen in my life and sent them down to my vagina, keeping the best bits for the part of me on show to the world.
My poor vagina, surrounded by my shame,
my bad memories,
…and my tears.
She cried, my vagina cried. And for the first time in years, I did too, with her.
Small wonder then that my relationships failed. Such a hellish place it had turned into that I’d only send those I wanted to banish down there. No wonder the very worst of men appealed to me and the very worst in them turned me on. And even they were petrified by what they found there.
I hated doing it in the dark.
I hated doing it on my back.
I hated doing it in bed. Or a couch. Or a car. Or in the open.
In fact I hated doing it so much that I never did.
Those who came to visit were offered a gracious cup of tea and then lulled into a battery of tests – a moat, a dragon, an army of defenses. And those that got past, walked up to the gates to find them locked. No entry into this love-lane, we’re shut, you’re unwelcome, go home. They did.
My new friend calls me a child and tells me that there’s a little girl he sees when he looks at me. Now I understand. At long last, I’m in the throes of an emotion nearly long-forgotten – TRUST. I banished it to my basement along with the other more tender emotions. If other people trust with their hearts, mine has gone made its home in the hovel downstairs. I trust from deep down there, like a slender creeper growing out of the ground. And what do you know? He’s right after all. My vagina thinks she’s only nine years old. That’s the last time she breathed free. Sweet child of mine indeed.
I used to be a sweet child. Warm, affectionate, trusting and open and always getting into scrapes. All of that went away with the confinement, right down into my vagina which is everything I am not. Sweet, pure, soft and warm. And it stayed that way for twenty years despite the confinement.
The book was wonderful. But the play brought it to life. It made me laugh (not smirk) and cry (not scowl). It gave my vagina her freedom and her voice too.
This is for Mahabanoo, Dolly Thakore, Avantika, Jayati (the moaner!) and Sonal Sachdev, the wonderful, spirited ladies who made last night come alive at Prithvi theatre. You made me whole again. You brought me back to life.
If my vagina were to dress up, what would it wear?
Well, it’s worn iron shackles for two decades. Now, if she could, she’d like something light and airy – preferably nothing at all.
I read Lolita when I was eighteen. It was a revelation. One more step in what turns out to be a long journey. A journey of healing. A lot of people I’ve discussed the book with say that it is a sick book, making excuses for paedophilic behaviour. But I think, they just don’t know. Of all the people, I can hardly be an advocate for child abuse.
But reading Lolita gave me some perspective on what happened to me. I suddenly saw my abuser as a human being - a very bad and flawed human being, a sick human being but a human being nevertheless. Not a monster, but human. And human beings can be overcome, overpowered and even forgotten. Almost.
About 5 years ago I was at a doctor’s clinic when I suddenly realised that the man sitting across me was my former guitar teacher. I was shocked that it had taken me that long to recognize him. Even more shocked at what I felt – nothing at all. In my memories he was a big-built man. But in person, after all these years he just looked so tired, so small, so weak, so obscure and so old. I can’t change what happened and it would a lie to say that I’ve forgiven. This is a wound that cut me so deep, it bled me right out of the right to be angry and seek revenge. Seeing him again was like someone smoothing over the scars of the wound.
I didn’t have the courage to put this up online immediately. I had to ask a few friends about it. Two of them told me that it was deeply moving and should be shared. One cautioned me that I should remember to ignore any weird-ass reactions. Finally two others, told me about their own personal accounts of horror. And in the end, that’s really what gave me the courage to share this.
Happy birthday to my vagina. And welcome to the world of the living again.