When I was growing up, my mother used to put a big X on the calendar to mark the day she expected her period to start. She referred to it as the curse. I never questioned this, later learning that many women from her 1920s generation also used this derogatory phrase. Nor did I question it when I later heard women referring to their vaginas as fishy, as in stinky down there, that nameless place at the meeting of our thighs.
Most of the words used to describe the vagina were crass then and are crass now. Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with my good buddy Panda (nickname) and she told me of an incident that troubled her.
“Some guy at the 7-Eleven just called me a bitch fish taco,” she said. Yuck.
“What’d you ever do to him?” It was so outrageous that I had to laugh.
“He tried to squeeze in line ahead of me and I wouldn’t let him.”
“You’re horrible,” I said. And then: “Did he say it real loud?”
“He said it under his breath as I was leaving the store. I turned around, calling him a bastard dick burrito.”
“I guess bitch fish taco is the new bitch,” I said. She agreed with me.
From there we got to talking about the negative vagina-words floating around our culture. Words like fish taco, slit, gash, bang hole, and axe wound to name a few. Of course there were positive words as well, such as honeypot and muff – I like muff because of its warmth – but let’s be honest – negative words outnumbered them today just like they did in my mom’s generation. This was when she told me that as a writer it was my responsibility to invent new positive vagi-words, as she called them, saying that we needed language that spoke of our vaginas in more respectful terms.
“And this is my job?”
She said it was.
So, I got the idea of creating the ABCs of the vagina, my idea being to go through the dictionary and create vagi-synonyms using each letter of the alphabet. She liked my idea. I did too.
“Call me back later with them,” she said excitedly.
“Will do,” I said. This would be easy, right?
“And don’t make them too corny. They have to be real.” But what was real? How real was honeypot?
We got off the phone and I brewed a cup of tea, plunking down at the kitchen table with my faded red dictionary I hadn’t used in years. I needed something tangible. I leafed through its tissue-thin pages, beginning with the letter A. I reminded myself of the assignment. I would come up with twenty-six positive names for the vagina, one for each letter of the alphabet.
I opened the dictionary to the As, considered the word altar – I could see the vagina as an altar of sorts, but it seemed a bit clichéd. I kept on looking. When I came upon the word “ambrosia,” I paused. I remembered eating this fruity salad as a child, people bringing it to potlucks to everyone’s delight. Pineapple, coconut, mandarin oranges, marshmallows. Whipped cream. Sink your teeth into that! In Greek mythology, ambrosia was thought of as food for the gods. Good enough for me. Therefore, my first vagi-word came into being. I added the adjective sweet and voila! Sweet ambrosia. It had a drunk and dreamy feel to it.
I continued with the Bs, sipping my tea. I came up with Bliss Tap but crossed it off. It made the vagina sound like beer. Hmm…How about Beautiful Surprise? Nah. Panda would say this was way too corny. How about, I thought, Ball of Woman Fire? Nah. Pretty ridiculous. A few minutes later I invented Blessed One, and I liked the holy feeling it invoked, making our vaginas a sacred place. And then I invented Best Attribute.
The pretend-conversation in my head went something like this:
“How is your Blessed One today, might I ask?”
“My Best Attribute? Why, she’s doing fine, thank you.” Fun. I was feeling good about my body.
Fifteen minutes later and I was having a hard time finding a vagi-synonym that began with the letter C. It had to be spectacular to counteract that other famous C-word: cunt. Its positivity had to match the latter’s negativity. Another ten minutes, but I came up with nothing. I decided to come back to it later. I moved on. For D, I decided upon The Most Delicious Meal, and a second choice: Dining at the Vagina Cafe, my creativity blossoming.
I continued. E: The Elastic Wonder. F: The Fantastic Wonder. G: The Gymnastic Wonder. I was on a roll. For H, I decided upon Heavenly Palace, and okay, I admit I was lapsing into the world of corny. The letters I, J, and K breezed by, as did L, M and N. Momentarily I got stuck on O, but came up with Opulent Jewel, which I considered one of my best.
P, Q, R, S ,T U, V. Pretty easy. But X? It took me a while, although Y and Z proved pretty easy.
I’d thought I was finished, but then remembered I had to circle back to the letter C. I mulled over new words, the worst of which was Curvaceous Smile – what was that supposed to mean? – and came up with nothing I liked. And then an idea alighted. What if I took the cunt-word and made it positive? In other words, what if I owned it rather than opposing it? In two seconds flat I had my example – Beautiful Cunt. Yes. Beautiful Cunt. I loved it.
An hour and a half after our conversation, I called Panda back. “Are you ready?” I asked.
“Lay them on me,” she said.
“Some of them have more than one example,” I said. And I read her my completed list of words. Language is so important, the names we label ourseleves with.
Blessed One. Best Attribute.
The Most Delicious Meal. Dining at the Vagina Cafe.
The Elastic Wonder.
The Fantastic Wonder.
The Gymnastic Wonder.
Kitten. Kitty Kat.
Yum Yum Tree.
My friend Panda liked them and I did too.