[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 the 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 particle and object 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 spitting into thousands of other smaller vaginas, all of them then spinning in their own galaxies. [WOW-me]
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 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 the 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 a mourning.
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 the 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 though 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 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 orgasm. 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 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 the stones and fish and bottles 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 trashing 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.
Taken from ‘The Vagina Monologues ‘by Eve Ensler,1998