Asexual at the Vagina Monologues
I’m all about the Woman Power, and never more so than the year I left my marriage (temporarily) and the Catholic Church (permanently). Someone invited me to join a local production of The Vagina Monologues, and from the heart of a howling storm of “woke,” I said “FUCK yeah!”
The idea behind the Vagina Monologues is that women have been discouraged from defining themselves and their own sexuality. In the world of my youth, at least, it was not proper for us to look at ourselves, talk about ourselves, touch ourselves, so we have been defined by male doctors, movie producers, porn makers, and all the men who are allowed to name our bodies among themselves when we can’t even name them to ourselves. Guys like the male acquaintance who watches the James Bond movies with “Pussy Galore,” but is scandalized by the title “Vagina Monologues.”
We reclaim our agency in the show by talking about our vaginas as if they were persons with tastes, convictions, preferences. What would your vagina wear? What would it say? What song would it listen to? And it is empowering for the women involved to be as overtly sexual as they like, to celebrate their bodies and feel safe doing so.
It’s also a place where residual assumptions about women and sex still surface.
One evening, the director calls us in for an extra rehearsal. We show up to find poster board, magazines and art supplies, and we’re told to spend the next three hours making our own special “vagina collages,” to share how our vaginas feel about life. My vagina is massively annoyed, but I try to cooperate.
“Can we include toys?” asks one of my table mates.
“Oh, you’ve GOT to have toys” purrs another.
I’m struggling to get the glue out of the tube, as the competition begins.
“I’m into variety ….”
“Every size, every color ….”
“It’s the combination that counts …. ”
“Just ask my partner …”
“Ask my partNERS …”
“Fuck,” I mutter, as the glue finally sees the light of day in an impulsive, gooey spurt across my artwork.
“You can say that out loud!” one of my companions assures me.
“Oh, don’t be afraid to say ‘Fuck!’” the other one chirps.
“You should really learn to say ‘Fuck!’”
“I’m going to make sure you say ‘Fuck’ from now on!” they promise.
Have you met me?, I wonder.
I notice, as I get older, that some young women want to take me under their wing. They like the idea of creating a scandalous older woman, though apparently they haven’t done the math, and don’t realize I was nine when Woodstock happened, and don’t need to be taught how to talk dirty.
The bringing-out process includes makeovers. I’ve never understood why some women are thrilled to be surprised on national TV with a makeover from loved ones who bring in “before” pictures to demonstrate the sad ruin that is their friend. If it ever happened to me, I would politely decline, saying I like the way I look– and see if they have the balls to argue that I shouldn’t.
The cast’s notion of what is “sexy” is, to my mind, surprisingly conventional. This is the land of black and red bustiers, leather, fishnets, and spike heels, posing and innuendo. I’m not much of a cosmetics person, so before opening night I allow a young thing to do my make up. I end up with Madonna eyebrows and flaming red lips. I feel as though someone has just gone up to a wild, gray, craggy cliff’s side and painted it pink.
Trina– a stunningly beautiful and fiercely affectionate castmember– invites me to an outing to Lovers Lane, which I assume is a restaurant where we’ll chat. Instead, we go vibrator shopping, and Trina is loving her role as teacher and guide. She crams my silver hair under a blonde wig and wraps my puffy face and excess chin in a neon pink boa, like a three year old putting junk jewelry on her grandmother. She thinks I look beautiful now, and takes my picture leaning against the dressing room door like a film noir hooker against a lamp post. And what’s funny is that Trina thinks she’s liberating me.
There’s something oddly familiar in all of this. It feels related, somehow, to the racy remarks of the boys of my youth, who would make a show of keeping all explanations to themselves, as though the girls needed to know that they were the target, but also that they were excluded. What did that show of a sexual secret society do for those boys, and why do these young women need to feel they’re expanding my world? It seems that whether they aim to shock or patronize me, my sexuality, hot or cold, vanilla or kinky, must be a stationary object for use in their performance. I must not run ahead of your expectation, of your projection. You want to be a funny or scary or liberating mystery to me, but you can’t comfortably imagine me being an unknown to you. You can’t see me as having a sense of myself that makes the category “hot” not shocking, not dirty, not enviable, but at this point, not relevant.
I’ll be honest. I not only don’t try to stay young, I cultivate cronehood. I feel I was born to be old, and if anything I play it up, largely because it saves me the whole world of confusion that is sexual signaling. Granted, this freedom rests on the “ageist” assumption that old women are past all that, which is stupid. But it’s honestly a relief to me that no one ever thinks I’m hitting on them, or that I want them to hit on me. I can be affectionate and not raise any wrong ideas.
I’m a child of the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution created a demand for “yes” before feminism had plowed out a space for “no.” For many men of my father’s generation, the relevant question about a woman is the one asked in a Clairol commercial of the time– “does she or doesn’t she?” If she “doesn’t,” she’s the girl to marry– or to condemn as frigid, a gold digger, or a ball buster. And if she “does,” it has nothing to do with her agency, her preferences: she does it, so she owes it, to whoever wants it.
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the fun of flirting, seduction and all the rest in its time, but passion went with expectation, adulation, temptation, frustration, manipulation, and of course gestation.
In the seventies, there were two strains of expectation. One was a holdover from a world that was passing away. I was supposed to want to be attractive, but this was to appeal to hormone ridden boys who would lustfully plot against me (they didn’t). (Corollary: I should need to be plotted against, because I shouldn’t particularly want sex– much less make the first move). And resisting them was the key to ultimately getting one of these shallow and manipulative jerks to marry me.
And on the other hand, there was the Cosmopolitan expectation that I should be turned on by anything at anytime– middle school involved a lot of lying on magazine quizzes to make ourselves sound hot (like we were REALLY turned on by the prospect of “doing it” in a laundry room or the back of a pickup truck).
So I would say that I wasn’t someone who learned mutual touch and mutual respect early on. Sex was a thing I was supposed to perform, and sexual feeling was part of the performance. I never was “a natural woman.”
In addition: I don’t know how many of you have small children, but there is a reason mothers of babies and toddlers have a reputation for disinterest in sex– I mean a reason other than vaginal wear and tear (I recall hearing my hospital roommate telling a friend on the phone, [southern accent ] “I think I’ve changed my mind about sex”). It’s that physical demands are being made all day long, so that at the end of the day, I was like, “ok, I’ve fed you, changed you, read to you, and had sex with you— is everyone OK NOW? Can I go read, or something?”
Then I spent over ten years as a therapist listening to stories of sexual abuse. Without going into detail, it’s a libido killer.
So when they asked me what song my vagina would sing, I answered “I Got Plenty o’Nuthin’, and Nuthin’s Plenty for Me.” They didn’t get the joke, I guess, and damned if it didn’t turn up on the cast mix tape.
When I shared the title of this piece with a male friend, he started trying to console me, as though by calling myself “asexual” I meant “unattractive”– as though I needed his reassurance that I was alright in his eyes. We are that far away from escaping definition by the male gaze.
We celebrate “hot, happy vaginas” in the Monologues, but I want to make room for cool, rested, happily retired ones, too. I wish orgasms deep and mellow, sharp and piercing and radiant to everyone who has the energy of desire. My vagina power comes from being allowed not to want, from being able to say “I’m full now,” and leave the table.