Vagina (for Ellen)

by Jeff Oaks

I know they are everywhere around me, under dresses, inside jeans and shorts, behind counters, driving by me, on the other end of the phone. I don’t think of them mostly because among the academics I’ve hung out with for the last thirty some years, no one has started a sentence with My vagina or The vagina or Your vagina or even Some vaginas. They always seem to be in what we love to call the object position in the sentences where they’ve appeared: Get your hands off my Vagina! Or they’ve been turned into clever textualisms like invagination.

Like most introverts, I don’t like to interrupt another person’s solitude. Like many gay men, I’ve never been inside a vagina. I have only observed how other men talk about the ones they have encountered or want to, and despite the many, many exuberant, brilliant, kind, and hilarious women I know, I always feel slightly sorry for vaginas in general. They seem always under fire and vulnerable. Places where men can’t see seem to make them crazy; that is, resistance makes men crazy, even angry, not vaginas. It’s also possible that men have been taught that they’re not men until they’ve entered and successfully released themselves in a vagina. When a St. Elmo’s Fire does not envelope them afterward, they believe the problem is the vagina’s and not the story’s.

I never saw my mother’s vagina. The only time I might have, I was being born and had many other concerns, like who was going to catch me. When I might have, at the end of her life when she had to submit to the indignities of an adult diaper, neither one of us could speak of it. It was bad enough that her children, both boys, might have to wipe her ass, nevermind the front. She didn’t want to be reduced to a terror. She was fierce in her independence, and being able to wipe herself was one of the signs, like making a joke, that she was still alive and kicking. Besides, she knew how often men remembered to put the seat down in the bathroom; how could we be expected to remember the correct procedures for much more delicate intimacies? Of course we would have done it; any sexual or social taboo around touching her was lost in our efforts to keep her comfortable. But we were grateful to the hospice nurses who kept us from having to do it. On the other hand, we lost the chance to see where we can been delivered into this world, how little we were.