I’ll never forget the first time I heard Eve Ensler say those famed opening words, “I’m worried about vaginas.” As she went on to speak about the way our culture talks about and treats vaginas with terrible violence and shame, that phrase vibrated through me like the chime of a deep, deep bell… she said it. She really said it. She said it ALL.
I was working hard in intensive trauma therapy at the time, working on all the trauma stored in my body from the times various men had molested, raped, and abused me, and let me tell you – it was only through years of mind-body therapy focused on the trauma stored in my vagina that I was eventually, finally able to have a happy and fulfilling sexual life. Years of EMDR therapy, countless occasions in which I missed work, huddled under my bedcovers trembling and weeping due to the depth of agony uncovered by the therapy, screaming so hard I vomited, repeating to myself every single night for hours, “I, Trelawney, am safe. I Trelawney can relax and go to sleep. You, Trelawney, are safe. You, Trelawney, can relax and go to sleep. She, Trelawney, is safe. She, Trelawney, can relax and go to sleep.”
All because I was born… with a vagina.
I learned that breaking my silence helped my healing process. I spoke at “Take Back the Night” vigils. I trained as an official Boston Rape Survivors Bureau speaker, and I gave speeches to auditoriums full of high school students, or to groups of college women who were preparing to perform Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues.
Already bisexual, I took a break from getting at all intimate with anyone who was born male, who had the male privilege of growing up without a vagina-shaped target painted on his body – anyone who might see my vagina as an invitation to prove his inherent, patriarchy-given superiority by stabbing me with his pointy weapon. I dated only women, grateful for their soft, enfolding, unprivileged non-maleness.
I stood in front of my church and invited them to join me in attending The Vagina Monologues… and fielded the frantic criticism, pearl-clutching, and jokes from leaders and members. Because I said “Vagina.” I really said it. Because I, too, was worried about vaginas.
I had daughters.
I thought I knew what it was to be worried about vaginas. I had had no idea.
I changed their diapers and gently, carefully cleaned their precious, happy, unsuspecting, unwounded vaginas, and tears slid down my cheeks as I prayed “Let them be safe. Let them be safe. Let them be safe. Please.”
They are growing up. Almost to puberty. Almost, but not yet. Yes, you can go for a walk, but take one of the dogs with you. Yes, you can have sleepovers, but only if I know the family really well. Yes, the president of our country really said that. Let’s go to the Women’s March. Those pink hats are vaginas. I love them, too.
Gradually, trying to prepare them but not terrify them, I give them occasional tiny pieces of the puzzle over the weeks, months and years. The puzzle slowly starts to take shape, to reveal the horrifying, inescapable fact that we live in a dystopian misogynist nightmare where males torture female bodies for fun, and over half of men admit they would probably rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it.
They are upset. Sometimes they cry. But they thank me: “Thank you, Mummy, for telling us this, so we know the truth.” But I haven’t told them the truth… just a tiny sliver, a faint little whimper of distress, because the actual truth is a roaring explosion of screaming, agonized, tortured despair.
****TRIGGER WARNING: CHILD RAPE AND ABUSE; GRAPHIC ******
I haven’t told them that in our country alone, at least 100,000 children are sold to men who pay to rape them. That the average (AVERAGE!) age of these children is 13. That these children are starved to train them to perform oral [rape], by putting honey on a rapist’s genitals. That they are raped by an average of 6,000 men during five years of slavery. That “Those being sold for [rape] have an average life expectancy of seven years, and those years are a living nightmare of endless rape, forced drugging, humiliation, degradation, threats, disease, pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, torture, pain, and always the constant fear of being killed or, worse, having those you love hurt or killed.”
From the New York Times:
“Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to [be raped by] adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist patient or the obedient daughter. Her cell of [rape] traffickers offered three age ranges of [rape] partners–toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens–as well as what she called a “damage group.” “In the damage group, they can hit you or do anything they want to,” she explained. “Though [rape] always hurts when you are little, so it’s always violent, everything was much more painful once you were placed in the damage group.”
The rape trafficking (I refuse to call it sex!) industry brings in an estimated $99 billion per year, and it is the fastest growing organized crime. As online porn becomes increasingly brutal and violent, men who pay to rape women and children seek increasingly brutal and violent rape as well. And our media continues to groom girls for the rape industry, training them to embrace a pornified version of femaleness: that to be female is to be “feminine,” and to be “feminine” is to be a subhuman sex object, which exists for male gratification. Big, nonthreatening baby bunny eyes, chin down in subservience, hip and chest out to signal sex object status, hairless body to stay weakly prepubescent – just look at every Disney princess for a guidebook.
So I will keep calling out misogyny and sexism, even of popular men, even when it brings an avalanche of criticism against me. I will keep denouncing Rape Culture and Porn Culture, even when people call me “sex negative.” I will keep writing about Christ, the Cosmic Vagina, and the need to treat vaginas as sacred, divine, holy, and reverend. Our collective human vagina is terribly, terribly wounded. If our species is to survive and be well, if our planet is to be free and healthy, we must stop torturing half the human race. We must love and protect the Vagina.
O Sacred Well, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns thine only crown:
How frail thou art with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that Wellspring languish,
Which once was bright as morn!
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.