Vaginas Matter by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


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![1]

 

[1] Author of original text: Anonymous; translator: Paul Gerhardt and James W. Alexander. Revised by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir. See https://hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/286 for original UMC text.

 

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.

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Categories: abuse, General, Patriarchy, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women's Voices

Tags: , , ,

33 replies

  1. I do believe God can be thought of as the great matrix of being (Ruether) and I suppose that could be translated as the cosmic vagina though who knows how RRR would feel about the less abstract reference. I would prefer Source of Life and life-giving waters certainly ties in with the birth process through the vagina. But isn’t the second person of the trinity a guy? I do understand the connection to the vagina crucified and I suppose you are referring to Christ as a principle not a person? Or are you? Goddess the Cosmic Vagina from which all life emerges feels right to me. Christ the cosmic vagina feels a little creepy. Can you explain a bit more?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are so beautiful in your power Trelawney. And I love your artwork. The one with the vagina sprouting a plant particularly spoke to me. I honor your healing and your speaking out. I am on the RAINN speakers bureau but I have never accepted a speaking engagement with them. I have practiced gaining my voice with small groups of friends and here on this site (thank you feminismandreligion).

    I am sorry for all you have endured. You are a wonderful beacon of light and healing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have been painting my own book cover over the past few weeks and the vision I’ve been given includes a vagina birthing vine tendrils, with a huge blossom in her womb. Thank you Trelawny– I pray over your continued strength and voice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anita, what a beautiful image and symbolism. I would love to see it when it is done. I pray your work will flourish the way the birthing of the Divine Vagina restores life and wellness to all who accept and receive her embrace. <3 <3

        Like

    • Thank you, Janet – how powerfully affirming and compassionate you are. I honor your healing and speaking out as well – and I hope it brings you every wellness and peace to do the work you are doing. <3 I am sorry for what you have endured as well. I am glad we have this community, in which to support each other, and I appreciate and value you very much. <3 Thank you for your presence of kindness and wisdom here.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. At one time I couldn’t deal with the vagina anything and couldn’t understand why although I too was beginning to deal with my own sexual abuse. Now I understand that to focus on a vagina is to separate the parts from the whole woman. Chopping woman into parts is something our culture and others do well – just look at the art world. I refuse to self reference myself as a vagina – or any other body part for that matter.

    Additionally we are creating a horrific scenario for the future with our “princess” obsession for little girls – grooming them as you say for the slaughter. Children are image based – and have no filter to keep out the danger – internalizing Barbie -like images is a HUGE set up. When are we going to get that?

    The statistics on child porn reveal the depth of our misogyny but mothers are complicit when they allow their daughters to embrace these cultural images.

    barbie – like imges are good for one thing only – BURNING.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara, I agree that the dehumanized, objectified, commodified way porn and patriarchy focuses on vaginas is horribly violent. You may remember my poem last time about “nothing but a hole” etc.
      It was through my trauma healing process that I realized that for me, countering that with a focus on divine symbols provided healing for that. I had such tremendous trauma and pain stored in my vagina, because men had seen my vagina as nothing more than a hole for their penis, that I had to spend a very long time doing EMDR therapy specifically on my vagina – not as a separate part from the rest of my body, but as a particularly wounded and important locus of my female experience and trauma.

      Symbos are interesting – when used poorly, they can be very reductionist. When used well, they can be expansive, liberating, empowering, and life-giving. We all end up finding which symbols work well for us, in our journey, and everyone is different. For me, reclaiming my vagina away from the porn/rape culture’s definitions of it and toward representing the most revered and sacred symbolism of my faith tradition has been fantastically healing. It was only when I began using vagina symbolism in my spiritual life that I was able to see and heal from the last vestiges of vagina- focused shame and oppression my life in patriarchy had taught me. But that’s my journey with my vagina and my faith tradition, not a universal proscribed truth. I understand that other women will have other preferences about how to process having a vagina under patriarchy. I hope your own healing journey brings you every wellness and peace. <3

      I join your rage in the way our culture grooms girls to normalize misogynist violence. I'm ready to burn it all down. <3 <3

      Liked by 2 people

      • I just read your comment above Trelawney, after posting mine. I do understand your image which is very powerful. Mine is meant to expand, not replace.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, I see that I mis -understood what you were saying. I applaud any woman who uses whatever tools she has at her disposal to heal from sexual abuse. What I abhor is separating one part of us from another and you are not doing that, thank goodness.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Barbara and Sara, not sure why I can’t seem to reply under your kind comments. I trust and honor you both and am very glad to be in conversation with you on these most important matters… life and death matters… thank you both for walking beside me as we seek a Way of liberation and healing and life. <3

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I have found it helpful to follow women on IG who are highly trained and called in the tantric healing arts. Their languaging around our sacred sexuality feels empowering and beautiful. Resonating within my own body in those deeper places brings about necessary healing and love for all of us on this path. Great work my friend

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is an intriguing idea, and I will look into it. We definitely need guidance, as a species, in reclaiming the sacredness of our sexuality. I’m so glad you are finding healing. Bless your journey, friend. <3

      Like

  5. As I was reading, there were some instances where my immediate reaction was: “The problem is not a woman’s vagina, but some men’s violence and ….” I can’t think of a strong enough word here. The problem seems to me to be that many men, and women, are taught that strength is in having power over others, in tearing up the earth for profit without regard for nature or life’s purpose, in considering people as a body part – penis or vagina – and making that body part the focus of identity and again, power over the other. I never wept for my vagina. I cried and agonized for the betrayal of my trust, the dehumanization of my whole being, being treated as an object rather than a precious child.

    I honour your pain as you work through the trauma you experienced, Trelawney. The brutalization you were subjected to, and overcame, speaks to your courage and strength. I get some pleasure in thinking about what I’d LIKE to do to men who abuse others, especially children, but little of it is legal. Our experience will hopefully lead us to more lasting remedies – demanding respect for all people, teaching, talking, being watchful and aware, speaking out against the actions of Trump and his cohorts, who have become for me an image of male degeneration.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Barbara, for sharing these wise and keen thoughts. I agree completely – the way patriarchy dehumanizes females into a collection of body parts is horrifically violent, and the path to healing lies in seeing people as whole beings, especially girls and women, as we must claw an uphill battle to be seen that way in our culture. I join you in your rage… I want to burn it all down. Bless your voice and your power, a noncoercive power of liberating and spreading JustPeace. <3

      Like

  6. Thank you. Thank you for having the courage to say the things that need to be said. Thank you for embodying the power of resurrection in your own life, healing, and journey, and thank you for sharing it. Thank you for being you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, too, Tallessyn, for always lifting me up and nurturing and nourishing and tending me so compassionately and generously. Drudh os ta dres musur, hwor veurgerys. <3 <3

      Like

  7. Your drawings are beautiful and healing. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Trelawney, I am grateful for the positive work you share so generously, to help women become conscious, aware, understand, internalize and heal. The time to come together and help each other is here and now. And what you do helps so many of us. I wish every woman, mother, grandmother could read this and share it with their precious daughters. The images you shared in this article resonate with me, but in a surprising way. It’s not like I’ve never seen them before, or even drawn them. But together with your words, ahhh, YES! I’m a jeweler and always drawing the designs that float through my head ~ the shape I’ve been working with for about 6 months and labeling as “DNA”, I now see, put together with my other work as an instructor of Self Defense for Women, is really a vagina. I’m having an epiphany moment here. But this isn’t about me. I’m here to say Thank You. Your words are always healing to me. <3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Diana, thank you so very much for your kind words and sharing – it is always about US, isn’t it, us together, in a web of mutuality and kinship. I love the idea of the sacred divine Wellspring guiding you to create vagina symbols as part of your artistic voice. I would love to see your work. I hope and pray that together, we can birth a world that is safe for every woman, mother, grandmother, and precious daughter. Bless your journey, sister. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If more people read this, I think our world might start to wake up to the cruelty. My mind is heavy after reading this, but your words are so powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sophia. I do hope and pray with all my heart that our world will wake up and change. It is painful to accept the truth of our world, but denial is simply not an option for me. :( <3

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I am not sure how to read this essay, it reads like you are still healing and possibly transferring fear to your daughters, rather than showing them how to live joyously with healthy vaginas. Or showing them you live with your joyful vagina, even if there was wounding which you have healed. I think that there is a stronger affinity between the vagina, the uterus and the heart than many people acknowledge (perhaps your language of the vagina/christ consciousness bypasses this, or addresses in another way?). Why do essays like this focus on trigger warnings rather than the present, living relationship with Vagina? And then she that a form of intimacy was unwanted, and how the Vagina remembers (or does not). I like your attempt here, yet think maturation is warranted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s ok, I know not everyone will be able to understand what I’m saying.The way I discuss these issues is nuanced and complex, and not the simplistic take-away many people prefer, nor the New Age positivity that is popular nowadays, and my style will not appeal to everyone. I sincerely hope you can find what guides you to healing and joy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your point about the vagina/uterus/heart connection resonates with me!! I have had this feeling in several meditation sessions lately, all illuminated in the color red, clearly, the color of our beating heart and our source of life/blood. While the usual heart color is the chakra color green, I was timid to accept my imagery of red. Thank you for this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How interesting, and definitely encourage meditation and same exploration within myself!! How nice to hear this from another :)

        Here is a chant that resonates:

        In The Heart of My Womb Lies My Power
        © 1998, Marie Summerwood

        In the heart of my womb lies my power.
        In the heart of my womb lies my power.
        Woman, Goddess, Queen am I.
        In the heart of my womb lies my power.
        In the heart of my womb lies my beauty.
        In the heart of my womb lies my beauty.
        Woman, Goddess, Queen am I.
        In the heart of my womb lies my beauty.
        In the heart of my womb lies my wisdom.
        In the heart of my womb lies my wisdom.
        Woman, Goddess, Queen am I.
        In the heart of my womb lies my wisdom.
        In the heart of my womb lies my power, beauty, wisdom.

        Like

        • What a lovely meditation.
          The reason I do not focus only on positivity is that the fashion these days is to skip right over grief, rage, lament, and honesty, and pressure people into the cult of positivity, in which if we are unhappy it is because we are attracting negativity to ourselves and vibrating at the wrong frequency and manifesting our own suffering. If you follow my work, you will see quite a few very positive posts. I think you might also enjoy my chapter referenced above about Christ, the Cosmic Vagina – which introduces ways to use divine vagina imagery in feminist peacebuilding. And as you see from my iconography, there is much hope and birth and healing in my use of this symbol. I think if you take a closer look at this essay and my work in general, you will see that I am honoring the authentic lament and rage as well as the movement to empowered wellness.

          Like

  11. First of all, thank you for bringing this to my attention again, Trelawney, because it’s such a great article. Secondly, anything Soraya writes, I read. And lastly, this should be a manifesto for all women. When I read this article a year ago, I better understood why I developed my Self Defense for Women classes: I’m a survivor of sexual assault. Her article was really a prompt for me to reorganize my delivery of it and really an awareness of the source of great anger in me: the numbers of the #metoo movement were almost incapacitating and I had to stop crying. I needed to get into the schools, train the young women before they went into high school and college. So, I contacted all my local middle schools and high schools and offered to come in and teach their female students for free. I also opened up a free public class once a month at the martial arts school where we practice. I’ve also taught at young women’s groups, private businesses and public conferences. My total to date, since reading Soraya’s article last year, is 415. But I teach again today, so check with me later! ;) This is the story of my expression of my anger! <3

    Like

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