Concerning Hobbits and Vibrators
I’m a girl*. In my earliest days, I was a girl* who liked sports and led my t-ball team to victory. In elementary school, I was a girl* who played on the boys’ team for Boys vs. Girls (a game that has no rules, no points and no victories, except for the effective destruction of Intragender Relations). In middle school, I was a girl* who turned in homework assignments unceremoniously scribbled on pieces of trash I found in my room. In high school, I was a girl* who would rather cuddle with her best friend on prom night than attend an after party with her date (a quirk that would explain itself in a few years time). In college, I was a girl* who eschewed sororities and dating, and pursued a brief and embarrassing comedy career. All the while I was a girl,* who wore the same jeans everyday, relentlessly pursued athleticism and couldn’t care less about boys, hair or make up.
You see what I’m getting at here. I’m not your typical girl. But with about 3.5 billion girls worldwide, is there really such a thing as a typical girl? The answer, of course, is no, but growing up, it seemed crucial to both find the key to womanhood, and to traipse through the neighborhood yelling, “I have the key, you stupid hoes. Bow to your woman leader!”
In the early days (she said in a voice worthy of narrating a biblical epic), my mother would plead with me, “be a lady,” or, sometimes, “you’re dressed like a 12 year old boy,” an especially hurtful comment for a girl on the eve of her 20th birthday. With a carrot and a switch she attempted to guide me toward her model of being a woman. At a certain point, I became very good at identifying how I was supposed to act and dress, but I had the energy to fulfill that expectation approximately 10 percent of the time. I thought, perhaps, that as I matured, so would my feminine instinct. I assumed that one day I would be able to wake up, snooze twice, and allow my lifeless form to guide me to the closet, grabbing an outfit that just so totally works.
Recall the old American legend:
A man gets a strange visitor from a land unknown. The visitor has brought with him the traditional meal of his people. He invites the man to try the dish. The man refuses, insists he does not like that food. Finally, after many days of the visitor’s pestering, the man tries the dish. He turns to the visitor and finally confesses, “I do like green eggs and ham. I do like it, Sam I Am.” Powerful stuff.
Anyway, I assume that was how my mother intended my transition to model womanhood. One day, I would just turn to her in a department store and say, “I love this bag from Louis Vuitton. I do, I do, mom, oh mom!” Thankfully, this never happened, saving me from a lifetime of materialism, forced rhyming and addressing my mother by her first and last name. The day never came, and I continued to go through my young adult life doe-eyed and panicked, overwhelmed by just how many layers of the Feminine Mystique were still mysterious for me.
Other layers included flirting, lady business and lady business. The former lady business being the general confusion I had about the gender pay gap – a frustration that wouldn’t truly take form in my life until I finally figured out my place in womanhood. The latter was, indeed, a reference to female genitalia.
Let me tell you something, having one (a, erm, vagina), does not entitle you to understanding anything about how they work. One would ordinarily rely on an older female figure for mentorship and, frankly practical, information, but recall that I was raised (or intended to be raised) as a lady.
When I was 11, this is what I knew to be true about S-E-X: A Mommy and Daddy get married and even though they have probably slept in the same bed before, for some reason the magic of marriage turns the bed into a baby making machine and eventually a mommy gets pregnant. When I got a little older and saw my Sims have sex a few times, by which I mean, after forcing my Sims to woohoo frequently with their husbands, wives, and unsuspecting neighbors, I figured out that something about the marital bed involved the particular rubbing of bodies. Then the magic of marriage made a baby possible.
You may be wondering, “how did you account for unwed mothers?” I shall respond as my 11 year old self would: “What is an unwed mother?” You can probably imagine that I lived in a world that was, at least on the surface, devoid of pregnant teens.
“But didn’t you watch television?” To which I respond, “Kindly save your questions for later”
I can’t tell you how my complete ignorance could have developed (definitely because of my non-communicative parents), but I can tell you it did. And I can also tell you that no one’s jaw dropped lower than mine when, in sixth grade health class, we were told that sex involved a penis going inside a vagina.
“What?!” I yelled quite loudly. It was the sound one makes only in moments of true surprise, expecting an echo of “whats” instead of the deafening silence I encountered. I looked around in disbelief hoping to share a moment of bewilderment with my classmates. Nothing. Apparently everyone had already received this information (from their appropriately communicative parents). I looked at my best friend, betrayed. I wanted to hold my mechanical pencil to her neck shouting, “Who are you working with? Who told you?”
Not only was sex a mystery, even the basic mechanics of a vagina were a mystery. I wet the bed late into my adolescence. Way, way too late. One time I wet the bed at a friend’s house. I was nine. I got out of my sleeping bag, couldn’t see anything, didn’t know where the bathroom was and proceeded to simultaneously cry and pee where I stood. My friend gave a very sleepy and apathetic “okay,” when I told her between sobs of breath that I was peeing. Though the suffering of the moment was slightly quelled by her disinterest, when her mother asked us over pancakes if she heard correctly that someone had been crying, I was forced to confess in the sobering light of day that it was I who was crying. And I had been crying because I wet the floor. This was not the only time I peed on a bedroom floor, but thankfully, it was the only time the bedroom floor was not my own.
This is all to say that when I woke up one morning to damp drawers that had a dark, angry, sinful color to them, I assumed that, at eleven, my body was attempting to scare me into compliance. Later on in the day, when I went to the bathroom (in the toilet, like I was supposed to) and found, once again, that I had left an unnatural hue behind, I called my mother in for counsel.
The conversation went something like, “oh my,” or “well well,” or “ho hum,” “wing ding,” “beep boop.” I don’t remember the point at which my mother went from being a human to being a robot, but as I had hardly figured out baby creation, I was, and am, in no position to understand technical advancements in artificial intelligence.
At one point or another, I officially stopped trying to do womanhood right. Though I began to begrudgingly accept the nuanced reasons why high school team sweatpants were not appropriate for a job interview, I denounced any obligation to put together cute outfits. Once I held my first job, I had developed a professional, yet non-girly look: dark jeans, a button down shirt and a professorial cardigan. Not one person stopped me on the streets of San Francisco to issue me a code violation. One or two invited me to gaze upon handfuls of their own feces, but I considered this to be quotidian San Fran in all its elegance. I officially adopted this outfit as “my look” and if questioned today, I blame society’s compliance during the early developmental stages.
Though I was able to reject so much of what I was taught to be true womanhood, some things persisted. Sex is for making babies, vaginas are mysterious and periods exist to shame you into potty training. Oh also, tampons should be referred to as “thingys,” which can really get confusing because that’s also what you’re supposed to call penises.
One can only wonder what my mother’s intentions were when sheltering me from basic biological information, but if it was to turn sex into a mystical, elusive act to be avoided at all costs, she succeeded. Though, in an ironic twist, the concurrent veil of mystery surrounding a woman’s inner sanctum caused a lifetime of seeking educational clarity in the form of dating only women. Either that or the packet of brightly colored birth control pills, duplicitously thieved from my mother’s bathroom, mercilessly devoured by a younger, candy craving version of myself, permanently reconfigured my hormone structure.
But I digress from the larger story of my virginal youth, which, as of my coming out in 2012, promised to persist for the foreseeable future. If my incredibly “non-conforming” outfits (read: pants, shirt, sweater, shoes) and my complete inability to say “tampon” without wincing, not to mention deep internalized shame about peeing on Pauline’s floor, weren’t enough to make me feel distant from your “typical girls,” my complete lack of interest in gettin’ some really sealed the deal.
I was perfectly social in high school, no doubt facilitated by the fact that it was “cool” to wear soccer warm ups for the brief eight hours leading up to practice, and my parents’ reputation for allowing my sister and me to throw lightly supervised, heavily salacious “drinking parties” (sit for a moment in the complicated nuances of a girl who took her first parent-endorsed shot at 14, a mere 4 years after discovering how babies were made). Naturally, friends began intercoursing at different times in high school, but I was nothing if not consistent in my ability to move on from any friend group that made me feel inexperienced.
It follows that my college years were marked by my inability to fit in with most girl groups. While many people reveled in their newfound autonomy by accumulating an array of contraptions in something called a “box of fun,” the moniker was entirely unbeknownst to me except in referencing a jumbo box of duraflame matches, which I took to lighting one-by-one on some otherwise lonely Saturday nights during my freshmen fall.
Eventually I did make friends through club sports. It surprised most of them that the girl whose loneliness was, for many months, palpably represented in a drooping expression rivaling that of an 11-year old bloodhound, could knock back more than a few shots of Aristocrat without hesitation. They would also marvel at the advice I could provide on lighting joints made of pages torn from particularly dry sections of a bible. Undoubtedly mere acquaintances would turn into close friends, but my value to them was significantly reduced when it became clear that I couldn’t easily talk about sex, had no interest in trying, and would take to sliding wordlessly under and out the foot of bed covers when the topic came up. I had friends, but there were uncomfortably strict boundaries of what we could offer each other: I couldn’t lend my ears to sex related topics (a frustratingly persistent conversation for blooming women) and they couldn’t offer their time to go to a medieval renaissance fair (a perfectly entertaining activity for anyone between the ages of 2 and 92!). I was a witty conversationalist if ever we talked about anything less risqué than the birds and the bees, but for this time in my life I had unrelenting, yet somewhat diluted, outsider syndrome.
At 24, I started a Masters program for students of public policy. These women were full of substance and worldly conversations. Between classes, we heavily discussed far off regions of the world like Ethiopia, Moldova and Middle Earth. As pre-professionals, we plotted a take down of the patriarchy as we prepared to enter the working world. For someone who spent many years feeling ostracized from the very notion of womanhood, I was a quick convert to the feminist cause. I thank these brilliant and inspiring friends for giving their service to the world, made infinitely better by their presence, and their insistence that my otherwise out of place presentation was well in-line with being a great woman.
I felt deeply connected to several of these accomplished and caring women and only felt more assured when it was announced that one new friend had learned Elvish some years ago. In fact, for the first time, possibly ever, I started viewing myself as a girl without an asterisk, proud to be in league with my fellow woman. I was learning, or rather unlearning, that being an ideal woman had nothing to do with the clothes you wear, but rather the magnitude of the misogyny you vowed to take on single-handedly. During the 2016 election, when many criticized Hillary for being too masculine, robotic, uncuddly, I became surer than ever that she modeled the ideal woman. That is to say flawed, ostracized, resilient, self-assured.
It was in the uneasy calm of that October that my new friends joined me at my house for light fare, half-hearted studying and music from the Shire. While merry woodwinds fraternized gaily with an ensemble of stringed instruments, I barely made out the word “anal” as it was spoken aloud by one friend to another. I silently raised my head, careful not to make sudden movements, betrayed entirely by my widening eyes that darted to far off corners of the room where I might be able to take solace. I wondered if it would be terribly inconspicuous of me to reach for earphones, or a handful of pencils in lieu of more sophisticated technology.
Frozen in space, I glared at the suddenly engrossing utility curves in my Economics textbook. Yet now all I could see were nesting phalluses. Despite recently conceding that women were actually quite nuanced beings, I couldn’t help myself from thinking, “how could you?” How had this wholesome study session, accompanied by a Lord of the Rings soundtrack, turned into a conversation about sex, which I had grouped together with other uneasy mysteries, marked by a dark fascination to learn more, but an agreed upon refusal to ask specific questions, like death or dust mites?
Noticing my uneasiness, a neighbor asked, “what gives?” As they had proven quite trustworthy and pledged to vote Democrat, I tiptoed into completely unchartered territory.
“Well I just can’t contribute on this front because I’m a virgin,” I confessed, much like someone would say showing off an 11th toe; I assumed they would tilt their heads to fifteen degree angles and widen their eyes in surprise while accepting what was an innocuous, immutable trait of mine. Instead they furrowed their brows and inquired after my ex-girlfriend, whom I dated for over two years.
“I mean, we did, like stuff, and stuff, you know. But we didn’t, I mean, how could we have, you know, we were two girls, so…”
It was here, with a group of girls who knew just as much about the female orgasm as foreign diplomacy, with “Concerning Hobbits 1 Hour” playing from Youtube, that I learned that I was not a virgin at all and hadn’t been for quite some time. For the next 47 minutes, I lightly participated in conversation, beginning to catch up on years of schooling I had missed; mentally, however, I was journeying with Samwise Gamgee to destroy a metaphysical purity ring that urgently needed to be tossed into the fires of Mordor.