Your mother’s pussy is a Cambodian slur I heard growing up.
It’s similar to how “motherfucker” is employed in the English language.
It’s similar to how my mother instilled in me the belief that my vagina is inherently dirty.
“Girls need to bathe everyday,” she said in Khmer. “otherwise our vaginas will become filthy.”
Every time I heard my mother say pussy she spat out the word, as if she couldn’t be rid of it fast enough.
I stayed as far away as I could from my vagina. I never looked at it under my mother’s roof. I never touched it. It was some distant place that just happened to be located between my legs.
After hitting puberty, I started getting discharge. I thought there was something wrong with me. My mother thought so too. She took me to the doctor, a middle-aged Vietnamese man who always prescribed my mother drugs to solve her problems: physical, emotional, and psychological.
“I think I have an infection,” I mumbled, and said little else.
He solemnly nodded and scribbled a prescription for antifungal cream.
I tried using it. It didn’t work.
I felt dirty and shameful about my private parts for many years after that.
Sometimes, I would scrub down there with soap. It would sting and never fix the problem, but for the few minutes I did it, I felt clean.
I watched The Vagina Monologues a total of four times in college and felt empowered, in an abstract sense. I didn’t really love my vagina. I was frightened by it. I was repulsed by it. What I loved was the idea of loving my vagina.
My friend from high school was the first person to tell me about the stereotype of Asian girls having “sideways” vaginas. I didn’t know my vagina very well at the time, but I was acquainted enough to know that was some racist, sexist ass bullshit.
My friend and roommate from college, a biology major, told me vaginas are very clean and know how to take care of themselves. I wondered if mine was the exception.
I had my first pap smear when I turned 21, the recommended age to start getting them. Because I had no health insurance at the time, I went to Planned Parenthood. The doctor there asked me to spread my legs and scoot up the exam table. The speculum was a motherfucking pain in my vagina. I tensed up as she examined a place I rarely visited myself.
“Your vagina is healthy and normal,” the doctor reported.
I didn’t believe her.
“But what about the discharge?” I asked.
“Every vagina is different,” she said. “Some women get a little discharge, some get a lot. It can depend on your cycle.”
A year later I went to Planned Parenthood again and saw a different doctor, who said the same thing. I still couldn’t quite believe what they were telling me, although there was no good reason for them to lie to me.
By the time I was back on actual health insurance, I was on friendlier terms with my vagina. I made eye contact with it, interacted with it, but was still somewhat wary of it. When my OB/GYN reaffirmed to me that my vagina was normal, I realized maybe it was time I start believing it.
Instead of fixating on the possible dysfunction of my vagina, I began obsessing over its appearance. It didn’t look the way a porno vaj did. And even though I knew nothing in porn is realistic, and that porn is primarily constructed through the male gaze, and fuck Eurocentric/Western standards of beauty and blah blah blah, I couldn’t help but feel that my vagina looked kinda ugly, and any hetero cis dude who jacked off to porn and internalized ideas of what women’s bodies looked like would take one look between my legs and say no thanks.
“Any guy who says shit about your vagina is a douchebag,” my friends told me, and some rational part of me agrees with this.
I’ve eventually come to terms with my vagina, but I don’t love it the way white cis women seem to love theirs. I know genitals do not equal gender, but cannot deny that my genitals have a nebulous history and relationship with how I personally experience the amalgamation of my gender and my race. I wonder if I would be a better self-loving person if I loved my vagina without apology. Or maybe, my cathexis is enough in a world where ignorance is bliss and apathy reigns supreme.
My vagina is no longer a foreign land. It is a vacation house I don’t frequent enough nor tend to enough. Most of the time I simply stop by to trim the bushes. My only other visitor is my OB/GYN, who knows her way around better than I do. I’d like to invite a guy over, but it never feels right. I wouldn’t know how to treat such a guest in my house. I couldn’t be sure he could respect my house and agree to its rules before venturing inside. I wouldn’t know if he could accept my house the way I have learned to.
Every story I hear, from the graphic horror of being unconscious behind a dumpster with a strange man on top of you, to the unsettling, bleary scenario of an ex insisting you have sex with him and you caving in because you’re so tired and he’s already unbuttoning your jeans, makes me want to board up all the windows and doors of my house and move far, far away.
But that’s not possible. (This metaphor has limits, after all.)
For now, I can take refuge in this house. Maybe the porch doesn’t look how I want it to, maybe the bedroom ceiling leaks, maybe no one but my OB/GYN will come to visit. But this is a home owned by me. This is a home meant for me. And one of the most important things I’ve done in my life is embrace this incontrovertible fact.