When you pay a stranger
To watch you fall apart
When you pay a stranger
To watch you fall apart
Oh, my love.
No one can hurt you like me.
You’re standing here,
looking at your broken self in the unbroken mirror
wondering how many times it will take
before you completely unravel.
Wondering how many okays need to be mumbled
before they start to catch on.
Wondering why I must break you
in order to keep moving.
What if you swallowed a few pills.
What if you slipped into the sea.
What if you walked into oncoming lights.
What if nobody loved you, not even yourself.
You wonder if death is escape,
or just another prison.
You don’t have the courage to find out.
I know you don’t.
I’ll always be here for you.
To remind you of your failures.
To haunt you with your worst fears.
To fill you with doubt and regret.
You will never be alone.
Not when I am with you.
Can’t you see
how much you need me?
Who taught you how to cry?
How to scream?
You wouldn’t be human
Don’t you ever forget.
My wounded soul.
My blood and bones.
I am the only life you know.
You are afraid to look between your legs
but for different reasons now.
Before you feared the unknown.
You saw it as abject.
Now you are a traitor.
You wonder if your vagina
will ever forgive you.
It’s been banged up and bruised,
all because you wanted to feel
a little less alone.
Was it even worth it?
You don’t feel empowered.
You just feel disenchanted.
Just a scared, lost heteronormative girl
living in a heteronormative world.
is getting caught
between the dick thrusting into you
and the speculum pushed inside of you.
is getting caught
between lying on his bed/backseat/couch
and lying on the exam table.
is getting caught
between getting pounded in the dark
and getting poked under fluorescent lighting
between text messages that spell out what you and him are not
and surveys that ask “Does your partner support you when and if you become pregnant?”
Sex is getting caught
between waiting for him to come
and waiting for their diagnosis
between paying $20 for condoms
and paying $50 for your copay
between paying $7 for lube
and paying $17 for your antibiotics
between him murmuring “Come for me”
and you thinking it will never happen
between his look of hunger
and your doctor’s look of concern
between his hands on your body
and you wishing it was someone else’s
between your throbbing pussy
and your sobbing alone
between the therapist asking for your sexual orientation
and you replying “Straight” but wanting to add “unfortunately”
You only wanted pleasure.
You only wanted warmth.
You only wanted safety.
You never wanted to cry alone in the doctor’s office,
embarrassed and in pain.
You never wanted to think your mother was right.
You never wanted shame to flood your insides again.
You just wanted him to hold still inside of you
so you could feel like a home
instead of a graveyard,
a harbor instead of a hole
You wanted to bury yourself in his body
the way you want to bury your regrets
You wanted him to keep kissing you
to forget how empty this feels
You wanted his touch
to fix how broken you are
even if it was only real
in the heat of the moment
with your bodies tangled in the dark
pretending this was something more than it is
or was that only in your head
He asks, “What are you thinking about?”
and you tell him, “Nothing”
You tell yourself virginity is a patriarchal social construct.
You tell yourself this, but you can’t stop thinking in these terms.
(Social conditioning, you know.)
You tell your friends you just want to get it over with. Get rid of it.
They tell you to wait until you’re ready.
They tell you so many people regret their first time.
They tell you that you are not alone.
They tell you, but you don’t listen.
You think losing your virginity doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Correction: you think making your sexual debut doesn’t have to be a big deal.
(A feminist reframing your friend came up with that you happen to think is pretty genius.)
You’re a 25-year-old virgin and every guy you tell is surprised.
You are way past due, it seems.
You feel locked out of some secret clubhouse
that almost everyone you know is in
and your face is pressed against the window
looking longingly inside.
You believe your first time doesn’t have to be special.
Or with someone you love.
And you would never save yourself for marriage.
It just has to be the right timing.
With someone you like in the moment
and can trust with your naked body.
So here it comes.
Cramped in the backseat of his car.
And you can barely see each other.
And you’re not sure you like him.
But you know he likes you.
Or really, he likes your body
and what he can do to it.
And you tell yourself you’re okay with this
because this is what you wanted
to get it over with
to get rid of it
just another item to check off your to-do list
and you’re so curious
and his mouth is everywhere
and he’s flipping you this way and that
and it’s painful at first but you’re getting used to his dick
shoving itself in and out
in and out
in and out of you
and you can’t tell whether or not he’s come
but you know he’s enjoying this more than you are
and you really fucking hate that
but it seems there’s nothing you can do about it
so you check the time
tell him you should go
and fumble around for your underwear
while he goes outside to pee
before he takes you back to your car.
You notice he doesn’t touch you in the aftermath.
(For some reason, your boundaries only matter post-coitus.)
You exchange a brief hug
an awkward pause
no goodbye kiss
he says he’ll let you know
when he comes back from his trip.
You drive home.
You go to your room
the place where he wanted
to fuck you so badly
with a bottle of wine
not as in he’d fuck you
with a bottle of wine
but you know,
like he was going to bring a bottle of wine
and then you two would fuck
but you said no
because you’re embarrassed
by your living conditions.
You sit your bare ass
on the cold seat of your toilet
and take a piss to avoid the possibility of a UTI
then wipe to find blood.
You stare at the bright red blot
on your toilet paper.
You wipe some more.
You keep wiping until there’s only faint spots left.
You feel sick.
You feel empty.
You already know this is a thing that happens
but that doesn’t make you feel any less sick or empty.
You remember watching a College Humor video
about the hymen
and how it doesn’t have to break
if a person is gentle enough
and you know nothing that just happened between your legs
You text him to let him know.
‘I hope your backseat isn’t stained with blood
although it would serve you right.’
You sound mean on purpose.
He asks if you’re bleeding badly.
You text no.
‘Should be fine. Let me know if it doesn’t stop.’
This hurts you. How callous he is.
Like he didn’t just fuck you so hard you bled.
Like he doesn’t give a shit it was your first time.
Maybe he doesn’t–
he fucking knows. Don’t kid yourself.
You swallow the hurt. Ignore it.
Ignore your pussy aching.
Hope it’s stopped bleeding.
Rinse your vulva.
Over and over again.
Wondering if the slimy stuff
is just the usual discharge
maybe mixed with his saliva
and possibly with his cum
(Did he come?? You told him not to.)
You wonder how long it will take
to be rid of him
how long his residue
(whatever its makeup)
will stay in you.
You crawl into bed
and deeply disappointed.
You push away regret
because you don’t want to dance with it tonight
and you don’t want to hear
the voices of your friends
inside your head saying
I told you so.
what would you have waited for?
Another fuckboy from Tinder
to come along
and leave you dry
while he gets off
because you don’t know
how to meet the right men
in real life?
You are too much
For functional relationships.
For true love
(whatever the fuck that means.)
You are a diehard millennial
a heteronormative feminist
and that necessitates that anticlimax
is your life story.
You swallow anger and spite
for how you grew up as a girl
who was told
over and over again
that sex is dirty
shameful, vile, secretive
and that it will definitely hurt
and you will always be called a slut
no matter what
and there’s nothing you can do about it
no conversation that can change the course
of this compulsory heteromasochism
and all these abject things you’ve been warned about sex
are normalized and to be expected
and you start seething
at how boys
(or people with penises)
never get sex = pain
sex = fault
sex = guilt
sex = pathology
sex = criminality
drilled into their heads
by fucking anyone.
You want to scream
at how fucked this shit is
at how shit he was at fucking you
at how in an ideal world
you would have fucked a guy
who gave a shit about you
and your needs
with “Dance Inside”
by The All American Rejects
playing in the background
a guy who would have given you
the fucking test results you asked for
with written confirmation
from his fucking doctor
or dismissing your concerns
by being a condescending asshole
a guy who would have known
how vulnerable you would feel
after your first time
getting slammed by a dick
a guy who would have had
the fucking ability
and fucking decency
to do whatever the fuck it takes
to make you fucking come
virginity is a patriarchal social construct
rooted in misogyny and heterosexism
that holds no significance or value
so there is nothing to lose
so then why do you feel used
so then why do you feel like crying
so then why do you feel betrayed
so then why do you feel
the taste of loss
the tip of your tongue
hanging heavy in your throat
used to be
I did not know you well
We just kept to ourselves
but I wish I had reached out
and caught you before
you slipped away.
You were so beautiful
Always hiding in plain sight
and I wish I had seen the signs
and held your stare before
you slipped away.
You were a quiet, gentle spirit
Magic stealing into shadows
that I wish I had followed
and shouted for you before
you slipped away.
This is too little too late
but I want you to know
you mattered to me
and I will keep saying your name
time slips away.
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.