It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon, perfect for curling up with my pup, a cup of tea, and “Melmoth the Wanderer.”
Before I do that, I’d like to address an issue that came across my Twitter feed this past week. I was puttering around and saw a tweet from @noahmichelson about making space for “radically honest and shame-free approaches to our bodies.”
Yes! Those bears are irritating, hex away.
This post got me thinking about all the ways we fear the natural things that our bodies do, like grow hair, poop, sweat, and age. I can’t speak to the experience of having a penis, but as an individual with a vagina, I can attest to the barrage of products aimed at my pussy. There are creams, douches, deodorants, razors, dyes, scented tampons, and scented pads. Think about that for a moment. Scented. Tampons.
I’m a social worker, not a doctor, so don’t hear this as gospel, but in the interest of sexual wellness and health, I’d like to offer this PSA about care and usage to all the folks out there with a vagina, cis and trans:
Routine Maintenance. Your vagina is a delicate ecosystem unto itself and it gets crabby when you muck around with it. Be kind and gentle with it, use a mild soap and water when you bathe. Wipe front to back.
Sex, Solo or with Partner(s): Lube is your friend. If you use toys always wash them before and after. Use condoms on toys if you share. If you are alternating between anal and vaginal sex, use condoms and change condoms before you go anal to vaginal or vice versa. If something hurts (and not in the “good pain” way), then talk to a doctor. Get tested regularly for STI’s. Know your HIV status. Talk to your doctor about PreP meds if you are HIV- (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis like Truvada). And remember that Undetectable=Untransmitable.
Smell. You smell fine. All those perfumed douches and deodorants do is hurt the natural flora that needs to be there. They also make it harder for you to tell if something’s wrong. If there’s discharge or a strong smell, that’s a sign that you might need to have a doctor look under the hood.
Taste. Stop eating pineapple and hiding behind flavored lube. If you’re scared that your lover(s) is offended by your taste, talk to them about your concerns. Try to remember that your natural taste is great. If you are going to use a flavored lube, make sure there’s no sugar in it. Mixing sugar with your vagina equals a yeast infection, and those suck.
Hair. Do research if you’re going to do anything other than trim your pubic hair. It grows around your genitals for a reason. If you choose to get rid of some or all of it, do it because you want to, not because your partner(s) favorite porn features a bunch of hairless folks. Porn is a delightful fantasy, not real life.
Care for your mind and your body, including finding ways to accept and embrace your beautiful, sweaty, hairy humanity.
Queering Time Travel Week 2:
“Melmoth the Wanderer” by Charles Maturin, 1820
The book “Melmoth the Wanderer” is a gothic horror novel about a young man named John Melmoth who discovers a family legend about an immortal relative, who may or may not be a demon.
My reading thus far has brought me to the point where John is reading a manuscript penned in the 17th century. A man named Stanton recorded his journey to Spain to seek out “Melmoth the Wanderer.” The narrative is bleak, filled with death and madness. So far, I’ve witnessed a pair of lovers struck by lightning, a marriage feast interrupted by a demon, and torture from a grand inquisitor (because of course, there’s an appearance by the Spanish Inquisition).
After the terror in Spain, the character Stanton returns to London. In the midst of his search, which takes him to a theatre, of all places, I found this gem in the narrative:
“At the other side waited the glass coach of a woman of fashion, who waited to take Kynaston (the Adonis of the day), in his female dress, to the park after the play was over, and exhibit him in all the luxurious splendour of effeminate beauty, (heightened by theatrical dress), for which he was so distinguished.”
Maturin, Charles. “Melmoth the Wanderer (Unabridged)”. Musaicum Books. Kindle Edition.
The picture of the actor “Kynaston” is not so much encoded as queer as it is right out there on front street. It lends some credence to the theory I brought up last week, that the nature of gothic literature allowed a heightened examination “otherness.”
Our community didn’t have an affirming or positive language to describe ourselves in the early 19th century. There were places where queer folks came together, but those gatherings were kept secret. Remember, at the time Maturin wrote, “Melmoth the Wanderer” in 1820, the punishment for “buggery” (sex between two men) was death in both the US and England.
Imagine what it must have meant to one of our LGBTQIA ancestors to read a description of what might have been a beautiful trans-woman. Representation matters. Catching even a glimpse of yourself described in fiction would have been revelatory.
It gives me hope.
Yes, there are forces at work in the US and the UK to disenfranchise, delegitimize, and criminalize our community. Yes, our LGBTQIA family around the world still face discrimination, imprisonment, and death. But back in 1820, we were there, surviving, and we continue to survive and fight to be free from fear, shame, the threat of imprisonment, and death.
Because when even one of us is denied our right to live and love as we are, we are all diminished.
HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: Caspar David Friedrich, “Two Men Contemplating the Moon,” ca. 1825 to 1830, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wrightsman Fund 2000