Pussy Talk

sexequiparle

by Tiana Reid

Two summers ago, the popular play Pomme is French for Apple was running in a community theatre off of Bloor Street West. Written and starring Bahia Watson and Liza Paul, it got picked up by Fringe and eventually made it to New York. (The Ethnic Aisle interviewed the duo back in 2012.)

At first, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Though critics often compared the production to that paragon of white feminism, Eve Ensler’s 1990s The Vagina Monologues, Pomme wasn’t a forum for black women to talk about their vaginas; rather, they let their pum-pums talk for them. That, of course, led to many of the laughs: see the re-appropriation of the “shit my ___ says” meme, “shit pums say” on YouTube.

What’s pink and moist in Jamaican patois? Or even looser, as the artists themselves would frame it, what is vagina in “West Indian,” an even more expansive frame of language?  If pomme is French for apple and yardie for pussy, the two-woman playwas an investigation into not only language and translation but also the untranslatable. “Sometimes things are funnier in that West Indian intonation!,” Watson told Ethnic Aisle. “There’s a big role that language plays.”

What was most potent about the play is that Watson and Paul dressed up as vaginas on stage. This wasn’t simply women sitting around having brunch and talking about what their vaginas do or don’t do. They embodied and blew up a body part. They became their vaginas. The vagina, then, wasn’t just an “it” but, a “me” or “her.” Their movements in costume perhaps a language in itself: its own pussy talk.

Watson and Paul met when they were both involved in an artistic residency at anitafrika dub theatre, the art centre of Jamaican-Canadian actor, playwright and dub poet, d’bi Young. There’s no one in Toronto that has energized the black woman’s pussy more than Young. When I read her, listen to her, smell her, cunts emerge as spaces of imagination, not tied to depth and warmth. And you don’t have to have it to feel like a woman, or, become one.

In the poem “What is Womban’s Liberation,” Young brackets a stanza with “this shame of blackness” and “this pussy-shame,” connecting the overlapping-ness of black womanhood. And even larger, we get a transnational exchange in her “I WILL LIVE UNDER NO BLOODCLAAT MAN GUVAMENT!!!,” a dedication to a young woman in India who died after being gang-raped. “there is no liberation until my pussy is healed,” she writes. “until my cunt stops this blood flow of tears that you instigate over and over and over again.” It was in Young where I at least saw the social and political imperatives that Watson and Paul alluded to in their comedic prance.

***

The poster for the cult French adult film, Le sexe qui parle (1975), translated as Pussy Talk in English, features a clean glint of a red lip. It’s a thing you’ve seen before, with a little protruding teeth, so you know it’s real. What’s striking, however, is the never-ending expanse of blackness serving as the backdrop for the poster. With a simple black background and red lips, the poster evokes an absent black body. To see blackface in the Pussy Talk poster is to see the language of both repulsion and desire. Nineteenth-century blackface minstrelsy, a truly American theatre form with modern-day specimens all over the globe (including the GTA), makes blackness wearable, slapped and danced on.

The film itself is less interesting. It starts with a bored blonde and a depressed (and likely bored) redhead, the star, Joëlle. The gimmick here—aside from the usual hot-for-teacher tropes—is somewhat horrific. After a sexy solo bath with the showerhead, Joëlle’s vagina literally talks. It (She?) cackles like a witch. The personified pussy says thoughts Joëlle doesn’t want to let out. The pussy reveals secrets, gets her hit in the face by her partner. A pussy that talks must correspondingly be spoken to, mouth wide open, with lots of lllllls. But my question remains: Is her pussy just a voice inside her head? Is mine?

The blackened poster mimics only the darkness inside the talking vagina, the shot from inside—all black, light gleaning through the lips. There are no black people in the movie but it doesn’t matter: there’s disco/soul/funk. There’s something of what Toni Morrison speaks of when she writes about “the way writers peopled their work with the signs and bodies of this [Africanist] presence.”

Evidently, bodies don’t have to be there to do the work. And my vagina doesn’t have to be in my head to endanger me. The emotive work of bodily translation is a stunning reverie. To zoom in on and freeze a body part (or is it an idea?) imbued with all of the stuff of identity, is said to be able to do feminist work (or is it violence?) of reclamation.

The in-betweens are misspoken. Grunts. Sighs. That thing you do when you sneeze. That guttural cry I hold back when you’re around. How do we translate a shout or a moan? Must we know the body behind the voice before we do? What about the flesh? In other words, to what extent is it possible to rejoice for your god-given vagina without reproducing the dominating terms of sexual difference? You’ve heard a million times, I’m sure, that gender is a performance. And the pussy? Well, Ensler would say that it’s its own stage.

But the pussy is neither anatomy nor mouthy, but a sort of disidentification—a mouthing off that offers the most meaning, from Watson and Paul to Young. There isn’t an easy answer to “what is pussy talk?”—a question worth asking—but if it’s expressive like language, it’s malleable, constantly reordered, renewed and forgotten.

One thought on “Pussy Talk

  1. Pingback: The Tongues Issue | The Ethnic Aisle

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