Tag Archives: Tee Corinne

The Infinite Variety of the Human Vulva

clothed upper body picture of trans man participant in vulva project

Laurie and Debbie say:

Lydia Reeves’  “teenage years were shadowed by a secret fear that there was something wrong with her vulva. But thanks to art, honest conversations and her trust in her mum, she’s been able to turn her deepest shame into her life’s work.” Reeves has made casts of over 200 vulvas, including the one of Vic Joubert, the trans man pictured above. Working with feminine products maker Callaly, she’s on a mission to help people with vulvas understand, first, the difference between a vulva and a vagina, and second, the vast variety and beauty of vulvas across a human spectrum.

cast vulva of person with vulvodynia

It’s important work. You can tell from the comments from people whose vulvas are part of the project that these casts really matter to people. One participant, Cat, says:

Just know that it will get easier. It’s OK if the first time – or the tenth time – you look at yourself, you feel a bit strange. It’s just about patience. It’s been a journey of ten years for me – that’s quite a long time.

We wish that Reeves had situated herself in a more historical context–and perhaps she has, but the web page doesn’t mention it. We can’t look at this work without thinking of artist Tee Corinne’s groundbreaking Cunt Coloring Book, available today, 46 years after its first publication. Corinne’s work took place in a context where women all over the world were holding consciousness raising groups, often including taking off our clothes and looking at our own and each others’ vulvas.

four cunt coloring book images

Reeves is working in a context simultaneously more public and more private: mainstream pornography has become completely ubiquitous and available, so images of shaved and sanitized vulvas are everywhere, but women getting together to look at each other’s bodies is a quaint and peculiar thing of the past. Selfies are completely standard, but the social media sites where selfies abound are also sites of censorship–neither Reeves’ work nor Corinne’s is likely to escape removal on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Where a person coming of age in the 1970s was likely never to have seen a vulva not their own and not one of their lovers, a person coming of age today is more likely to have seen many, all the same.

Also, today labiaplasty (plastic surgery to make a vulva more ordinary and less individual) is common, which means there’s a financial incentive to make people hate their vulvas enough to go through expensive, painful, and sometimes dangerous procedures in search of uniformity.

colored image from cunt coloring book, pearl colors on a blue-gray background

Penises, of course, have been core subjects of comparison for centuries, as have breasts. Vulvas and vaginas came late to this scrutiny, and yet the phenomenon is eerily similar. Everything is framed as a contest: either we have “perfect” sexual organs (to go with our “perfect” bodies) or we have to contend with self-criticism, which can easily trend into self-hatred. The crazy cult of sameness dominates. Here’s Steph, from Lydia Reeves’ project:

We should start talking about vulvas before we reach the age where we can access content online, to stop people feeling alone or like their vulva isn’t normal.

I’d look at my vulva and go through those uncomfortable emotions, touch myself and tell myself that there was nothing to be ashamed of. With time, I started to mean it.

plaster cast of vulva in deep blue

We only wish that Tee Corinne’s work had closed the book on this subject forever, but since it didn’t, Lydia Reeves is doing her own valuable work. The web page contains good medical information about conditions of the vulva, along with individual stories and the pictures of the castings–and ends with Callaly’s pledge to increase vulva awareness in three sensible steps.

Without much reason to expect it, we continue to hope for the day when none of this work is important because everyone loves and appreciates their own penis, their own breasts, their own vulva — hell, their own feet and ears.


Thanks to Mona Eltahawy’s newsletter, Feminist Giant, for the pointer.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.

Follow Laurie’s new Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.


Women Whose Statues Should be in the Town Squares


Laurie and Debbie say:

For those of us who are in agreement that the world needs fewer (or no) statues of Confederate “heroes” and slave owners, what do we want in their place?

For starters, how about some statues of women who are being honored for what they did, not how they looked?

We got the idea from Transgriot, who lives in Houston. She suggests three Houston politicians. They are all excellent choices; the one we’ll focus on here is Barbara Jordan.

Here’s Transgriot’s reasoning:

She became in 1967 the first (and sadly so far) only Black woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first Black Texan to be elected to the Texas Legislature since Reconstruction.  

She then made history again by getting elected to the US House of Representatives in the newly created 18th Congressional District in 1972.   She … made two historic keynote speeches to Democratic national conventions in 1976 and 1992 and was the ethics advisor for Gov Ann Richards.

She made history even when she died in 1996.   She became the first Black Texan to be interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

A staunch warrior for civil rights throughout her lifetime, Jordan spoke in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon.


Far too few people remember Barbara Jordan at all, or could tell you anything specific she did or said. Even fewer people remember–or ever knew–that she was a Lesbian, though she chose to keep that fairly quiet. Here’s Corinne Werder, writing about Jordan as a queer woman history forgot:

Though Jordan wasn’t out as a lesbian, she made no secret of her life companion Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist. The couple met in the most lesbian of ways: on a camping trip in the late 60s. According to the Jordan Rustin Coalition, “Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her longtime relationship with Earl. After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female companions on the campaign trail.” 

The “Jordan Rustin Coalition” also honors Bayard Rustin, who deserves a whole post (and a lot of statues) of his own.

(The University of Texas does have a statue of Barbara Jordan, which they’ve displayed since 2009. However, universities are very different from public squares, and the woman certainly deserves more than one statue.)

In this week’s reading, we came across another woman whose statue we’d like to see. We don’t know if Portland has any “racist hero” statues it needs to take down, but in the unlikely event that it doesn’t, the city can still put up a memorial to Marie Equi.

Stephanie Buck tells Equi’s story at Timeline.

She carried a banner. “Prepare to die, workingmen,” it warned. “J.P. Morgan & Co. want preparedness for profit. Thou shalt not kill.” It was June of 1916, and the country was headed for war. The town of Portland, Oregon, was holding a preparedness parade, a show of patriotic unity and an effort to drum up support. Then Marie Equi, a lesbian anarchist and abortionist, showed up with her banner.

“The lawyers attacked me first, then the Knights of Columbus,” she recounted later that night at the police station. A group of men marching in the parade approached her car and tore the sign to pieces. One struck her with a staff and a scuffle ensued. Equi was bruised and her hand bloodied. Then another man offered her an American flag. “I was perfectly calm. I said, ‘Very well, brave American gentlemen, your flag is no protection to me,’” and she tore it up.

Equi got her medical degree around the turn of the last century. She was an open Lesbian, in a relationship with a brewing heiress whose family kept trying to disinherit her. Around 1915, the couple adopted a daughter (that must be an interesting story in itself!).

In 1913, she attended a Portland cannery strike where female laborers (and some of her patients) argued for better wages, with some making only five cents per hour. Especially during summer, conditions in the factory were dangerous: Despite the heat, floor bosses locked the doors to keep workers productive and union organizers outside.

One day, the strike turned violent and Equi clashed with counter-protesters. Then she watched as a police officer struck and forcibly dragged a pregnant woman to jail. It was the last straw. She declared herself an anarchist and a socialist, and publicly supported the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World. Days after the strike, she climbed onto a chair in the middle of Portland’s city hall and threatened to “shed blood” if anyone stood in the way of the cause. Her weapon, she snarled, would be a poisoned hat pin to cause a “slow and lingering death.”

She was friends (and perhaps lovers) with Margaret Sanger, and also a close ally of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. And yet, her name is even further from being a household word than Jordan’s is. Between us, we know a lot of women’s history — and queer women’s history — and neither of us had heard of Equi until we found Buck’s article.

Lesbian photographer and activist Tee Corinne always spoke up for Lesbian history, and for remembering the sexual orientation of both women who had to keep their choices quiet to survive or thrive, and women who lived openly in dangerous times and places.

We’re rooting for a statue of Jordan in Houston and a statue of Equi in Portland. And we’re also imagining a whole sculpture garden of women who changed the world for the better–we know many more we can write about in future blogs.  Let’s put up the statues where lots of people can come and appreciate the amazing things these women have done and, for a change, remember them.