Wednesday, 8 February 2012

When does a problem become a problem?

The lights in the auditorium were turned off and 200 odd pairs of eyes were focussed on a video screen at the front of the room. The 200 odd pairs of eyes in question belonged to 200 odd members of the Christian Union at my University; the video we were watching was all about "sexual sin". Some hearty Christian rock music bounced wholesomely out of the speakers as statistics flashed up on the screen: "X Percentage of unmarried Christians have admitted to engaging in oral sex", "X Percentage admitted to full sexual intercourse outside of wedlock". To us, these were stark and worrying facts. Sexual purity was paramount and weakness a widespread and shameful fact. Looking back on my time in the CU, I seem to recall us all banging on about little else.

I've personally put my Christian days behind me, at the very least until I can think about church without wanting to scream and and punch myself in the face. In the end, I realised that every week I was sitting in a room full of people, the majority of whom I had little-to-nothing in common with and less interest in, and heck, an even greater majority of whom that I simply couldn't stand, and I decided that I probably wasn't going to do it any more.*

I couldn't tally up the Jesus I read about who went around performing life-changing miracles for an oppressed people, with this saviour of individual middle-class souls, who was apparently obsessed with sex and how we should all never do it (unless we were married of course, and then pretty much we could go for our lives), that I encountered at CU. Along with my friends, I became more and more interested in matters of social justice to the point where the well meaning CU leader, worried I was going off track, took me to one side and asked me earnestly "Do you really WANT to be known as 'Social Justice girl?'"**

Heaven forfend.

How completely screwed had our priorities become, when not having sex was of far greater importance than looking at the bullshit in the world and wanting to do something to sort it out, which was what Jesus did? We were a group of kids who were living away from home for the first time, and instead of being rebellious and getting pissed and putting traffic cones on our heads like any DECENT student would, we were constantly telling ourselves that the thing our bodies were really most interested in doing was so far wrong that even thinking about it was an awful sin.

I know that this seems to be a massive rant against the church and not much else, and I suppose on one level it sort of is. I still feel angry by my experience, not least because I spent so much time worrying that I really just wasn't the right sort of a girl for Jesus. I could never be like all those beautiful, softly spoken, baggy-clothes wearing, totally spiritual CU girls. I was loud, and vulgar, and opinionated, and still am. The difference is that now I am happy to accept that that's the way I am, and then I hated it. I thought that Jesus hated it.

This isn't an experience limited to the church, by any means.

When I was diagnosed with vaginismus I felt a similar sense of failure as a woman, but instead of the problem being that I was loud and wanted to be quiet and meek and humourless, it was that I was closed and I wanted to be accommodating and open.

Women feel like this all the time, about so many different things, and how can we help it? Everywhere we look there are instructions - nay, orders - to change ourselves for the better. If we aren't constantly dissatisfied with ourselves, constantly scrabbling to stay young, constantly trying to be a super business woman, mother, slut (and always impeccably dressed) we're just not doing it right. The message is always the same "be you, just better." We become so caught up in this constant striving for an unattainable level of perfection, that we forget to do all the brilliant, exciting, ridiculous things that make life that little bit more fun, and more worthwhile. Things like drawing a fake moustache on our face to see how we'd look as a victorian strong man, like wearing big fat boots with our favourite dress because it's just so much more bloody comfortable than heels we can't even walk in. Like giving a shit about something important.

It seems that it's been decided by someone, somewhere along the line, that to be a woman is to be dissatisfied.

Well, I'm not sure if my personal diagnosis of Vaginismus came as a result of pure, plain and simple, rotten old bad luck, or if there is a hidden psychological source, but if it's the latter I know what I'm putting my money on. Constant dissatisfaction with my own body and it's own desires may well have caused it to physically try and shut it out.

But I'm not putting up with this dissatisfaction any more. I am going to fight, fight my past, and fight the messages around me that tell me to not be satisfied with myself. I'm not trying to overcome vaginismus because I am dissatisfied with my body, I'm going to overcome it because these constant messages of dissatisfaction have caused my body to turn on itself.

And I am going to overcome it, for and with my body. My wonderful, dysfunctional, perfect body, in celebration of it and all it is capable of.

Which is an awful lot.

* A small group of the most amazing are now my closest and dearest friends and for this I am really grateful for all the time at CU.]
** I know this anecdote makes me sound like a totally smug dick, but I need it to use it to illustrate a point, sheesh.

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