by: Molly Geoghegan
I was raised in a comfortable, loving home. My family ate dinners together most every night, I got to go to the zoo a fair amount, and always got home in time from school to watch The Magic School Bus. We also used the words “private parts” to refer to a penis or vagina.
Since I grew up with that term, I thought it was one that everyone else used. “Private parts” was a only a topic of conversation when it was hush-hush. Something only my closest girlfriends and I would giggle about. It was a secret, it was silly, it was concealed. It took me a long time to understand that although these parts of our body are private, that this is not what they are called at all.
It was around fourth grade, when everyone starts learning about “the birds and the bees” in elementary school. On our way to music class in a single-file line, hot shot Jake Benson* began yelling the word “vagina” in a silly voice. Each time he said it was followed by an outburst of laughter from his male entourage and some of the popular girls. Assuming this was something I was supposed to find funny—and wanting to appear just as cool as their crowd—I rolled my eyes and giggled right along with them. Once we were in class, Jake continued his random cries of “vagina!” until he finally got the attention he was seeking from an annoyed Ms. Clarkson:
(Pausing and putting down her chalk). “Jake, that’s enough.”
(Constrained laughter). “Sorry Ms. Clarkson.”
A few more minutes went by but they were still not completely settled down.
Ms. Clarkson walked right up to Jake and I remember her phrase distinctly: “Jake, that is not an appropriate word—we do not say that in public.”
Jake was escorted out of the classroom (not for the first time) and for the rest of the day, the scene he put on in music class was the talk of the (fourth grade) town.
I am not sure the exact moment I made the connection that the word that got Jake in trouble that day was my “private part”, but when I did, my world was changed. Males have penises. Females have vaginas. (Transgender persons would later help me learn that not even this is always true). But my thought process was that as I was a female, I therefore have a vagina. I truly did not know before that moment in my life that my “private part” was, in fact, a vagina. I could not believe that this information was withheld from me for so long. How could I have been so ignorant? It’s right there! How could I not have known the meaning of a word that literally is a part of me, defines me? I was appalled at myself.
I lived the years thereafter trying to reconcile the fact that I only halfway knew my own self and body for a lot of my childhood. I don’t blame my parents—teaching small children the words penis or vagina along with bedtime reading is certainly not appropriate. But I knew there had to be something wrong with the way in which I was presented with my own self.
Fast forward about ten years, coming to college in Chicago. I was bombarded with all the various ethnicities, backgrounds, sexualities, and tattoos people had. I was not shocked (I knew where I was moving)—I relished and took in each difference, making me appreciate just a bit more where I had come from. One of my roommates identifies as a lesbian and as she became one of my closest friends at school, a transformation also took place in the way I view what being a being a heterosexual woman means.
As part of the culture of this wondrous city, I have met people of many different sexual identities. The thing I admire most about the LGBTQ community is how proud they are. A sign I saw for LGBTQ rights included the phrase, “Out, loud, and proud!” and I found it incredible appropriate. More than once, I have met a gay man and learned if he is a “top” or “bottom” during sex within the same conversation. I don’t mean to generalize or stereotype because certainly not everyone so flamboyantly wears their sexualities on their sleeves, but more often than not, some kind of bold sense of self-awareness is present. If someone identifies as gay, that means they have already had to “come out” to declare their sexuality. Because of this, they exude a certain kind of confidence about who they are. We need to be educated about ourselves in a Vagina Monologues sort of way—verbalize it, sing it, scream it. Sex, sexuality, our private parts are there for a reason. Why not talk about it, be educated about it, and be proud of it?
Being heterosexual, you don’t have to explain or declare to anyone why you’re attracted to the opposite sex. Because there is never a need for this verbal announcement, I think a lot of people still feel uncomfortable talking about what goes on with their “private parts.” What heterosexual people need to learn from the LGBTQ community is that sex should not be a taboo topic. We all know what goes on behind closed doors, so don’t ignore it: celebrate it. Isn’t that what Pride is all about?
As a proud supporter and ally of the LGBTQ community, seeing the sense of pride that this group so openly and lovingly shares has overwhelmed and inspired me. If we are to be included in this community as the “A”—the allies, we need to embrace the bold. We need to be aware that our private parts have names, and adults should have better ways of dealing with them than escorting a kid from class. We need to eliminate the ambiguous definitions and tentative voices we use to discuss something that every human on the planet has in common. Coming from the fourth-grade girl that simply wanted to be included in an elementary school joke, I think we should make our “private parts” a little less private.
Molly Geoghegan is a sophomore studying Media and Cinema at DePaul University. She spends most of her time making unnecessary lists, knitting, watching movies, writing things and is forever in search of the perfect pair of jeans. You can find her on Twitter at @mollygeoghegan or on her blog,
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.