Mamie Stevenson

Save a Bush, Ride a Cowgirl


ISSUE 61 | SENSE AND SENSATION | FEB 2016

Last summer, I edited a book written by a D-list celebrity whose mission was to aid women in lesbian relationships afflicted by the all-too-common condition melodramatically known as “bed death.”

Now, I am not a lesbian, per se, but I am in a homosexual partnership and I had no idea about this bedroom epidemic that (according to the author) occurs in nearly half of long-term lesbian relationships. And though the term “bed death” conjures images of a queen size bed spontaneously combusting or an aneurism during cunnilingus, it simply refers to the absence of sex in a relationship (occurring one time a month or less). Pepper Schwartz coined the term in 1983, when her book, American Couples, shed new light on dark (and under-stimulated) places.

I’m still on the fence in believing that this is a thing. I mean, nothing sounds like more of a lady-boner killer to me than being a lesbian during the Reagan Administration, so I wonder if Schwartz could have simply been “collecting the data” at the wrong time. Nevertheless, it was my job to read and reread (and read again) a text that claimed to posit a solution for an age-old problem, and then find holes in the argument. Let’s just say that this particular manuscript was rampant with holes.

A lot of the author’s advice was what you might expect from a book claiming to have the ability to single-handedly redirect the reader’s sex life (wear lingerie, get satin sheets, slip your girlfriend your underwear beneath the table at a romantic restaurant, etc.), but the piece of advice I found myself most critical of was the author’s take on pubic hair. In just under one thousand words, the author implored her more “femme” audience to consider getting a Brazilian and going all bare down there. And despite her acknowledgment of the wide spectrum of lesbian sexual expression and physical appearance, I found myself more upset about this particular viewpoint than any other piece of advice in the whole book.

I angrily clicked the “New Comment” button at the end of the chapter and wrote her the following:

While I understand your point of view, I think you need to be prepared for some backlash about a lot of your ideas regarding female appearance (private and public). Some of these claims strike me as anti-feminist and I think the chances of you rubbing your reader the wrong way may be pretty high.

I myself am very femme and in a healthy sexual relationship with a woman, but it took me a long time being comfortable with my feminine flaws and lack of heteronormative grooming practices in order to feel comfortable with myself and thus in the relationship. I might reconsider a lot of the way you word this chapter and I encourage you to take a stance that stems less from a misogynistic view of female beauty.

Whoa, reading this again makes me feel like a gay kid listening to T.A.T.U. for the first time. I sound like someone involved in a flame war in the comments section of a Jezebel article about the history of douching. I mean, what was I trying to prove anyway? That I know the meaning of “heteronormative”? That I’m gay? Or did it have to do with the rights of my bush?

The closest I have ever come to being hairless was an ill-fated attempt to shave during my sophomore year of high school. I wasn’t having sex, but I was beginning to groom, take care of appearance, and learn stuff about my vagina from syndicated broadcasts of Sex and the City. I opened a fresh pack of razors and went to town one lazy Sunday afternoon, and ended up compromising the plumbing system of my parents’ quaint suburban home. I was mildly embarrassed when the plumber came later to snake the system and rid it of my body hair, but I was more concerned about how to move forward after the major realization that sums up as follows: I’m really fucking hairy.

When I was born, a patch of coarse black hair set up camp right above my tush and it remained there well into infancy. My mom would look at it and say to my doe-eyed self, “You’re not gonna like that when you’re older!,” not knowing this was the first of many hirsute traits she would bestow unto me. As I grew older, I acquired a happy trail, very pronounced against a fair complexion, and an ever-present smattering of nipple hairs.

I settled on a satisfactory regimen for my pubic hair by the time I got to college — au naturel with an occasional trim. My ass was altogether another story (I didn’t even really look at it until recently) and while my excess of body hair created moments of self-consciousness in the bedroom, I managed to have sex with people who either didn’t notice (intoxication helped) or didn’t care.

On one occasion, I was taking a shower with a very short-lived boyfriend who handed me my razor and said, “You know, some women use these.” He laughed; I scoffed. “My hair, my choice,” I responded defiantly. I decided then and there that he was an asshole and a few days later, I punched him in the face for reasons that were (mostly) unrelated to his comments about my personal grooming.

Another boyfriend told me that he had never been with a woman who was hairier than him. I was surprised by this, and sheepishly asked him if he was aware of just how hairy I was (Here, There, and Everywhere). He answered wholeheartedly in the affirmative. Three years later, I mustered up the nerve to spread my cheeks and look in the bathroom mirror.

Looking at my ass up close and personal like that really is one of the more perverse things I can imagine doing, and I licked a really dirty floor on a dare in college. There is something too honest and real about looking at that part of yourself. And any of my friends would tell you that the topic of butt stuff makes me uncharacteristically uneasy, despite my general sex-positivity. I felt so conflicted about the whole operation down there because I appreciated the necessary role it played in my daily life, but I didn’t want to look at it—the Quasimodo of body parts. But was this simply a reflection on failed symbiosis? Did I fear that the butt would fail me because I failed it?

Since my braless days at liberal arts college, I have viewed the choice to grow out my body hair as a vague statement of feminism. I relished any opportunity to show my mother my pale legs covered in coarse, black hair only to have her gasp in disapproval; I bragged to my hairless and pristine friends about how long my armpit hair had gotten in a short span of time; I patted myself on the back for challenging the patriarchy by opting out of the hair removal game.

Further, I have realized in the past few years that one of the most refreshing things about being in a relationship with a woman is that sharing basic physical attributes (here, I am really speaking about one in particular) leaves little basis for judgment. It’s like both people starting with the same standard-issue canvas and painting different, but equally beautiful depictions of the same scene. I thought this was a perk to being gay, like gaining copious amounts of street cred in my liberal bubble and not having to worry about getting pregnant. There is an even playing field that comes with having a partner who faces the same societal pressures to be “appropriately” feminine.

So when this supposed self-help author suggested that her readers wax their lady parts, I took it as an attack not just on my personal choices, but also on my relationship. I found it brazen for the author to suggest that a gay woman would ever expect her partner to succumb to the misogynistic practice of the Brazilian wax. While reading the book, I often rolled my eyes, fueling a sarcastic internal monologue that amounted to, “Thanks, but my sex life is just fine.” This reaction, however, was merely insecurity in sheep’s clothing. There was something to be said about my connection to my own pubic hair (and women’s pubic hair in general), but I didn’t quite know what it was. It was time to take a good, hard look in the mirror… while bent over.

And though my sex life is, indeed, fine, I began to wonder in the recent past (after 18 months of a relationship and half that time living together) if it could be made better. Rachael, my girlfriend, would offhandedly mention here and there that we were certainly slowing down in the bedroom, but I dared not stoop to the superficial means of initiating foreplay and generating eroticism by “fixing” my physical appearance. I couldn’t help but think, however, what it might do for us—what it might do for me—if I bared my, er, soul.

My girlfriend has never been anything but supportive of my bush—she is very attentive to what it houses beneath a dense and seemingly impermeable sheath. In terms of style, it has the unapologetic quality of present day Phil Spector with the boldness of a millennial Christina Aguilera. If it sang karaoke, it would put in a request for something in between Joan Baez and 4 Non Blondes. Rachael, on the other hand, possesses an exquisite and soft feminine beauty along with a relative hairlessness, which causes me to sometimes feel leaps and bounds below her league of appearance. I toyed with the idea of removing my hair for her sake (or mine?), but always felt a strong conviction to honor and conserve the beast beneath.

After months of consideration, curiosity won out in the end. I pandered to the man, as I saw it, by treating myself to a Brazilian wax at a franchise by the inconspicuous name of LunchBox. I didn’t much mind the cheesy name; I had a Groupon and nowhere to be. Rachael had gone out of town for five days and, in her absence, I decided to strip my body of its oldest and wisest follicles.

The pain wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The sensation was foreign but predictable. And Rosa, God bless her, performed the forty-minute undertaking with the gentleness and humility of a saint. “What is your heritage?” she asked as I clumsily turned around to get on my elbows and knees. “Uh,” I had to think, “Scottish and, uh, German?” I said with the inflection of a question as if to investigate whether or not someone with that ethnic background would have the asshole of a lumberjack.

“Ah,” she said, “makes sense.”

I had never before attributed my hair to the lineage of strong Bavarian women; I had only thought about it as a rarely occurring condition that I had to overcome, like adult acne or having a name that people regularly pronounce “Mammy.” And it only occurred to me then to think about what I was ridding myself of, an inconsequential but nevertheless ever-present part of my identity. I looked down to see what was left in its absence—a blank canvas.

And while I will admit that it’s refreshing to have a truly bare ass, I don’t love the skin-on-skin sensation that comes with it. My vagina’s haircut is going to take some getting used to as well. It reminds me of what a super villain’s coochie might look like in its uncanny resemblance to a Gothic painting of Mount Vesuvius erupting. I still miss my bush’s sideburns, and on the walk home from the salon the winter’s cold struck me in an unfamiliar way. In fact, I was a little surprised they don’t mandate a scheduled ride after waxing appointments, like they do if you get Lasik or have major dental surgery.

I was aware of my physical self in a way that I had never experienced. I felt self-conscious on the streets of downtown, like everyone passing by me knew what I just spend fifty dollars on. Things stuck and unstuck and stuck again as my steps quickened in the direction of my apartment. Yet, something was new and refreshing and I suspected it had very little to do with feminism.

I didn’t grow my bush; my bush grew me. And in the end, I did betray it to be the cute girl at the dance. But I imagine the feeling will wear off after a song or two. I am certain Rachael will be surprised and maybe even a little turned on by my new haircut, but she too will know that this doesn’t solve any problems. My new bush will not pay off the credit card, nor clean the dishes that have been piling up in the sink. It won’t help me to smoke less weed or convince Rachael that she wants to have children. It will transform with us, figuring out what it likes and dislikes and which way it feels prettiest. And soon enough, it will look exactly as it did before and I will have to find other ways to say I love you.