S-E-X, Private Body Parts, and Other Perils Braved by Prudish Writers
November 27, 2019 § 24 Comments
By Kim Hinson
When I belly up to my computer to write about certain spicy procreation events it becomes an all out, downright puritanical pickle.
I blame it on my mom. Of course I do. And you would, too.
My Victorian sensibilities started at our live-in gas station, in my childhood (of course), with my mother’s straitlaced, spur-of-the-moment description of childbirth. A feisty, lipsticky customer named Tina stopped by the station a few days after she’d given birth to her eighth child and couldn’t for the life of her remember what she’d named that new baby. Later that day, Mama, my five-year-old little sister Dawn, and I sat in the car waiting for Daddy to join us so we could drive Hansen’s Truck Stop for supper. Into the silence, Mama said, “That Tina. She just had her eighth baby and she can’t even remember what she named it.”
Little Dawn immediately piped up, “Where do babies come from anyway?”
I barely breathed for listening. Seven years old and happily ignorant, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answer. There was a tiny, pregnant silence while Mama’s librarian brain zipped through the card catalog in her mind. She gazed through the windshield at the night sky darkening over our backyard junkyard and said breezily, “Oh, they come from down there.”
My face froze in horror, and Dawn said, “Wait. What!? Like where exactly down there?”
Mama gave a little cough. “There’s a little hole near where you pee,” she said, getting as close as she’d ever come to saying an actual private body part word. Without waiting for more questions, she leaned forward and flicked the car radio on to the only station we knew—KFIL True Country Radio—and cranked the volume way, way up. Little Jimmy Dickens cut loose with May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose and I sang along as loud as I could.
To my shame (but also a great deal of relief), I never talked to any of my three daughters about s-e-x. I don’t say that word, and I don’t put that word down in Scrabble, even if the x lands on triple letter and the whole dang word scores quadruple points. Raised in Minnesota, land of Lutherans, soybean farmers, and conversations that consist entirely of beating around the bush, I just don’t.
Flash forward forty years, to the day my nineteen-year-old daughter, Megan, wanted to start a horse breeding business. A horse breeding business that involved something called “in-hand breeding.”
Swept up in Megan’s enthusiasm, and deeply content with my innocent mindset, it never even occurred to me to say, “Wait. What is in hand!?” My Internet research on in-hand breeding turned up more mentions of private body-part words than I’d seen in my whole life. Well, I thought. This could be awkward. I don’t say private body-part words. I don’t even whisper them to myself. Like a silent but powerful family tradition, my people keep private things private. I’d certainly never asked Megan if she knew anything about it. Because that would involve talking about…“it.”
Then again, this was about horses. Surely this was different. A few months earlier we’d had a baby miniature horse born on our Texas farm just by-golly out of the blue. Nothing to it. We saw nothing. We knew nothing. Like immaculate and invisible conception. Just the way I liked it.
And then I became a writer. I knew the in-hand breeding escapade made for a hilarious story, and I knew I wanted to write about it. But, the instant my fingers hovered above the keyboard, I faced the most priggish of predicaments: How could I write about an activity that involved several private body parts and all the various private activities involving those body parts in a modest, respectable, yet comical way?
So, like a good writer, I turned to books for guidance and genteel examples.
Frank McCourt, in Angela’s Ashes, chose a couple of vaguely descriptive terms which, when read in context, clearly represented the particular body part in question. McCourt’s first word choice, “boyo,” is short, informal, and almost amiable. The expressions “my excitement” and “the excitement,” came next, representing not just a particular body part, but also the proceedings involving said body part. Sadly, none of these cheery terms quite fit my own writing voice, so I moved on to the next book.
Anne Lamott, in Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, had obviously faced a similar dilemma when writing about her son’s circumcision. She resolved the issue brilliantly by writing, “I was scared…that I had, after all, made the wrong decision and now…he would need emergency surgery on his wienie” (24). Now this I liked! Thank you Anne Lamott for such an absolutely cute, yet meaningful and even accurate word choice! It also turns out that we have a choice of spellings: wienie or weenie.
Giddy with relief, I pulled myself together to write the in-hand breeding story, cheerfully adopting the word “weenie” to reference our stallion’s…weenie. My writing group, upon hearing me read my piece, snorted, guffawed, clutched their stomachs and all but fell off their chairs laughing. They wheezed and gasped things like, “Just…NO!” and “Don’t!” and “You can’t!” They couldn’t stop laughing, which, for me, is the exact reaction I’m shooting for every time. Still, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t think I should use the word “weenie.”
Thankfully, Lamott chose a couple of other words that filled the bill modesty-wise and also felt right to me voice-wise: Unit and missile. I used them both as follows:
“…wedging Mercury [our stallion] next to the pipe fence with her shoulder, she reached down and took ahold of his hyper-enthusiastic unit. Well, that certainly brought Mercury around.”
“Mercury reared up, feet planted firmly in the gravel, towering over us. But the mission was darn near impossible. There was the missile. And there was the target. But there was way too much water, and all the vital body parts were far too slippery.”
Anyway, like I said, it’s my mom’s fault. All I could do as a mature, grownup writer was to develop coping mechanisms to, well, to cope with the brunt of the backlash of this puritanical skeleton in my family’s underwear drawer.
To prudish writers everywhere: My therapist says it’s not our fault. You’re welcome.
Kim Hinson is an outside-loving, forever optimistic, yet chronically worried writer, professor, and mother of three daughters. Find out more about Kim at http://kimhinson.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KimHinsonAuthor