I have been thinking a lot about the word cunt, lately. The way that it rolls so sweetly off my tongue. The way it does not make me think of grotesque things. The way it makes me think of my vulva, its lips, curves, clitoris. The way I like to use the word, think the word, to refer to my anatomy.
I am sitting in a coffee shop rereading punk poet Kathy Acker’s essay “Humility.” It feels cool to read the word “cunt” in public—even to myself, nonconforming. I am drinking tea; by now, it is cool. Cool enough to wish I had a cup of ice to pour it over, but I don’t; so I drink it like it is, out of a coffee cup, meant to be warm. And I reread the word “cunt” a few times as I sip on earl grey: cunt lips, cunt lips, cunt lips.
And I feel cool because I am young enough to feel subversive for thinking the word.
Acker’s writing utilizes a cut-up technique in which she cuts up texts and rearranges them to create new work. Controversial, some call it plagiarism. Her essay “Humility” explores her use of this technique and criticism of it through the protagonist Capitol. Capitol reflects Acker. She makes dolls; one doll, writer doll, is accused of plagiarism.
Punk is not afraid of “cunt” either; in some cases redefining the meaning of the word, while in others simple spills it out in rage. The Queers “Just Say Cunt” forever emboldened a twenty-first century generation of punks to call their cunts, cunts. As an adult, I found punk past the age of life consumption—barely, maybe. But the way the genre has embraced the cunt makes me admire the subversive thrashing, vocals, drums. The way the lyrics promise me it's okay to say cunt, that it's the best thing to say. The best thing to call my vagina, vulva, clit.
I have some poems about citrus, grapefruits, and vaginas, vulvas, my vulva, a growing collection. But in these poems, I have not used the word cunt. Maybe I am still scared of writing it down—of forever naming my citrus anatomy cunt—because the world has called it dirty.
I am in love with the word cunt. More and more, I ruminate. The texture of the hard “c,” oral consonant, originating against soft palate, pushed through back of tongue. The tip of my tongue’s blade, slick behind teeth to create the hard “t” oral stop (Ball and Muller 2014). Enunciate the word slowly to myself, over and over. Casually.
Writer doll is told that she plagiarized. Feminist publisher doll tells her to apologize, but Capitol controls the narrative, no apologies. Writer doll is told “Feminist publisher replied that she knew writer was actually a nice sweet girl” (The Making of the American Essay 786). Acker subverts the ideas of sweetness, niceness through Capitol. Through refusal to say sorry, through the cunt.
Kathy Acker uses the word cunt exactly one time in “Humility:” “CAPITOL MADE A DOLL WHO LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE HERSELF. IF YOU PRESSED A BUTTON ON ONE OF THE DOLL'S CUNT LIPS THE DOLL SAID, "I AM A GOOD GIRL AND DO EXACTLY AS I AM TOLD TO DO" (786). Capitol does not do as she is told. The cunt lips are lying, and through their lying, Acker is empowering the cunt—its lips, and its language.
That one “cunt” feels so good to read to myself, mouth to myself, maybe whisper between sips of cool tea to myself. Think of my own cunt, the work that it does for my body: balancing, restoring, renewing. Think of how it not so rebellious to call my cunt a cunt. Think of my poems, about citrus, vulva. Think that they need cunt. Cut out cunt from Acker’s essay, place it in my poems, over text, see how it looks inside my poetry. Like it.
At some point, I tell a friend about the word cunt, about the way I call my vulva my cunt. Over tea, we have a short conversation, among coffee shop stir, rejecting cunt as a dirty word. We call our cunts cunts. Agree that the word should not be a slur, agree not to use it as one. Promise.
Still don’t use cunt in normal conversation. We are young.
Acker refers more directly to her own cunt in My Mother: Demonology, coming to orgasm through her cunt. In an interview, “Kathy Acker: Where Does She Get Off?”, she writes and masturbates simultaneously. I am fascinated with the way Acker uses the word, so casual. A casual cunt. I am young, and the way she uses it still feels like rebellion to me. The best kind of rebellion, subversion, because it does not call itself rebellion at all. Because it does not want the world to watch it, does not ask to be noticed or gasped over.
I tell a mentor, teacher, writer friend, that the word cunt feels so cool to me. We have a conversation in a vegan restaurant about it, subversive meat refusal. We use the word casually, and I can’t help but lean in, whisper to him, “Doesn’t it feel so cool to say it in public?” in normal conversation, without hesitation. He is older than me, chuckles, agrees. I don’t look around to see if anyone is noticing. Think about the way we could live in a world where cunt is normal, anatomical, casual—think of how I want to live in that world.
Think about my poems, the way they need cunt. I look at my poems again. Change two lines. “When I cut the fruit in half, stare/at its insides, it reminds me of my cunt/hidden, caressed.” And in another poem: “Trace membrane with thumb/Think of the tenderness of the cunt.” Reread the poems, appreciate the way cunt lingers, but does not hesitate. Subversive the way it slips by. Rebellious in the way it fits in—casually, normalized. I like it. It feels cool, like pink citrus on my tongue.
I read the poems again, again, sink into the words, linger on small revisions, cunt. I feel cool.