During the month of February in 1973, I was running the next round of sexual CR groups when I got a call from Dell Williams. She insisted I get involved in the planning committee for the NOW Sexuality Conference. Dell would later open the first women's sex shop in New York City. Like me, she too was a Wilhelm Reich enthusiast and we both agreed about the importance of women's sexual liberation.
At the third planning session, with twenty other women present, Dell asked what I wanted to do at the big gathering on Sunday to end the three day conference. When I said, "I'd like to do a slide show of split beaver for feminists," there were blank expressions on every woman's face in the room. No one knew what I was talking about, so I explained that "Split Beaver" was porno slang for a photo of a woman holding her pussy lips open. Two women thought it was a derogatory male term, and one suggested "Open Otter" might be more feminine.
Taking a deep breathe, I patiently told them my story. Until the age of thirty‑five, I thought I was genitally deformed because I had long inner lips. Due to a basic lack of visual information with no idea what other women's sex organs looked like, I'd been inhibited and self‑conscious each time I had sex with a partner. Then I pointed out the positive results I'd been getting in the workshops with the Genital Show and Tell ritual. After I promised to produce the slides and assured them I'd think of a suitable name for my presentation, I got tentative approval.
In all fairness, these NOW women and I were miles apart sexually speaking. They were what society would call "normal" heterosexual women who were devoted to having monogamous committed relationships that were moving toward marriage and family. I was an artist who as a committed single was having sex on my own terms with whomever I pleased. At the time, I really didn't factor in our differences. I simply remained focused on getting the information out to as many women as possible so other women wouldn't suffer what I had gone through. Once woman could see the vast variation in the appearances of our sex organs, they would realize we were all different and every style was beautiful.
To help close the gap between these conservative women and me, I decided to run a complimentary one‑night workshop for the board members of NOW. Rumors going around had me running orgies for feminists because I'd hosted group sex parties. An image I adored, but one that was far from true. When the NOW evening began, I was totally unprepared for the radical lesbians and the heterosexual women who called themselves "political lesbians." The authentic lesbians refused to discuss their private sexlives, and the political lesbians weren't having any sex. That left Mary, Laura, and me to talk about our sex lives which diminished the power of CR where everyone shares their personal stories to benefit the entire group.
Mary was in an open marriage, Laura and I were dating and all three of us were bisexual in that we were open to having sex with women although we were basically straight. After we talked about our sexlives and orgasms, I moved into position to display my genitals in front of a make-up mirror. Before starting, I brought up genital hygiene and showed them how to do a self‑check by putting their fingers inside their vaginas. "Smelling and tasting my cunt is the best way for me to feel secure so I can relax and enjoy oralsex," I said, smacking my lips.
"I object to that word!" roared Puritan Ruth, a political lesbian. For the next hour we had a long drawn out boring discussion on what to call our "things." We finally we agreed on "genitals," but Ruth's angry outburst had effectively ended the Genital Show and Tell process. By that time, I was so worn down by these controlling sexless Matriarchs that I no longer wanted to look at their twats, pussies, vulvas, snatches, or wee wads. Their repression had gotten to Laura as well. She'd already excused herself to go lie down in the bedroom with a splitting migraine headache.
In spite of feeling like I was sinking in quicksand, I pressed on. I stressed the importance of orgasm to our psychic and physical health and showed them manual and vibrator techniques. The political lesbians could still have orgasms if they would simply include masturbation, but no one seemed interested in having an orgasm alone. What was the point? Sex was about being in love with another person, someone with whom you could share your life as well as your orgasms. I'd lost the entire group. Clearly they were not going to learn or change anything.
After everyone left, I walked into the bedroom and sat down next to Laura who had a wash cloth over her forehead. "What the hell was that all about?" I asked.
"It's Catholic boarding school, Betty. It was so much like my years at Sacred Heart that I had to leave the room because I couldn't handle it. They were all playing the roles of nuns, novitiates, and mother superiors."
She was absolutely right! Our tension broke as we both started belly laughing. Silently I thanked my parents for not shoving religion down my throat.
In early May, I finally tackled the production of the slides for the NOW Conference. I recruited two women photographers who called themselves "Herstory Inc." On the designated night, I paced around the apartment, hoping the women wouldn't all chicken out. My team waited with me, ready with all the lights set up and a tripod‑mounted camera. Our hearts leapt for joy when the doorbell started ringing. In all, fifteen courageous women showed up.
In the bedroom, where the equipment and model stand were set up, we took turns revealing our private parts to the inquiring close-up lens. I requested several basic poses: one natural, one with the outer vaginal lips held apart, another with the clitoris exposed. Then each woman was given a mirror and asked to arrange her vulva in the way she considered most appealing. A few women were watching while others were talking in the living room, brushing or trimming their pubic hair in preparation for their pussy portraits. I was the stylist, pushing back a pubic hair that strayed in front of a clit, arranging an inner lip, or occasionally applying makeup to cover a rash from shaving too close.
As each woman took the stand, others gathered round to get a good view. "Look at her exquisite coloring," said a voice. "The skin around her clitoris has a mother‑of‑pearl texture," said another. We began to see shapes that we associated with nature: a shell, a flower, a fig. I also saw architectural styles from different periods: a Classical cunt with perfect proportions, a Gothic cunt with cathedral-shaped arches, a Baroque cunt with elaborate drapery, and an Art Deco cunt with fluted graceful lines. Again and again, I pointed out the heart shape when a woman held her outer lips open. Valentine's Day suddenly had a new meaning. We could start sending pussy portraits to our lovers in celebration of sexual love. All those romantic red hearts surrounded by lace were really open vulvas surrounded by decorative pubic hair.
As each clitoral hood was pulled back, the variation in clitoral glans was astonishing- from tiny seed pearls to one thumb‑sized royal gem. Oh, I want a big clit like that one," Heidi remarked. "I'd prefer a smaller clitoris because they look more feminine," said Priscilla from the model stand, owner of the biggest clit so far. Looking closely, I saw that my proper neighbor with her perfect English accent had a very impressive clitoris nestled above large inner and outer lips. Her clit was even bigger than mine, and when I felt a twinge of jealousy, I was shocked to think I might be a closeted size queen!
At one point I announced that I'd looked up phallus in the dictionary and it referred to both a penis and a clitoris. We were no longer what Germaine Greer called, "female eunuchs" in her popular book. We were the new Phallic Women in charge of our own pleasure, our own lives, and our own destinies. The room filled with shouts of "Right on Sister!" We were having such a good time that no one noticed the shooting had gone way past midnight. As everyone got dressed, unconditional love for each woman in the room flooded my heart. Some were friends, others were from groupsex days, and a few were from my CR group- my "old girls network."
Dell approached me again to help design a flyer for the conference as well as create titles for the different workshops. We agreed on Women's Sexuality Conference and the tag line was brilliant. Dell had been in advertising and she came up with "To explore, define and celebrate our own sexuality." Our list of workshops was outrageous: Creating a new sexual identity * Liberating Masturbation and Orgasms * Expanding heterosexuality * Women loving women * Bisexuality * Open Marriage * Group sex * Older women's sexuality * Teenage sexuality * and of all things, Childhood sexuality. For good measure we threw in the sexual double standard.
I did what I thought was an inspired drawing for the poster. A strong woman standing with arms and legs outstretched completely nude with no pubic hair. Her head was the clitoris of a large circular vulva that was the background. What was I thinking? The NOW women refused to post it claiming I'd drawn male genitals on my too aggressive and muscular looking woman.
On the first day of the conference, Judy, the president of NOW started things off with an inspiring speech about equality for women. Laura and I were among seven women sitting on the stage who would address the entire audience. When it was my turn, I looked out at a sea of feminist faces and said, "This is so exciting. I think I'm lubricating!" The room went wild and I laughed too which helped to diffuse some of my nervousness. I knew this was my big chance to get masturbation out of the closet and up in the headlines as a feminist issue. I was off and running, talking about my sexual CR groups. I also raved about the electric vibrator and how it would put an end to the concept of frigidity in women forever. I announced my workshop that afternoon where I would introduce these marvelous sex machines.
Laura followed me, speaking about her constipation and how she was healing herself with diet and enemas. She was so brave. Saying the words, "constipation" and "enema" in public was far more daring than me talking about "masturbation" and "orgasms." Sally our feminist anthropologist ended her talk by saying we needed to do away with labels and to just be sexual. Somewhere I would hope there is a transcript of NOW's first, and I might add last sex conference.
My vibrator workshop spilled over into the hall with standing room only. I had a case of Panabrators and Preludes with several laid out on a table plugged in. (The Hitachi Magic Wand had yet to be manufactured.) Women came up one after another to feel the vibrations and I sold out both styles in less than thirty minutes. We took names and Dell mailed out more vibrators.
For the big meeting on Sunday afternoon, I came up with a marvelously intellectual title for my slideshow: "Creating a Female Genital Aesthetic." Standing stage left, I began talking about the importance of women getting to know and like their genitals while projecting six‑foot images of feminist clits center stage. At first a hush came over the audience of over a thousand women. But when I used the term "Classical Cunt," I heard a tittering of laughter, followed by a loud hissing noise coming from the left side of the auditorium. When I showed the "Baroque cunt" a large woman stood up with her hands on her hips and bellowed, "We object to your using THAT WORD! We've heard enough of that kind of talk from men."
"Here we go again," I thought, remembering Pauline's complaint about lesbian hecklers. Looking directly at my critic, I said in my firmest dyke voice, "I'm sorry the word offends you but saying it happens to turn me on so I intend to keep using it." Amidst a rippling of dissent among her friends, she sat back down as I projected the next slide: The "Art Deco Cunt."
After a hundred visual and verbal cunts, there was a long, enthusiastic standing ovation, including the lesbian contingent. The slides were a roaring success! Standing on the stage, I trembled with excitement, hearing the women clapping, shouting, and whistling. Wave after wave of joy washed over me as I had an emotional orgasm with the entire audience. At the time, I thought the Women s movement was well on its way to becoming "cunt positive." Sadly I would be proven dead wrong.