I was told once that our names influence our path in life. The fatalism of the suggestion dissipates once we qualify it with: given or chosen. My very odd and unique given names have certainly added a lot of gusto as well as awkwardness (sometimes welcome and sometimes not so much) to my journey and continue to do so.
Yet this is not the story for all of us. Given names, imposed as they are by others, may also signify great distress and abuse or a past that one no longer wants to be a part of. There is great power in naming. Our chosen names are testaments to taking charge of one’s course in life. Adopted, found, invented, heard in a dream, read in a book– however they may come by, these names allow us to reinvent ourselves to our heart’s content.
I have a number of such names.
This is a signature I’ve been playing with since high school. But it didn’t really become a nick until sophomore year in college when I began signing my emails with it. It was an instant hit with my American friends who had a hard time pronouncing my given name. I think I must have also liked the possibility of drawing the balloon. But it also strangely works for me. I can be inflated with just a little sweet word, a look, a sigh and can be deflated just the same. My corporeal boundaries, too, are malleable if my stretch marks are any indication. In fact, having witnessed some of my weight cycling, a friend has once said to me: “balon, you are a balloon!”
Mundar is my first online persona. It goes all the way back to icq days :) This was meant to be a matching name with Zebil, the first online nick of one of my best friends. At the time we had wrongly assumed that the two words meant roughly the same thing. The latter meant something else, and it wasn’t even spelled this way. Oh well. These are still our names and they are a part of my precious history with one of my oldest and dearest friends.
Mundar means religiously unfit to eat in an Islamic sense. The opposite of helal. In a non-religious sense it means strange or stranger. Also something rotten, spoiled, indigestible. I fucking love it. I used Mundar and variations thereof for many online and offline personas over the years. I have a set of friends who exclusively refer to me as Mundar. If they are in the same room with my friends who know me as balon, sometimes there is a brief confusion as to who these two are.
When I got older, that is, when my heart got heavier with love, pain, loss, regret, joy, memory, mistakes, triumphs. When even the small circles of tight knit communities and friends started to feel too crowded for the increasingly solitary, introvert me. When I needed more healing than listening or learning. Then the whole naming process also got a more intensely personal and therapeutic function. Now I needed a grotto in which to hide, to replenish. So I made more names to breathe with. Most of my friends probably never heard of them.
I was in pain one day last winter. I was trying to make something, to create something in order to make sense of it, to contain it, frame it. It was a visual that had to do with a venous structure. The visual needed a name. I began to fiddle with an online thesaurus. It gave me the word for vein in Latin. That was good enough for the visual. I kept reading, stumbled upon some other concepts that contained the word. And then there she was. My new name: Vena Clitoridis. It was love at first sight. I began to scribble it everywhere, like when we used to scribble the initials of our secret crush on every surface we could write on when we were young and stupid. When our hearts were empty and light.
My new name allowed me to feel inspired for the first time in a very long time. I am now revisiting an old, and frankly very rudimentary, project.
Vena Clitoridis is also to be the new name of an older puppetry project I’ve been tossing around in my head. Years ago, while taking part in the organization of a puppetry festival, we sat down with a fellow puppeteer for a coffee to catch our breath. Obviously flustered from running around all day doing errands for the festival, he described his state of mind as being “like a wet vagina.” [This was a cis dude.] “So you’re happy and stimulated?” I said. He looked puzzled because he wanted the phrase to mean “crappy.” So I said “I don’t know how familiar you are with vaginas but a wet vagina is a happy one.” It was at that moment that I decided to build a vaginal puppet that was going to eat the world with all the bigots in it and then squirt out something awesome in its place, all while multiple-orgasming.
I’m the other half of Clockwork Snail so at the time I was thinking wood. It had to be made of wood. But how could she expand, swallow and squirt, eat, digest and regurgitate the world? It had to be very intricate. But I’m not the half that’s good at wood carving and mechanics. I’m the egghead half. Or so I thought at the time. I would have to depend on my partner to do most of the design. I shelved the project. Then the whole puppeteering was temporarily shelved because life happened and we went a whole other way.
Although I still want to have it eat bigotry and vomit awesomeness somehow, the puppet will no longer be a vagina. Frankly, the uterus, vagina and the clit together look like this mighty ram-headed sci-fi creature and they sure can make a great puppet that can swallow and make stuff. They would be perfect shapes to work with for a puppetry project. But I don’t want this project to be the hollow celebration of cis women’s body parts. (Although, in our woman hating world, this might also have some merit.)
Instead I am going for the elusive-until-2009 clitoris. The clitoris does not only fascinate me as a part of cis women’s anatomy that was only studied and imaged in its entirety in the last decade. This in itself is quite interesting in the way it lays bare the machinations of misogyny in value-laden patriarchal Western science. So the history of the clitoral anatomy, not necessarily the anatomy itself, may serve as a good metaphor. As until Helen E O’Connel et al’s seminal study only the tip of the iceberg that is the clitoris was known. The project is meant to explore the submerged parts while constantly reminding us that we perceive the world through a limited framework with missing dimensions, perspectives, voices and histories. The clitoris also happens to be the only organ with the sole purpose of pleasure. For an ethical hedonist like me who is always on the look out for the liberating potential of pleasures, this is very inspiring.
In addition to being the hedonist’s new raison d’etre, another great thing about the clit is that we all have it. Yup. For the first eight weeks of our lives in the womb, we are all endowed with a clitoris. After week eight, our chromosomal make up (XX, XXX, X0, XXY, XY, XXYY, XYY, XY/XXY mosaic, XXXXY etc.) as well as myriad other genetic interactions begin to mold our genitalia into the unique and wondrous shape that rests in our pants now. Unless our wonderful intersex genitalia was mutilated without our consent by our parents in atrocious “normalizing” surgeries. Or unless our unique genital form and its associations, along with the gender forcefully assigned us at birth, made us deeply unhappy and we changed it or are in the process of changing it to our heart’s content. In every case though, the clitoris in its infinite variation seems to be there in some form. The penis is one variation on the clitoral form. You can think of it as an enlarged clit with the added functions of urination and ejaculation. In gender reassignment surgeries, clits turn into penises and penises turn into clits seamlessly because they are essentially the same erectile tissue with tons of nerve endings for pleasure.
The puppet or whatever that comes out of this project is not supposed to be some cookie cutter anatomically correct cis organ. Such organs do not exist. This is not how things work. This project seeks to complicate this narrative of normative bodies and body parts. The clitoris in its puppet form is to mimic the way we mold and remold, invent and reinvent ourselves, our bodies, our names.
This is the lure of puppetry: to make things palpable and playable. In this case, the puppet, if I can pull it off, is to visually demonstrate the infinite variation that finds expression in the general clitoral geography. The challenge of puppetry, especially marionette type puppetry, is the range of motion each form is allowed. Before going on to build your puppet, you need to know exactly what it will be capable of doing. Is it going to fly? Walk? Dance? Talk? Somersault? It probably won’t be able to do more than one of these things. So you need to choose wisely.
The clitoral puppet will likely be made of a more malleable material than wood, like clay, or cloth, maybe silicone. Perhaps it will not be a traditional puppet that can perform. Perhaps it will be a series of shifting play-dough forms given life through something like stop-motion technique. Wood or not, the medium will certainly influence the message and it should still be chosen well.
I made some preliminary sketches of the clitoral form to see what kind of movement it could be capable of:
In After Dinner Party, a project that aimed to increase cliteracy and proliferate the shape of the whole organ as widely as possible, some artists worked with the inflatable form.
This is a form that prefers the clitoral potentiality for erection, for filling with blood, expanding, becoming large and wholesome. One of the works could almost be a puppet suspended as it is in midair with strings.
Perhaps I won’t be able to do something so ambitious as mapping the ever changing clitoral landscape while also fighting bigotry (by squeezing it?) and multiple-orgasming. I am limited by the material I am yet to choose as well as my very humble talents. But I am inspired. And open to suggestions.