Vag-Activists, Vag-singers and Vag-Mikes: the word Vagina has never been so shame-free

By Claudia Schergna

Glittering performances from spoken word artists Hollie McNish and Miss Yankey, dozens of open-mikers, stories of life, resilience, motherhood, sexual violence, gynaecological problems and menopause.

These are just some of the rather unorthodox events that took place in March at the Vagina Festival or, as the organisers like to call it, “the world’s first Coachella”.  

Coming first on the “vag-mike” is Ellamae Fullalove, manager of social housing by day and activist by night based in London. She is the founder of Va Va Womb, a community for the promotion of body and sex-positivity, and one of the organisers of the Festival, along with poet and vag-activist Emilie Epperlein

“To kick off with the vagina stories, I have MRKH (Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser syndrome) which means my vagina is underdeveloped. I don’t have a womb and have never had a period,” Ellamae announced to the virtual audience.

“We are here today because we know that the word vagina is often an uncomfortable one and being born with half of mine missing, I know how this feels,” said Ellamae. 

Before starting with the busy lineup, the organisers gave a thought to Sarah Everard, ten days after her disappearance. The hosts call for no more silence: “Middle fingers in the air to the bad men, we are done,” they say repeatedly in chorus.

Among the first guests are the duo behind the BBC Naked Podcast, Jenny Eells and Kat Harbourne. Joining from Yorkshire, they sing a song composed with all the words women told them they use to describe their bits: Margaret, Pandora, Bobo, Twinkle, Gina, Hellen…  

Next on stage is Laura Jane Round, a writer and performance poet from the Black Country. “Vagina is still such a dirty word,” she says, “to have people organise, creatively contribute and attend an event dedicated to it is such a liberating concept.

“Bisexual is one of those dirty words too, and it’s personally liberating to label myself as bisexual out loud.”

Poetry and the feminist cause are bread and roses for Laura. “We directly contributed through charity work and raising awareness of feminist issues, but poetry keeps me alive.

“Vagina Fest was not only empowering, it was fun! And we raised two grand for two charities while we were at it.” 

The events did, in fact, raise more than £2,300 for The Eve Appeal, the British charity funding research and raising awareness about gynaecological cancers and MRKH Connect

“MRKH is a condition that affects 1 in 5000 female births,” explains Charlie Bishop, director of MRKH Connect. 

“Diagnosis, typically as a teenager, of MRKH can be extremely isolating, you are a teenager being told that you won’t experience those same things that your peers are, most notably at that age is periods.”

MRKH is a condition that is too often ignored, even by professionals, as Charlie explains: “Time and time again those with MRKH are faced with a situation where they go to a GP who hasn’t heard of the condition and they have to revisit that often painful process again to explain.

“Those same feelings can also resurface again by reminder letters for cervical smears, as those with MRKH do not have a cervix and not least of course friends, family and those around us having children.” 

How to fight the stigma? “There really is one simple answer as I see it, talk about it more,” says Charlie, who is affected by MRKH herself. 

“I don’t mean shouting it from the rooftops as much as I mean having more open and frank conversations about our bodies, something that I think in general men are much more likely to do than women. This can only work towards helping to normalise the conversation.”

The Vagina festival was a chance to discuss important issues women face in their everyday life but also an occasion to share some fun facts about vaginas. “What does you vagina smell like?,” asked Ellamae to the virtual audience.

After an initial few seconds of silence, tons of messages started coming through “fishy”, “coppery”, “musky”, “sweat”, “like a baking loaf of bread”, “like onions” and even “like bleach”. 

“Dearest vaginal washers,” says Emily, reciting one of her poems. “We are not designed to smell like a peach. You exist to humiliate us. My aroma beliefs in free speech.”

Are you a Vag-Expert? Let’s find out with this Sappho quiz!

Answers: 1)D, 2)B, 3)C

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