Hey, what’s the tallest vagina you’ve seen while sitting next to your mother? For me, it was the 20-foot-tall vagina of Valentine’s Day 2003. But let’s go back a bit. When I was a kid I had crossed eyes. I had my first surgery to correct the crossing when I was 2. For eight years afterward, I wore an eye patch to strengthen my eye muscles, and hopefully straighten my eyes out. Sometimes I had to wear the patch to school. Sometimes just after school. What I’m saying is: I wore a doctor-prescribed eye patch for some part of my day for eight years of my childhood!
Now, I’m not talking about a black, pirate-y eye patch. If you’re a little kid with crossed eyes, you wear a disposable, peach-colored, Band Aid-material eye patch. It was the same color as my skin, and made me look like I was either constantly winking, or else had skin growing over my eye. Imagine Sloth from The Goonies, but as a little girl. That’s what I looked like. To soften the blow of having to wear a flesh flap, the company that made these patches put stickers into each box. They were supposed to be used to decorate the patches, but they were terrible. Each sticker featured a bucolic farm scene printed in navy blue, tan, and brown. I guess little eye-patched kids were meant to show up at school and say, “Oh, you’ve got a Lisa Frank rainbow pony on your Trapper Keeper? Well, I’ve got a drab vignette featuring a deer, a silo, and an owl on my eye patch!” Luckily, I was also chubby, had a bowl cut, glasses, and braces, and insisted upon wearing red jeans, so the eye patch blended nicely with the overall tragedy of my childhood aesthetic.
Even after the surgery and the patching, my eyes crossed, just not all the time. They’d cross if I was tired, sick, or—as I learned in college—drunk. When they’d cross, I’d have double vision, and fall off or walk into all manner of things. Tables, windows, humans—I’ve walked into them all. There was a cool party trick element too: I could do shots until my eyes crossed, and then, with rest and sobriety, straighten my eyes back out. I had magic eyes, but not the poster kind.
When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Rome. My eyes crossed the day I arrived. I was so used to crossing and uncrossing that I figured it was jet lag, or that maybe I was drunk from breathing the Italian wine-air. For weeks I tripped on cobbles, walked into walls, and wore black turtlenecks from the Gap like any European. Then I attended an audience with the Pope. When I saw two Popes walk out onstage, I finally realized something was very wrong. Two Popes? There’s never two of that guy. I called my folks, and their friend knew a dude who knew a dude who sent me to an Italian eye doctor. The doctor’s office was Saw movie chic: all rusty, sepia-toned instruments and heavily gauzed people. My Italian is awful enough that I basically walked in, yelled “Meatball!” and left. Two days later, I got on a plane and flew home.
Back in my hometown of Chicago, I found out I’d been over-prescribed for my contact lenses. The too strong prescription strained my already weak eye muscles until they blew out. I needed surgery again. When you’re a kid and you have eye muscle surgery, they do it with lasers. They put you to sleep, you wake up and your mom or dad or aunt gives you a Popple, and it’s all chill. When you’re an adult and you have eye muscle surgery, it’s way more hardcore. The doctor snips the muscles on the side of your eye and threads a loose suture into the muscles to keep your eye in its socket. Then you have to wake up, and while you are fully alert, the doctor pulls on the suture until your eye is straight. Did you read what I just wrote? I was awake while a doctor adjusted my eyeball on a string. Do you even know anyone more badass than me?
A few days after surgery came Valentine’s Day. I was still half bandaged and feeling crappy overall. I had come out to my parents only a few months before, and they were reeling from the gay. My then-girlfriend was also studying abroad, in a time zone eight hours ahead of Chicago. It was our first Valentine’s Day—my first with any gal, actually—and I was spending it bloody-eyed and at home with my folks, lovesick but unable to gather the courage to ask to make a long-distance call under their roof. It all felt very Juliet and Juliet.
My little sister was 13 and taking Spanish classes in school. To get me out of the house, my mom suggested the three of us head to a nice Valentine movie. She’d heard a Spanish-language flick was playing in the next town over: Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk To Her. If you haven’t seen this film, let me start by saying, it is not the best to see with your mom and teenage sis, and it’s not the best for Valentine’s Day. For example—SPOILER ALERT—the film features an awful, Kill Bill-esque coma-sexual-assault scene. It also features a 20-foot-tall vagina.
There is a part in Talk To Her where an adult man shrinks down to the size of a tampon and walks into a vagina. Almodóvar isn’t one for cutting-edge digital effects, so he built an enormous vagina set with weird, unsettling pubic hair. As the giant vagina flickered on screen, all three of us—my mom, sister, and me—sat there and stared. We didn’t leave early. We didn’t comment on what was going on. We sat, eyes forward, (singular eye in my case, since one eye was still wrapped up) and pretended that 20 feet worth of vagina wasn’t zooming at our faces.
This moment is a great example of what the coming-out process feels like. Remember when you had to sit through a sex talk from your parents that was important and necessary but also horrifically embarrassing? Coming out feels like that sex talk in reverse: You have to sit your folks down and say things they probably find too informative and too uncomfortable. Not because you go into big, gay detail, but because merely acknowledging sexuality implies sex. The coming-out process as a whole felt like I was sitting next to my parents and staring down a 20-foot-tall vagina. I’d like to thank Pedro Almodóvar for allowing me to take that abstract feeling and translate it into a real-life experience.
This still stands as a one of my top February 14ths, perhaps only bested by the time I attended a Valentine’s Day monster truck rally during which the stadium caught fire. Some pyrotechnics got pushed over by Grave Digger or whomever, and the side of the arena started to burn while whole families of monster-truck fans cheered wildly and remained in their seats until the monster-truck equivalent of a rodeo clown doused the fire. Seeing 20 feet of on-screen vagina with my mom that close to coming out? Risking death by smoke inhalation to watch cars jump on other cars? It’s a toss-up. Both were great in different ways.
My eyes still cross. They’ve gotten worse lately, actually, and they’ll keep getting weaker. The double vision can be confusing, and I worry about someday losing sight in one eye if my brain decides it no longer wants to see two of everything. I also make my living as a performer. I think my eyes can also be distracting, so I rest as much as I can to keep them as straight as I can, and I’m a pro at head tilts and camera angles that disguise the crossing when it’s not it check. To get back to perfectly straight, as my eyes were for a few years after my last surgery, my doctor would need operate again. I’m not sure how bad I’ll let it get before going back under, but at least I know that whenever it happens, the recovery won’t be worse that what I’ve already experienced. I mean, they don’t even make 30-foot-tall vaginas.