What You Knew About Virginity

by Rosa Alcalá

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[Elizabeth Soto, Associate Editor: Alcalá invites us to meditate on the “same shitty erasure poem to which a woman’s life is subjected.” We like to talk about virginity, to ruminate on what it means to lose a part of oneself. To be distilled down to “use,” to become something to be used. A powerful piece that reminds us of how much knowledge we can all have about a myth.]

That it was something to be given in holy matrimony. That it was the only thing you had to give. That once you handed it over, you could never get it back. That it was a tightly woven hammock rocking an idea inside you. That a piercing pain meant both hammock and idea gone. That in Flamenco songs, women exited the bride’s chamber waving triumphantly a handkerchief bloomed with blood. That blood was the signature on a rare document. That other ideas would replace or join the first in the calculus of saving yourself or giving it up: slut, whore, nympho, easy—or else, goody two shoes, stuck up, cocktease. Lousy, like Sandy, with virginity. Ideas that were not yours but who you’d, nevertheless, be. Not long ago, you ran into a friend who worked with the guy you dated freshman year. The senior who dropped you off a street over so your father wouldn’t see him. The artist, the Chilean. The one who cost you a friend because she liked him first. The shiny black hair and pink leather tie. The boyfriend who one day ghosted you before that had a name. “How’s he doing,” you asked your friend, and then, after a few drinks, “Why did he stop calling?” Somehow it still mattered after so many years. “Because you didn’t put out,” she relayed. That sex was something to put out, like the cat, like the trash, like a fire. That there is a Cult of the Black Virgin in Europe and that your mother, who worshipped La Moreneta for healing her son, would always prefer your blondest of boyfriends. That people waited for hours to touch the gold orb resting on her palm and be blessed by baby Jesus on her knee. Despite many theories regarding the blackness of these Madonnas, one thing was certain, above all: be a virgin and give birth to a savior, and you will be placed deep in a mountain, a shrine for seekers, penitents, or the simply curious. Take great care in who receives this precious gift, which you had no part in choosing. That sometimes you lost it before you could give it: there were horses and bikes, swings and see-saws, on which pleasure collided with injury. That inside those horses, were sometimes men in armor, offering the spoils of war, or else endless popcorn shrimp, Spanish Fly, or pity. Beneath the armor, men like a stepfather or a teacher or a neighbor. In that case, as in all pillaging, what you had to offer was taken. The gift gone, your entire useless self would become the thing no one wanted. Labeled damaged goods. That damaged goods could go on to have an ok life, but your husband would always know he got second prize. Even if hubby wasn’t much of a prize, you only had yourself to blame. That certain things were loopholes to pleasure: rubbing up against a best friend, for example. Or in the froth of make-out sessions with your boyfriend, doing everything but. To cross the magical border, you had to hold hands with your one true love, then fall back onto a white bed covered in rose petals. That Hymen—ok, you didn’t know this then—was a god and also a genre of lyric poetry. That Hymen was invited to every wedding but never took a plus one. That Hymen was Bacchus and Aphrodite’s son, which must have made him seem a little uptight next to his parents. Other things you did not know then: that all hymens, like snowflakes, are different. That some are born without hymens. That some have super-duper bulletproof hymens, which can be a real problem. Hymens can’t grow back, as you once believed, but surgery can restore them. Having looked at pictures of hymens (for research!), you’d prefer yours not sewn back to its original state but replaced with a bedazzled prosthesis that stands out from the surrounding meatiness. Why would anyone care about having or not a hymen in this day and age, but there you have it. You’ve heard about vaginal and clitoral rejuvenation, so maybe it’s all part of the same shitty erasure poem to which a woman’s life is subjected. Can you wave a wand and pretend this or that was never said, never happened? The baby that pushed its cannonball-sized head through you? The loser boyfriend? The frat party? Any sleepless night in which you cried? You lost your virginity during a study abroad, to a boy both blonde and cruel. Lost is a strange way to describe it because you know exactly where and when you left it. It didn’t hurt or sting. You didn’t bleed. You felt, in fact, just as you did before you hailed a cab at 3 a.m., meaning a little confused and a little lonely. But it could have been the beer, the foreign country.