Speaking Genital in translation: Beverly Wico Siy’s ‘Pukiusap’

Where Eve Ensler gave us the freedom to use the many words there are for lady bits in “The Vagina Monologues,” Beverly Wico Siy gets the conversation about all things vaginal going on a two-way street with her translation of Swedish comic artist Liv Strömquist’s book “Fruit of Knowledge”.

I checked out the Amazon.com page for “Fruit of Knowledge” and got this blurb: “From Adam and Eve to pussy hats, people have punished, praised, pathologized, and politicized vulvas, vaginas, clitorises, and menstruation. In this graphic nonfiction book, drawn in chunky, punky pen, Swedish cartoonist Liv Strömquist traces how different cultures and traditions have shaped women’s health and beyond. Her biting, informed commentary and ponytailed avatar guides the reader from the darkest chapters of history (a clitoridectomy performed on a five-year-old American child as late as 1948) to the lightest (vulvas used as architectural details as a symbol of protection). Like humorists Julie Doucet (Dirty Plotte), Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For), and Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), she uses the comics medium to reveal uncomfortable truths about how far we haven’t come.”

The translation by Siy is just as biting, just as witty, and justly sharp and pointy—because women should not be dismissed, not in whole and not in part. Women are part of this world and the world just has to learn how much we value being here—and learn how to listen to us and value us back.

As a woman, I find it is extremely liberating to be able to speak the native, often considered vulgar, words for the pink female parts down south as I read “Pukiusap” out loud. The humor and the artwork are just as wonderful to see, too.

Confined in panties and panty-girdles, covered with sanitary pads once a month—vaginas have been hidden away and suffocated for way too long. It is time they got a chance to breathe, to air out and enjoy their place in the sun.

In a country where kyeme is the norm and where the people like to pretend that sex and all things to do with sex—genitals, especially—do not exist, “Pukiusap” offers us a realpolitik, honest-to-goodness straightforward look at the vagina, things to do with the vagina and, finally, a no-nonsense take on human sexuality.

The conversation about consent, sexuality, sexual identity and how these things affect how we see ourselves and others is long overdue.

I love how there is absolutely no kyeme in “Pukiusap.” I love how the discussion is brought down to earth and kept real with Siy’s irreverent and sharp humor. I love reading that word for vagina that so many consider vulgar—simply because writing it is an act of rebellion and one I heartily approve of.

With every cartoon panel and every word, Siy breaks the invisible wall keeping feminine mysteries behind a heremetic seal and away from the rest of the world. The vagina is the gateway to life. This is not the gateway to seal away and hide like a dirty little secret. It is a self-cleaning organ in the first place, so it isn’t dirty as, say, your kidneys, gall-bladder or other waste-ferrying part of your endocrine system.

It is about time that someone took the Filipino on and told the people here that there is nothing wrong with discussing sex, genitals and matters to do with sex. It is about time that someone told the kyeme-ridden public at large to grow up—and showed them how to do so without losing their sense of humor and the fun they learned to enjoy as kids.

Let me give the author, translator and publishing house a standing ovulation: Thanks to Strömquist, for her candor and her well-considered juxtapositions of comic art and cutting, witty prose of “Fruit of Knolwedge.” Thank you, Bebang Siy, for giving us such delightful access, in the inimitable vernacular, to Strömquist’s work with “Pukiusap.” Salamat po! To the Anvil Publishing imprint, Pride Press, thank you for this wonderful, ground-breaking book.





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