Sexing the Banana*

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The epitome of the feminine, the papaya, can only be planted by women. Heck, in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world it is another word for vulva, which in my opinion beats beaver any day. (By the way, I could talk at length at how both Spanish and Portuguese are far better a describing the female anatomy. Really, how would you want your nether bits described: as a luscious fruit or a tasty sweetcake or a large, buck-toothed, flat-tailed rodent?).

This is what a woman’s handicraft looks like–lush and full.

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Papaya tree – female form

They tell me this is is what a papaya looks like when planted by a man–flat and, well, floppy.

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Papaya tree – male form

In Western culture, we’ve got our gendered fruit too. The banana is the ultimate Freudian phallic symbol. In high school banana-eating was treacherous territory, I tell you. We harangued each other if we were too intimidated by its shape to eat it directly; woe betide the sap who had to break his bananas into chunks. And true to high school double-standards, likewise woe betide the fool who swallowed it down too easily. Amid the ribald jokes, you could lose your innocence with just one indiscreet bite. In this no-win situation it was simply better to pack an apple with your lunch. Surely it must have been a banana, not an apple in the garden of Eden. Reminiscent of Thanksgivings and puritan Pilgrims, apples were much less licentious territory.

However, now in Brazil I realize we were looking at it out if context. Silly teenagers. Have you ever seen a banana flower?

Banana flower exterior
Banana flower interior

Huge, pendular, a rich royal purple, its flowers have both a phallic tip–pointing ever downwards–and a large upper flower with an interior collection of vividly feminine colors and textures suitable of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. And then those phallic-symbol banana fruits grow right in the middle of it all. This is a plant that is simply wrapped in androgyny.

And then, there is this strange creature that I observed on a walk. I don’t know what it is; I assume it’s a mushroom. Without a doubt, this is the laciest, raciest, most feminine looking phallic mushroom I have ever seen. If a drag queen could design a mushroom, this would be what it looks like. It was so racy that Facebook wouldn’t let me post it. Yes, that’s me, caught in the act of propagating mushroom porn once again.

I swear I didn’t Photoshop this. Nature really is this weird.

*a humble wink to Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry.



  1. Don’t stop now. I think you’re starting to hit your stride . I’m not talking about the sexual nature of the
    material in this particular chronicle but a quality of the language itself, over and above the bare bones of story telling.

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