Know Your Lady Parts
A new animated documentary by Italian queer filmmaker Vulvah Van Klitt promises to awaken your clitoris to a whole world of possibilities. We spoke to the director about her process and intentions.
Image: Clitorissima (2016)
"At what age and on which occasion did you develop Clitoris Awareness?" the camera asks in Clitorissima. For director Gia Balestra (a.k.a. Vulvah Van Klitt) it came relatively late. “I was 19, with a male partner of my age, when we introduced lubricant into our sex routine. I had been having penetrative sex since I was 14, but just didn’t have any knowledge about the clitoris.”
She is not alone in not knowing her own body. Despite being the central organ of female sexual pleasure, a quick search online brings up countless articles on ‘How to find the Clitoris,’ and even, ‘What is the clitoris?’ It’s hard to imagine the same confusion around male sex organs, but then male sexual pleasure has not been historically and systematically stigmatized. Female sexual arousal was once thought to cause madness or death. Today, around 200 million women globally are survivors of forced genital mutilation.
Clitorissima is part of an ongoing movement, which includes women, trans* and intersex people, to breakdown barriers and get to know the clitoris better. Specifically, the film aims to ‘normalize and facilitate the first mother/daughter conversation about clitoris and clitoris awareness.’
Raised not far from Venice, Italy, Gia describes her formative sex education as limited by a culture of, “fear, shame and rejection,” stemming from Catholic patriarchal teaching. Her mother, she says, taught her that children are not mature enough for sexual feelings. “I grew up with this false narrative from my mother. Ironically, when I interviewed her for my film, she told me she had had clitoral awareness as a preschooler.”
Image: Clitorissima (2016)
In 1996, Gia witnessed her three-year old niece discovering her body. Despite this being perfectly normal, it was greeted with animosity by her family. The shame of discussing it, combined with Gia being both queer and a survivor of rape, led them to initially label her as a pedophile. Her reaction was to confront them in a series of frank interviews about sexuality. “It took me 20 years to find the term ‘Clitoral Awareness.’ I was able to verbalize my drama and I was finally able to share the story."
The project evolved from family to friends, and eventually became a series of filmed interviews with unknown women in Berlin back in 2013. “Every clit owner has a fantastic untold micro story.” She met an overwhelmingly positive response, with plenty of women proclaiming their love for the clitoris. But as one woman in the film explains, “I think I know more about penises than my clitoris. And this needs to change."
Clitorissima, like its director, is driven by an overwhelming sense of positivity. Elegantly animated by award winning artist Sara Koppell (“She polishes the gems”), the film is a deeply accessible and empowering work that has screened at festivals around the world. After twenty years, Gia is as passionate as ever. “I have a dream: clitoris awareness for every country in the world!"
Clitorissima will screen in Shanghai with CINEMQ on February 9th. You can read more about Gia Balestra at clitorissima.com
Gia Balestra (Vulva Van Klitt)
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every Friday. Want to contribute? Message our account.