PROSE: Randa Jarrar

Love is Blonde, Act I

My first crush on a girl may have been on Thumbelina. In her, I saw a sister, a diminutive lover, my mother, and then, myself. She was trapped on a lily pad with a frog who was unkind to her. She had been sold off by her community. She was tiny, insignificant.

I knew about Thumbelina because we had a book about her and a book on tape to go along with it. The tape would beep when I needed to flip the page. The voice of the woman who read the story was commanding, elderly, and informed. Later on, listening to Cynthia Ozick read on a New Yorker Podcast, I discovered that she shared a voice very similar to the narrator of my childhood Thumbelina book.

I was probably five or six years old when I listened to the Thumbelina tape, thumbing my way through the book at each beep. Thirteen years later, I would have a child. And within me already were all the tiny eggs I would ever have; deep within me part of my child already existed. And because my mother had lost her mother just before I was born, my own motherhood was already a part of my identity. I mothered my mother. And I mothered my brother, who was born 30 months after I was, and who I patted and cared for at night when my parents went out, or in hotel rooms while we were traveling and while my parents were at dinner.

The origin story of Thumbelina, or Tiny, as Hans Christian Anderson tells it, is that an older woman wanted a child but couldn’t have one. She went to a sorcerer and was given a seed to make her own child with; when she planted it, the seed blossomed into a tulip. And now the gayest moment of Thumbelina: the old woman kisses the petals of the tulip- two petals, to be exact, and out came Thumbelina. She was half the size of a thumb. A tiny, perfect, anthropomorphized clitoris. As a child, I was drawn to the miniature nature of this perfect being, and to her tiny accoutrements: her bed was a walnut shell, her blanket, a petal. She took up almost no space at all. She was nothing like me and she was everything like me. If I mothered my own mother, who actually came first? I wanted to be like Thumbelina: born of no man. It was like Surat al-Samad, the verse of the Quran I repeated in class and before bed: God did not beget and was not begotten. As an adult woman, I feminize the Quran so that this part reads, She did not give birth and nor was She given birth to. Thumbelina, like the divine, is perfect, whole, and mighty. Her physical size is irrelevant. She is indivisible, above all others, and the entire length of her story, attempts to escape lascivious masculinity as embodied by both the frog and his mother. She is never penetrated, and is finally able to get away from her captors, releasing into a world of other fairies. She will never give birth to any other. In the fairy tale, she finds a prince her size who also emerges from a flower. The rest of their people join them, emerging from other flowers. It’s a marriage of clitorises in a magical kingdom of clitorises, the final touch being a pair of tiny wings bequeathed to Thumbelina, giving her complete freedom. In that buzzing, the story ends, her entire self-transformed into an orgasming, climaxing queen.


The foil of Thumbelina was, is, Tinkerbell. The first time I saw Tinkerbell glide across our television, I was aroused, though I didn’t know what it meant to be aroused. Her tiny green dress and long legs, with pointed feet, shoes with large white pompoms, and the fairy dust trailing her signaled an otherness and an inaccessibility, as did her white skin. Her red lips. Her indigo blue eyes and black brows and lashes. Her jealousy. Her possessiveness.

Her moment with that mirror, realizing that her hips were large. Even as a child, I knew I was too much. That shorts and other pieces of clothing would fit me imperfectly. I wasn’t fat yet, but I wasn’t skinny. And seeing that even Tinkerbell, who could fly and was tiny, was worried about the size of hips, made me love her more. For a moment, I thought we were alike. I could relate to her.

All of this, and her unavailability, made me desire her deeply. I wanted to be her, and I wanted her to be
Thumbelina and Tinkerbell are both, in my imagination, queer, visual representations of clitorises. They buzz, they yearn, they are tiny and hidden, and sometimes tiny and visible. They are wet. They flicker. They want. They make you want back.

Randa Jarrar

Randa Jarrar’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Utne Reader, Salon, The Offing, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, The Sun, Medium, and others. Her first book, the Arab-American coming of age novel, A Map of Home, is now on many college syllabi. It was published in seven languages & won a Hopwood Award and an Arab-American Book Award. Her most recent book, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, won an American Book Award, a PEN Oakland Award, and a Story Prize Spotlight Award, and was named a Key Collection for Fall 2016 by Library Journal and one of Electric Literature‘s 25 best collections of the year. Jarrar is a columnist for Bitch Magazine, has worked with PEN American to judge fiction prizes and to put on events, and was the PEN Ten Interviews editor in 2016-17. She is the Executive Director of RAWI, a literary nonprofit that serves Arab-American writers. Jarrar has received fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, Hedgebrook, and others. In 2010, she was named one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40. She is the translator of several Arabic short stories and a novel, and has taught for MFA programs at CSU-Fresno and Sierra Nevada College, and at Tin House’s Summer Workshop. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Zell Fellow.