The Other F Word by Elane Johnson

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This is bad. I realize that I’m making a fully conscious decision to sign my death warrant here. But I’m the kind of girl who has no qualms about sharing her vices with her reading public (population 27, last time I checked), and I’ve thrust aside with glee the curtains that once concealed my dark and troubled soul: Serial cheating on most of my husbands? A handful of suicide attempts? Shopping at Walmart? Check, check and check. But there is one…one guilty pleasure I’ve guarded with my life. And it begins with the letter f.

            I know what you’re thinking. But you’re wrong. I have no trouble with that f word. That word blasts forth from my tongue like an inner city fireplug tapped on a scalding summer day. It’s that other f word, the one I can’t even write, that causes me shame. Two—maybe three—people know my secret. And now, you. I have…I have issues with… gas.

My grandmother was the certified Queen of Butt Vapors. She never even walked out to the mailbox without full hair- and face-paint-perfection, yet she could blow a hole in a wicker chair with her ass. And she was damned proud of it. She’d store up ungodly amounts of fermented waste overnight, and then as we all sat around the table after breakfast, she’d unleash a fury of ten hells out of her colon. Once, my aged poodle made the mistake of curling up under my grandmother’s chair during our morning meal, and when Mama cut loose, that pitiful blind and arthritic creature became a poo-powered rocket— under the chair one second, three rooms away the next. I miss that dog.

My grandparents and my father found almost nothing more gut-bustingly hilarious than flatulence. Daddy even had a ratings system from gnat-sized to nuclear: Fee, fi, fee-fi-fi, chair buster, and the crème de la crème, the tear ass. My brother embraced the family’s ass-gas love affair; he’d stealthily crawl into my room when I had friends sleep over and back his raised rear-end up to the side of my bed and release a steady supply like one of those automatic air-fresheners in public bathrooms. He’d always start snickering just before the aroma hit us, but not in time to save us from the assault. Fucker.

I’ve never found anything amusing about all this joyful sharing of bodily functions. Yes, yes, I know everyone does it, and that research shows the average person passes gas 143 times per day. Thrilling. But somewhere along the way, I’ve developed an intense aversion to the word most commonly associated with this phenomenon. I can’t say it.


Haven’t ever.


And somehow, my avoidance of this f word has frequently become fodder for my humiliation. In high school French class 30-some years ago while Mrs. Horky conjugated chalky verbs, a trio of my “friends” would whisper-chant the word—holding out the initial f each time for onomatopoeic effect—with increasing volume until I turned around and murdered them with my death-glare. If they’d been half as clever as they thought they were, they’d have chanted péter instead. Fuckers.

But here’s the thing. Practically the entire universe knows that I can’t stand that f word. That’s no secret. This is: I’ve got the grandma’s genes, and I can rip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” at 180 decibels out of my butt. And I like it. Okay? It makes bubbles in the bath. You tell me one person who doesn’t like bubbles! There’s an enormous amount of pleasure in the relief that follows the expulsion of all that horrible, uncomfortable pressure that my digestion generates. And for whatever reason, my gas production is mostly odorless, thank God, except for that one time when my mom opened my bedroom door to tell me goodnight and choked out, “Have you been f——?” because I had an…issue. I totally lied to her stricken face, and she knew it. She grew up on a farm. There were only two viable explanations for the solid, green cloud in my room: I’d been f—— for four hours or I’d been tending cattle in there. And let me tell you, I will never eat brown eggs again. (Special note: I do want to apologize right now for my contribution that night to the destruction of the ozone layer. I’m sorry. Bring back the chlorofluorocarbons! It was me!)

Look, I know that women are supposed to have delicate and bleached anuses that dispense rainbow-colored soft-serve and cause the next person who comes into the stall to say, “Mmmmm! What is that? The new Febreeze?” But, I’m just as vile and abhorrent as the next guy. I’m not proud of it. I know that I will never live this down. I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Elane Johnson-1Elane Johnson’s nonfiction has appeared in Hippocampus, Superstition Review, Brevity, Sonora Review, The Indianapolis Star,, and The East County Gazette among other publications. “Aftermath” is featured in college creative writing curricula across the United States and internationally. “Porn Star” is included in the anthology, Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly (InFact Books, March, 2014). Elane holds an MFA (with distinction) in creative nonfiction. She teaches creative writing and composition for universities online. She is married to the writer, Stephen Ulrich. In the photo, she may or may not have just finished a bubble-bath.

  2 comments for “The Other F Word by Elane Johnson

  1. I heard you read this at Hippocamp and have since emailed it to my father (who is a big flatulence fan) and several friends. I love this essay so much! You did a wonderful job!!

    • Hi, Hannah- First, HOW can it be that a MONTH has passed since Hippocamp?!? I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see your message for eons. But, thank you for taking the time to comment and to say such generous things! I haven’t met a dad yet who isn’t a big flatulence fan, which is both disturbing and comforting since I’m on the team. 😀 Tell your dad that I welcome him to the club!

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