Lorena Bobbitt. We all know exactly what that name means—the girl who cut off her husband’s penis. We say her name with a chuckle, a smile. Of course, that’s if you’re a little older than the Youtube Generation Z kids who missed the SNL sketches, comic books, and endless banter regarding one of the most high profile and frankly, bizarre, court cases of the 1990s. For her to do the unthinkable, the one thing that is worse than killing her husband, we know he must have done something to her. But what’s the story? We all seem to have forgotten to ask that question, blinded by the media’s focus on the comedic aspects of this case. Absurd as it may seem, the case is very real. As a purveyor of comedy and a person who has been through abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and almost anything shitty you can imagine (and prevailed—look at me now!), I am all for finding humor in the pain. But with a name so iconic that we know that her documentary, titled only by her first name, could only be about her, we owe this woman this moment to tell us her side—and most importantly, for us to listen. On my way home from the airport from Sundance Film Festival, I spotted a billboard for Lorena and exclaimed “I need to see that!” to my partner in crime, Laura Barrett. In typical Laura fashion, it just so turned out that she was on the list to see a special screening of part of the docuseries before it was released by Amazon and she offered to take me. Of course I couldn’t turn that down!
Lorena lures us in with laughter. The director, Joshua Rofé , gives us the greatest consensual forplay we have ever experienced in a documentary format. By us, I mean everyone. It lures in the unlikely supporters, the straight white dudes who drink beer at their local Hooters and joke about how cool it would be to hang out with John Wayne Bobbitt. It lures in the men who, no matter what was done to Lorena, could not possibly forgive her for doing the worst thing that could ever happen to a man. The men who put John Wayne's penis on a pedestal, slowly rotating inside a glass case and glistening in the moonlight. The supporters, the victims of abuse, the women fighting for women, find ourself slapping our knees, watching the dated 80s footage with hair fashioned into crazy blowouts that we in 2019 couldn't even figure out how to do ourselves. John laughs. Lorena laughs. We all laugh hysterically finding out that the Sheriff was just too religious to touch or pick upon the severed penis when they found it in the tall grass next to the 7-11 (in fact, he stepped on it), even though time was of the essence and whether or not his penis had a second chance at life was contingent upon reuniting the penis with the rest of his body—immediately. I wondered if we might even see the former couple meet? Everything seemed so much more lighthearted than I ever could have ever expected. Had the Bobbits moved on from the whole situation? Were they maybe even friends now?
Once we were so warmed up and lured into the sheer ludicrousness of this case, as described by the people closest to it, Rofé starts introducing us to the facts. Lorena’s rape kit tested positive for semen, but the rip in her panties was deemed to have been cut deliberately with scissors. I, a person who is missing an organ at the hands of domestic violence (although not a penis), began to question Lorena. Was she a completely insane woman like some tabloids made her out to be, frustrated with the fact that she immigrated to The United States, looking for the American dream and what she found wasn’t exactly the life she had planned? Could the semen have been someone else’s? Jurors from the case divulge that she dressed in two different styles of clothes and almost gave them two different personalities—half of her was a petite, frail victim, while the other half was a strong woman, perhaps even a vengeful one. We see her unforgettable swimsuit photos that were published in Vanity Fair—how strange?! Everyone demanded evidence that Lorena had been a victim of abuse, particularly on the night she cut off John’s dick. Typically in a rape case, there is evidence of force. We forget that in this situation, this wasn’t a stranger raping a stranger, but two people who co-habited and saw each other every day. In 2011 or so, I was also the victim of rape. After it happened, I layed there in the blackness, tears silently pouring down my face. The deed had been done. There was nothing left to fight. I went to the Dr. and I didn’t have any marks on me that could prove anything if I needed to. Does that mean that the rape didn’t happen? Was it less of a rape? Was it not important?
The story builds and builds. Could John Wayne have been an unlikely victim? Headlines accused Lorena of being a “Hot Headed Latina”, the easiest stereotype to pin on the immigrant woman who severed her husband’s penis. Her quote repeated over and over again “He have orgasm and not wait for me.” Lorena was accused of being “inarticulate”, like she was too unintelligent to present herself and like that quote somehow told the entire story of their several year long relationship in just a few words. We forget that in this moment that Lorena did not have a translator. She was a woman who had just moved to the United States from a Spanish-speaking country a few years prior. They do not teach you how to describe abuse in your English class. No textbook teaches you how to tell people that you have been raped—and how. Supported by Howard Stern, John Wayne was the recipient of $190k in a New Year’s telethon Stern threw in support of Mr. Bobbitt. Women in bikinis danced on stage with huge prop penises. At the height of the ridiculousness, Rofé, starts slowly peeling back the skin on the case.
Then, it hits us in the face. John Wayne Bobbitt had been arrested for assault and battery on his wife, Lorena. We see the records. We see the photos of her bruised face. Multiple neighbors who were interviewed recounted incidents and told stories of Lorena carrying all the groceries while John walked smugly behind her. She didn’t look up from the ground. Family members revealed humiliating stories, like when John gave her a big gift box at Christmas and demanded she open it in front of everyone. The box contained a tiny pair of underwear. The tension rises as we see his friends testify in court—the men he played basketball with. Sadly, this is what it takes to make anyone left in the room who may have still sided with John switch sides. Once we see the men tell the jurors that John Wayne bragged about how he loved forced sexual encounters, especially anal ones, everyone is Team Lorena. My good friend Lenora (not to be confused with Lorena) always jokes about how in 2019, everyone talks about rim jobs in a public forum without batting an eyelash. At the time of this case, the word “penis” was not even allowed to be used in a news headline, even though that is the anatomical name for the body part. The deal is sealed when Lorena testifies, barely able to speak or look up at the approximately 149 people staring at her, humiliatingly being forced to talk about being anally raped by a person who happens to be the person she is married to. Her voice shakes and she stutters and stumbles while your heart drops into the depths of your stomach for ever having questioned what happened to this woman. The fact that there was paperwork that legally bound them together did not make the injury of a forced sexual encounter any less painful or wrong.
That’s where the special screening ended for us. The lights came up. I turned to the left and there she was, the shadowed silhouette of Lorena sat just a few feet away from me, across the center aisle. I squealed and grabbed the arm of my friend sitting next to me “Our queen!” She walked up onstage, where she, the director, and two lovely women from a crime podcast hosted a discussion. After the panel, throngs of woman flocked to Lorena, who graciously spoke with each and every person who approached her and gave everyone kind hugs. As she finally headed out at the very end of the event when everyone was getting kicked out, we cheered as she took photos in front of a huge backdrop with the title of her docuseries on it. She finished posing and we locked eyes. “I love your shoes!” she exclaimed as she approached me. I thanked her, and told her that it was an honor to have been able to be there and learn about her story with her in person. She hugged me. I couldn’t believe that a woman who had been through such an extreme life, not only as a victim of abuse, but as an infamous part of one of the most public and controversial court cases in American history with a name who any American would recognize, could remain so genuine, so real, and so kind. I certainly wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of red wine with her any day.
Lorena gives us the missing pieces. They aren't the missing pieces of the case, but rather the missing pieces, left out from the media, which at the time was too uncomfortable to tell us the whole story of abuse that this woman endured. It was easier to slap our knees than to examine the truth behind the story. It was easier to keep our eyes clothes than to dissect this story and ask ourselves why and how it happened. I have so much appreciation for all of the filmmakers involved in telling this story. Shout out to Monkeypaw and Amazon Studios!
I was going to end this essay by saying “You know what John Wayne Bobbitt never did again? He never put his hands on a woman.” However, if I had closed with that, I would have been severely wrong. John Wayne Bobbitt was arrested on two separate cases of battering his next fiancé in 1994. Then in 2003, he was arrested for abusing his third wife. If a guy can’t learn to not be abusive after having his penis cut off by a victim of his abuse, he is obviously too stupid to have one.