The Beat the Girl Out of My Boy: Trans Women in The Vagina Monologues

Posted: March 29, 2012 by Carly Bea in Uncategorized

You may have heard of something called “The Vagina Monologues.” It has certainly been a source of great interest and increasing popularity in recent years. It has also sparked controversy – in my personal experience, I can attest to a few individuals being offended, or at least feeling awkward, by the inclusion of the word “vagina” in the title.

But what exactly is the Vagina Monologues, and how did it come about? The aim of this short piece is to focus on the first all-transgender performance of the Monologues, and the public’s reaction to such. However, in order to do this, some background information must be provided.

The Vagina Monologues is, essentially, a collection of stories from women of various walks of life, performed by other women.  The idea was created by a woman named Eve Ensler, who believed that women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality. Ensler also stated that growing up in a violent household helped to shape her interest in women who have been affected by sexual assault and other forms of violence (ibid).  It was this curiosity that led Ensler to begin speaking with close friends about vaginas, and sexual experiences in general. Some of these friends would advise her to speak to someone they knew, which eventually led Ensler to conduct over 200 interviews with women of various ethnicities, ages, and sexual orientations. Ensler recalls that at first, women were hesitant to speak, but speculates that this is due to the fact that no one has previously asked them to talk about such sensitive topics. She stated, “Any time we open the door to a place where we have a lot of feelings or thoughts or stories, we react enthusiastically” (ibid).

This collection of stories turned into The Vagina Monologues that are performed worldwide today. Ensler wrote the first draft in 1996, and they debuted shortly thereafter at the HERE Arts Center in New York City. Although the play ran for only about a month at this venue, word spread, and interest in the Monologues grew.  Years later, in 2001, a performance in Madison Square Garden took place, that included Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa Etheridge.

One of the monologues, entitled “My Angry Vagina,” can be viewed here.  Be forewarned, it is explicit.

In 2004, Eve Ensler decided she wanted to try something different. With the help of Jane Fonda and Deep Stealth Productions, the GenderMedia Foundation staged a performance of The Vagina Monologues.  It was held on February 21, 2004, at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, CA. This unique performance featured trans women from all over the world. This show was intended as a benefit for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults against Women. This was a one-night only performance for “LA Until the Violence Stops,” and included monologues read by eighteen different women.  A brand-new monologue was also included to document the experiences of transwomen.  Photos of the event can be found here.

The new piece was entitled “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy;” you can watch it below.  A word of caution: violent experiences are discussed, and like many of the Monologues, it can be a bit intense and evoke powerful emotions.

They Beat The Girl Out of My Boy (Video)

In this performance, a woman describes how those who do not “pass” are often pushed aside in society. One trans women describes, as a child, seeing a vagina and wanting one, thinking that “it would grow.” Another woman describes wanting to smell like her mother and “be pretty.”  Still another says that she “ached to belong.” The same message is echoed over and over: that these individuals knew that they were women, but were repeatedly told that they were not adequate. One joined the Marines, another grew a beard, and others were told to “butch it up.” Nearly all of the women faced violence at one point or another in their life. They talk about their experiences with transitioning: everything from surgery to practicing speaking in a more feminine voice.  One woman details how her boyfriend was beaten simply because others did not approve of his dating a woman who happened to be trans. She concludes, “They were afraid of love.”

A plethora of traumatizing experiences and memories are discussed, but some hopeful and positive aspects of the performance shine through. Women talk about how they would like to travel, how they feel more like themselves, as they should be. One individual talks about how she is much happier in her body since going through a transition.  Another woman states, “Once I got my vagina, it was like a car alarm was turned off.”

The women who participated in this performance stated that this was a “historic opportunity for the trans community to express ourselves in a positive, contributing light.” The monologues held at the Pacific Design Center were certainly very different from what many were used to. Instead of focusing solely on cis women’s experiences, the monologues shifted to frame the experiences of being a woman in a different way. The reactions seemed to be positive – of course, like nearly all of the monologues, many audience members were emotional during the performance. However, it was well-received, and in my eyes, truly a monumental event in the V-Day Campaign. Through her writing of a piece dedicated to the experiences of trans women, Eve Ensler showed that she was willing to be more inclusive, and wanted to encourage this sort of inclusivity in others. In a society where unfortunately, women are still fighting for their rights, trans women’s experiences are all too often pushed aside and ignored. This show offered hope that in the future, trans women may continue to be included in this and other such performances that typically only include cis women.

Questions still remain: How can the Vagina Monologues and V-Day campaign continue to be, and improve upon, being inclusive to all those who identify as a woman, regardless of sex assigned at birth, race, and etc.? How do you think a performance such as this might be received at a college such as the University at Buffalo? And lastly, should only women who are trans be allowed to perform monologues such as this, or should any woman?

 

As always, thank you for reading.

 

Carly

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