I auditioned for The Vagina Monologues after seeing a sample performance of one of the monologues during my Intro to Women’s Studies class. The monologues appealed to me for a few of reasons. The first reason is that I was struck by the message of the monologues. I feel that the production is about reclaiming a love of our vaginas despite societal pressure to see our genitalia as dirty, shameful and irrelevant. Additionally, The Vagina Monologues promotes an anti-violence campaign that seeks to publicize violence against women and to fight against it.
The third reason I decided to try out is because despite a few Nativity Story plays during elementary school, the last theatrical production I participated in was a lead role in a kindergarten production about a farmer’s vendetta against some pesky weeds. When I tell this story I usually point out that my role was given less based on talent and more on the fact that I could read the script. Because my acting experience is limited, I saw The Vagina Monologues as a way to try out acting without the intimidation of being turned down. That paired with my interest in the monologue’s content convinced me to try out.
A few weeks after my audition, I heard that I had been cast parts in two monologues: “The Vagina Workshop” and “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy”. The first monologue is about a woman’s discovery of orgasm, and a literal self exploration with a hand mirror. The woman in the monologue describes becoming one with her clitoris, and accepting it as a part of her. The imagery of her timid fumbling expanding into a near panic as she begins to fear her own sexual expectations is movingly depicted by the language of the monologue, which I found to be relatable. I feel that a lot of women face anxiety about their sexuality when faced with social expectations that discourage a focus on female pleasure, while demanding sexual confidence and performance.
The second monologue I performed in I found to be more challenging. “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vagina’s Happy”, is about a female sex worker who decided to work only for women. The journey of this woman is one I find intriguing. She tells the story of how she discovered moaning and how she fell in love with it. She begins to make it her goal to make women moan. Performing this monologue made me nervous initially. I found my voice cracking when I read through my part at home. “I started out as a lawyer, but in my late 30s I became obsessed with making women happy. It began as a mission of sorts, but then I got involved in it. I got very good at it, kind of brilliant. I started getting paid for it. I wore outrageous outfits when I dominated women; lace, silk, leather, I used props…whips, ropes, handcuffs, dildos” (Ensler, 2010). My cheeks grew hot, though there was no one around to hear me.
When I went to my first rehearsal, I found myself excited to do a read through. I am not sure how my outlook changed, but suddenly I could not wait to perform the piece. It made me feel empowered and strong. I found myself connecting with the energy of my cast mates. That energy acted as a fuel for my own spirits. I realized that this monologue has a lot to say and that I was lucky to get to read it. This woman’s words are about sexual expression and freedom. The monologue is about being confident in your sexuality and not apologizing for who you were. Most of all, the piece is about sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure being fully experienced without shame, guilt, regret, or stress which are all possible factors in many heterosexual relationship that I’ve been involved in. In many ways this monologue helped me realize that sexual pleasure is not an unreasonable expectation from interpersonal relationships I myself am involved in.
I performed in The Vagina Monologues with twelve other amazing women on March 31st, April 1st, and April 2nd. The first two performances were in the Tivoli Turnhalle on Auraria Campus in Denver, CO. The last performance was held at Hamburger Mary’s in downtown Denver. The productions raised about three thousand dollars to be split between The Phoenix Center on campus and the spotlight campaign: Women and Girls of Haiti. The Phoenix Center is an on campus resource for any one has been affected by interpersonal violence whether they are survivors, friends, or family. “The spotlight campaign will highlight highlight…violence against women and girls in Haiti, and will focus on the increased rates of sexual violence since the devastating earthquake that took place in January 2010” (V-Day 2011, 2011).
One of my favorite parts of the monologues was the inclusion of a piece that talked about the challenges that trans individuals face. Because the trans community is often a community forgotten when talking about issues of human rights or violence, I always find it refreshing for their stories to be discussed publicly. Because of our culture’s binary gender system, the transgender community face many challenges. Some of these difficulties include fear for their personal safety, self-hatred from internalized anti-transgender socialization, and separation from communities. Transphobia is the fear and the “hatred, discrimination, intolerance, and prejudice that this fear brings” (Laframboise and Long par 3). This fear can lead to harrasment, violence towards trans people and ostricization. Transgender people are often discriminated against in terms of health care, employment and social services. Because of the discrimination facing trans individuals, many have substance abuse problems (Laframboise and Long).
Social ideals towards gender create transphobia. In a gender binary, there is no room for gender crossover or fluidity. In fact, individuals who challenge the gender binary are considered deviant and unacceptable within our culture. Transphobia can present itself in many ways.Some of which include the assumption that transgender individuals have mental disorders, are untrustworthy, are inherently disugsting or “sick”, or being unwilling to assist a trans individual in medical situations (Laframboise & Long). In order to combat transphobia, some action is being taken including, educating people on transgender issues and providing resources for trangender individuals. Additionally, making an effort to include transgender individuals and to provide necessary services to them (Laframboise & Long).
Trans-liberation is relevant to more than just the Trans Community. According to Leslie Feinberg’s “We are All Works in Progress”: “Tran’s liberation has meaning for you-no matter how you define or express your sex or your gender” (Feinberg, We Are All Works in Progress 1998, 2010). A gender binary system can be suffocating for all involved. Our society puts strict boxes around what is masculine and what is feminine. Gender liberation is about making these roles more fluid so that all of us can be ourselves and embrace all aspects of our humanity.
When I listened to the monologue “They Beat the Girl Out of my Boy, or so They Tried”, a monologue about violence against trans individuals, I fell further in love with The Vagina Monologues as a whole. I was reminded that the trans movement is closely related to the women’s movement. Women are seeking to end violence against us, but so are trans individuals. We are both seeking equality in our world. This monologue brought me to tears every night we performed. Being a part of The Vagina Monologues has been a wonderful experience. I have learned a lot about violence against women and trans people, and I have learned a lot about myself. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of this amazing production.
Ensler, E. (2010, April 1). The Vagina Monologues. (M. Fowler, Performer) Tivoli Turnhalle, Denver.
Feinberg, L. (2010). We Are All Works in Progress 1998. In G. Kirk, & M. Okazawa-Rey, Women's Lives: Multicultural Perspectives (pp. 187-192). New York : McGraw-Hill.
Laframboise, S., & Long, B. (n.d.). An Introduction to: Gender, Transgender and Transphobia. Retrieved 03 10, 2011, from High Risk Project Society: http://mypage.direct.ca/h/hrp/gendertr.html
V-Day 2011. (2011). 2011 Women and Girls of Haiti. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://www.vday.org/spotlight2011