From the time that I was introduced to The Vagina Monologues during my freshman year of college, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the production one day. Although UMBC’s Women in Learning and Leadership offered annual opportunities to perform in the production, I was always unable to participate due to time constraints. I eventually came to understand the transphobic implications of the production, so when I was able to be a part of it, I was conflicted about being seen as supporting this piece of feminist activism, especially as a person who identifies with the transgender community. As I learned more about being an activist, however, I realized that if I wanted to see change, I would have to create it, which is exactly what I set out to do by performing in The Vagina Monologues and a constructive discussion about its trans-exclusionary undertones.
The Vagina Monologues were written in 1996 by Eve Ensler in response to the shame and lack of openness about the vagina and women’s sexuality in the society around her. As the production gained popularity, V-Day was created in 1998. This event is held between February 1st and April 30th to raise funds for women’s anti-violence groups. Over the years, celebrity performances of this production for V-Day have occurred, and one monologue to be read by a transgender woman was written. This piece was not included in UMBC’s performance this year, unfortunately.
I performed a monologue titled “Reclaiming Cunt,” a spoken-word type piece that explores the empowerment felt by proudly using this “pejorative word used to describe the vagina.” Another performer’s rendition of the monologue is provided below.
I performed a monologue titled “Reclaiming Cunt,” a spoken-word type piece that explores the empowerment felt by proudly using this “pejorative word used to describe the vagina.” Another performer’s rendition of the monologue is provided below. Performing the piece, much less participating in the event, was conflicting as a non-binary person. Thankfully, my monologue did not indicate my character’s identification as a woman, but many of the other monologues, or introductions to said monologues, equated vaginas with femininity and womanhood, and even implied that penises are “lesser” than vaginas. This message is communicated especially in the phrase “who needs a handgun when you’ve got a semiautomatic?” at the end of the “Vagina Happy Fact.” This question particularly stuck with me because of the transmisogynistic connotations behind it- although the comment was meant to empower women through implying that their genitalia was “better” due to the pleasurable potential the clitoris possesses, it implies that individuals with penises- a group that does not only include cisgender men- possess a “secondary choice” of sorts.
Unfortunately, the post-performance discussion was not as successful as I hoped it would be. First of all, I was unable to physically participate in the discussion, since I had work during the time that the event was held. In an attempt to resolve this conflict, I decided that I would call in to the conversation on my lunch break, but when the event rolled around, the coordinator of the discussion, Amelia Meman, regrettably informed me that only one person showed up to the discussion. We agreed that as the dialogue proceeded, she would update me with summaries of what was said, but everything that I planned on saying was addressed, namely with regards to the cisnormative language reflecting the assumption that vaginas and women are inherently linked.
Out of all the things I felt that I could have done differently, it would have been the amount of advertising I contributed to the project. Because I raised minimal awareness for the performance and its discussion in my social media and educational life, I was unable to reach an audience that potentially would have been interested in coming to one or both of these events. I also believe that the discussion would have been more successful with regards to number of people in attendance if it was held during a Women In Learning and Leadership meeting. Because WILL has a fairly large member group, I think a richer dialogue could have been generated if some time was taken out of the regular meeting to discuss the problematic aspects of the monologues and how we, as the sponsors of this annual performance, could promote the visibility of transgender individuals while also empowering women to celebrate their vaginas.
Overall, participating in this production was a great way for me to brush up on my acting skills (the last production I was in was the Musical Theatre Club’s Fall 2011 showcase) and bond with my fellow feminists, both female and non-binary alike. Although the crowd was sparser than expected, since the performance had sold out in previous years, what the audience lacked in numbers they made up for in participation. You never really understand what the rush that getting a room of people to energetically yell “cunt” at you feels like until you experience it yourself.