Tomorrow is my first rehearsal with Stage Left in Loughborough for their forthcoming production of the Vagina Monologues at the end of March. I’m yet to meet other cast members and they’re already a month into rehearsals. I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve let myself in for. So what’s it all about?
Eve Ensler wrote the first draft of The Vagina Monologues in 1996 after conducting interviews with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals. In an interview with Women.com, Ensler said that her fascination with vaginas began because of “growing up in a violent society… Women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality.” She also stated, “I’m obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas.”
By 1998 the focal point of the Vagina Monologues had changed. No longer simply a celebration of the vagina and femininity it became the cornerstone of a campaign to end violence against women and girls. The V-Day movement, in which participants stage benefit performances of the show or host other related events in their communities, usually between February 1 and April 30. The performances benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women, as well as similar resource centers for women. The Stage Left production will benefit the Leicestershire charity Living Without Abuse.
On a personal level I’m really nervous: it’s about 40 years since I last appeared on a stage in public for a school nativity play. I’m not sure I even had a speaking part. However, fears of stagefright aside, I’m more acutely conscious of the fact that the play is called The Vagina Monologues and some seem to think that this ought to preclude me. As I was asked:
“Don’t you actually have to be born with … ? ”
There was an embarrassed silence at that point as the questioner tailed off and I waited for them to dig a deeper hole and no I didn’t let them off the hook! Suffice it to say that my response included (in an appropriate context) an old-fashioned Saxon word that I don’t think certain social media sites will let me use!
To be clear, never shying from controversy, Eve Ensler has updated her original work on a number of occasions. In 2003, for example, she included a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule titled “Under the Burqa”.
In 2004 an all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues was performed. The monologues were read by eighteen notable transgender women, and a new monologue revolving around the experiences and struggles of transgender women was included. That monologue; ‘They beat the girl out of my boy… or so they tried’ reflects on the violence which some transgender women have experienced. Parts of it certainly resonated with me. Those of you who have travelled with me a little longer than others may remember why!
So why am I doing this? Because I’ve been asked, because I believe that the lived experiences of transwomen should be heard alongside the experiences of other women when we’re discussing violence against women and girls, because I want to support the work of Living Without Abuse, an organisation which has helped transgender women who experience domestic violence, and last of all, because I can!
I’ll leave you with a link to a performance of ‘They beat the girl out of my boy… or they tried’