Friday, November 6, 2015

Don't mess with my gender identification

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler premiered in 1996. Based on interviews conducted with more than 200 women, it is a staged reading of monologues about sex, love, menstruation, rape, birth, self-love, and more. It has been translated into 48 languages and performed in at least 140 countries.

I saw it in 2001 in Austin Texas (I think - could have been earlier), with a cast of readers that included Linda Ellerbee. It was a glorious, raucous night, and the crowd went wild several times with cheers. I can’t remember when I laughed that hard. And oh how I cried at times. So much of the show hit home for me - it was very personal at times. When I left the theater that night, I felt glorious. In fact, that evening changed the way I talk about women’s genitalia forever.

But I’m not supposed to say much of that, at least not the way I've said it. Instead of “interviews with more than 200 women,” I should say “interviews with more than 200 people with vaginas.” I’m not supposed to say “women’s genitalia” - I’m supposed to say “genitalia that is traditionally identified as female.” Mount Holyoke College, a school for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts, cancelled a scheduled performance of the play back in January 2015 because the play “is not inclusive of transgender women.” Indeed, a play called The Vagina Monologues is not inclusive of people that don’t have vaginas.

If you identify as a woman, but were born with male genitalia, and you want me to refer to you with a female name, you want me to use female pronouns in reference to you, and you want me to share women’s bathrooms with you, I will. I think the fears that male child predators will stalk women’s bathrooms dressed as women if laws protecting transgendered rights are passed are ridiculous - I’m much more worried about the safety of someone who identifies as a woman, who dresses as a woman, being forced to use men’s bathrooms.

But I also identify as a woman because of my genitalia and other physical features and how I have been treated all of my life, and it is NOT wrong for me to do that. I am very angry that I am being told I may NOT feel empowered as a woman at a performance of The Vagina Monologues, that it's wrong for me to identify as a woman because of my genitalia, that the show "offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman," and that it is "inherently reductionist and exclusive" (that's what the student spokeswoman at Mt. Holyoke said). You are, in short, denying how I identify as a woman, and that's just as wrong as denying transgender identification.

To cancel a performance of The Vagina Monologues because it might hurt the feelings of people that identify as female but don’t have vaginas is like canceling a showing of the movie Chariots of Fire because not everyone can run. Or The Turning Point because not everyone can dance. Or Amadeus because not everyone can hear the music. Or Call the Midwife because some people cannot have children that want to. We have become obsessed with trigger warnings - we've gone from trying to be compassionate to trying to control conversations in the name of "creating safe spaces." To quote The Atlantic: In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.

I do not think that The Vagina Monologues is saying "Being a woman means to have a vagina and if you don’t have one, you’re not a woman” But it is, most definitely, and unabashedly, a celebration of the vagina - and of women that have them. And that celebration is DESERVED. It's overdue! There is no denying that a physical aspect of womanhood that involves having a vagina, that it involves fertility, and involves cycles. We talk about these things, celebrate such, complain about such, embrace such, are discriminated against because of such, are loved because of such, mourn when we lose or give up such - it’s who we are, it’s part of our identification as women. To deny those aspects of womanhood means you are denying *my* identification. And it fucking pisses me off.

Spare me the comments about being transphobic. I’ve made it clear that I support people’s rights to identify however they want to identify when it comes to their gender. If you want to identify as a woman, despite having male genitalia, that’s fine with me. But if you don’t like The Vagina Monologues, then don’t go.

I am woman. Hear me roar.

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