Last Sunday, I attended a local production of The Vagina Monologues. I read the monologues back in college and have had a copy on my bookshelf for more than a decade. Still, I wasn't prepared for how it would make me feel.
It had already been an emotional week. I'd finished off my manuscript and sent it out to the prospective agent and editor. Alice's story is now out of my hands and at the whim of strangers which is an unexpectedly terrifying feeling. So when we settled into the second row in the tiny theater I was already emotionally raw.
Which is perhaps why I wept from beginning to end.
I cried so hard that after the show one of the women in the cast came out to hug me which made me cry all over again. I couldn't explain to her, to my mother-in-law or my sister. I couldn't even explain it to myself until later that night.
I wept with joy at the sight of girls and young women in the theater and on stage, shameless, laughing, defending and supporting one another. I cried for the generations of women, in my family and others, who did not, could not imagine such things. I sobbed for my child and those women like her whose bodies betray them, who must fight so very hard for so very long to find some sense of peace.
And because I see the world through the lens of my daughter's life, because I've spent the last two years writing her story, connecting with other trans women and girls, I wept for the silence in the space where another monologue should have been. I envisioned it later that night, heard it in the voice of my friend Ari and knew instinctively that its title should be “My Shiny New Vagina”.
Eight years ago, Ari came into my office and announced, “I'm having a vagina party this weekend.” She'd been out for two weeks on medical leave but, looked no worse for wear, a slender 5'9” with Linda Hamilton biceps and little plum breasts. Her clothes had more weight than her bones: combat boots, vintage Ramones tee, a bulky leather jacket and dangerous shoes.
“Jesús is making a vagina cake, vanilla and strawberry,” she said, dropping into the chair across from my desk and slowly crossing and then re-crossing her legs. Ari was so smitten with her vagina in those first couple of weeks that she carried Polaroids in her purse, offering a peak to any friend who showed the slightest curiosity.
“What’s the fun in having a shiny new vagina if you can’t show it off?” she asked, studying me in that peculiar way she has, making me feel instantly insecure. I didn't end up going to the party, in part because I couldn't find the right gift, but mostly because I felt like the dumpy older sister with her dowdy old vagina.
In 2007, Ari slipped off into the straight world without looking back. I don't think her reticence to talk about her transition comes from shame or embarrassment, so much as she sees it as part of her past and prefers to live in the now, looking forward. Still, I'm tempted to call her up and ask if she wants to write a piece for me.
As it turns out, later versions of The Vagina Monologues (though not the one I saw) have included pieces from trans women and there have been entire productions performed by trans women and a documentary film “Beautiful Daughters” which captured the first all-trans reading of the monologues. So if my friend Ari doesn't want to write or perform “My Shiny New Vagina” that'll be ok.
If Ari wants to distance herself from the kind of ignorance and cruelty that pervades our culture, who could blame her? She's earned the right to disappear. At the same time, it's outspoken trans people, allies and activists who are changing hearts and minds, making the world little by little a safer place for their transgender brothers and sisters.
I can't help but wonder which path my daughter Alice would have taken. Would she have slip quietly into the straight world like Ari or used that big mouth of hers to fight for the rights of girls like her? Of course you know which one I hoped for but I wouldn't have begrudged her the other.
[cross-posted at Laurustina.com]