Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lies about Transgender People and the Vagina Monologues

This is one in a series of essays exposing falsehoods forwarded by feminists who are suspicious of or antagonistic toward transgender people. This series includes Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments and my forthcoming essay Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths. If you appreciate this work, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

These days, almost every anti-transgender hit-piece written from a feminist perspective will mention an incident that occurred in 2015, in which Mount Holyoke College canceled a scheduled performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues for not being inclusive of transgender people. By citing this instance out of context, these writers attempt to assert or imply that:

1) all trans people must want to censor The Vagina Monologues.
2) more sinisterly, trans people are trying to stop women from talking about their vaginas.
3) this is yet another example of why feminism and trans activism are inherently incompatible.

However, this framing purposefully ignores two crucial factors.

First, trans people (like all people) have very diverse views about the play. It is true that some trans people do not like The Vagina Monologues, or consider it to be trans-exclusive. However, many trans people do appreciate the play, and some of us have performed in it. (That link takes you to an article by trans writer Meredith Talusan talking about her experiences performing in the play; it is one of the first search results that comes up if you google “Vagina Monologues transgender”).

an excerpt from "Deconstructive Surgery,"
from my book Whipping Girl
In 2004, I was invited to perform a “rogue monologue” (i.e., one written by me, not Ensler) for a UC Berkeley performance of The Vagina Monologues. That piece, entitled “Deconstructive Surgery,” would later end up being a chapter in my first book Whipping Girl (as shown in the accompanying image).

Also in 2004, Eve Ensler added a new trans woman monologue called “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy...Or So They Tried”—if you click on that link, you will find plenty of videos of trans students at various colleges performing the piece. In fact, the piece was debuted in the first ever all-transgender cast performance of the play that same year. 

The fact that anti-trans feminists who cite the Mount Holyoke College incident never bother to mention any of these facts demonstrates that they are purposefully showing only one side of the story in an attempt to smear trans people as “anti-woman” or “anti-feminist.”

So anyway, trans people have a diversity of views on The Vagina Monologues. Which brings me to my second point: so do cisgender people. If you google “Vagina Monologues critics,” you will find numerous criticisms that have nothing to do with trans-inclusion. A common criticism is its general lack of diversity. Many women of color have objected to the fact that “depictions of sexual violence are told through mostly non-white and non-US centered stories” (quote from the Wikipedia page linked to above). Sex-positive feminists have critiqued the play for being sex-negative and for largely ignoring the clitoris. Queer women have pointed out that the one lesbian monologue basically depicts statutory rape. Not to mention the fact that many cisgender women oppose the play for conservative or religious reasons.

Once again, none of this is ever mentioned in the aforementioned anti-trans feminist hit-pieces, demonstrating that the women who pen these articles are insincere and willing to blatantly distort the facts on the matter in order to malign us.

The Vagina Monologues was first performed in 1996, and as with all artistic endeavors, elements of it are likely to appear outdated or problematic over time. I believe that we can acknowledge that the play was (and still is) revelatory to many women, while also recognizing that, like all art and activism, it was largely a product of its time.

Finally, I have never once met a trans person who was against women speaking openly about their bodies or their vaginas. So if you are a woman who wishes to do this, then by all means, talk away! All that we ask is that, if you do talk about vaginas, please don't presume that all women have one, and that all men do not.

[note: This piece started out as a Twitter essay, which you can read here. If you appreciate this post and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]