March 6, 2013
Photo by Jaymee Metzenthin
They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy, or So They Tried. It is the title of the piece I have done each of the last five years in the Washburn University production of The Vagina Monologues. I am just home from the last performance of the 2013 production and there are so many thoughts and feelings surrounding and interwoven into the moment as I sit here at my computer. I try to capture some of truths and myths, joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, hopes and dreams, and realities; and how they have transitioned with me in each of the last five years.
This was my last performance, I believe. Next year, I will be working 40 hours a week and giving 16 hours a week to my practicum for my Bachelor of Social Work degree. I can’t imagine having the time or energy to do justice to the role that has been mine for so long. But I know that there will another lady, transgender or not, who steps into this role and takes it to places I could never take it. It is personal to me. The pains expressed in the piece are pains that I have known. The joys expressed in the piece are joys once imagined, but some of them only now come true. This year’s show was the only one in the five-year run where I could actually know the everything that comes from actually having a vagina – achieved 9 ½ months ago in Bangkok, Thailand.
The first time I was asked to do this piece in the play, I was just getting started sharing my journey and only beginning to discover that the pain of the past could be transformed into the hope for the future. When Sharon Sullivan asked me to think about it, I said that I would. Then I read the words that were written by Eve Ensler, which were inspired by interviews with a diverse group of transgender women. And I cried. Frightened, and having no sense of being an actress, it was impossible for me to say no. There was too much power and too much need. If that meant taking my frightened, inexperienced, shaky self onto the stage, then so be it.
I was not entirely without acting experience. When I was a junior in high school, the drama class performed the classic Huckleberry Finn. Of course, I wanted to be Becky, but that would have been impossible at the time. Impossible for me to find the courage. Impossible for me to convince anyone in the world that I was truly a girl. Impossible to even imagine. So, I inherited the part of Sydney. I did buy into the role, after a period of extreme dissatisfaction. I was able to pretend to be a boy. After all, I had been pretending to be a boy each day for all of my life.
When I stepped onto the stage in The Vagina Monologues, I was no longer pretending. I was simply sharing the realities of life for many transgender people. The part, which was ironically included in what they called a play, was the first, most amazing, entirely public not-play acting I had ever done. The envelope of insecurity that had shrouded my life was not pushed. The envelope was destroyed. Ripped to pieces. Tossed into the trash in the same manner as society sometimes still tosses transgender people into the trash.
As I dropped the pieces of the shredded envelope into the symbolic trash can, I vowed that I would never be placed there again. It is unfortunately not a vow that being transgender allows you to keep. But the vow adjusts to the horrific realities of transgender life in America and is reborn into a reality that can be accomplished. If society places me into life’s trash can, I will never stand silent, and I will never stay there. I will rise again and again, however many times it takes, and I will tell the world that my spirit will not be broken.
The second and third times I was allowed to participate in this miraculous event, I had begun to find my feet as a transgender educator and activist. The fear of placing myself at the mercy of an audience had become the knowledge that I could make a difference. It became the knowledge that the performing of the play declared my womanhood with a voice far greater than mine. With the voices of the thousands of productions of The Vagina Monologues throughout the world. It became the unquestionable proof that violence against transgender women is violence against women – this fact in no way contested by the fact that I did not have a vagina.
In the 2012 production, I was a mere 90 days from the birth of my vagina, and the words were joyously more personal than ever before. The ladies of the cast and crew presented me with a button at the end of the production. The button said Proud Owner of a Vagina. I packed it carefully with the things I took to Bangkok not long after the play had ended for that year. My sister-friend Jaymee placed the button on my sheet and took a photo for me when I awakened from my surgery.
Tonight, I listened to the young ladies talking in the dressing room before the show. Thinking about – in a good way – what I might have been like as a 20-year-old woman. Seeing glimpses of a me that didn’t get to be, and smiling. I have more new life-long friends, and more reverence for what it means to be a woman. I have long ago lost any fear of people who try to place people like me in the trash. And tonight, when I spoke the words from the play, It’s like when you’re trying to sleep, and there’s a really loud car alarm. When I got my vagina – I was only barely able to finish the line – someone finally turned it off.
Stephanie Mott is a transsexual woman from Topeka, Kansas and a nationally known speaker on transgender issues. In addition, Stephanie is the executive director of Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project and Topeka Chapter Chair/Kansas State Chair of Kansas Equality Coalition. She can be reached at email@example.com