Until the Violence Stops

vday

On Friday and Saturday night, I was alive, on fire, bawdy, emotional, and pulsing. I was onstage, performing in The Vagina Monologues for the first time in years. And let me tell you, it felt good. Nothing is more gratifying than those bright lights and the affirmation of a crowd, proof that you’re creating great art.

But Sunday morning, as I was scrolling through Facebook, a post from a fellow cast mate ripped through me like fire hot shrapnel. “Drag performer gunned down in New Orleans East.” That’s what the headline read. When I clicked on the article and read further, I learned that Chyna Doll Dupree, the woman who’d been murdered, was a member of the transgender community. She was shot at about 8:30 pm in front of a strip mall. “Neighbors said they heard eight to 10 gunshots.”

Eight to ten gunshots.

The tears came fast and ready, and I was unprepared. I fought to keep them at bay. They dripped down the back of my throat and tightened my vocal chords.

I wanted to scream.

Less than 12 hours earlier, I had performed “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy…or So They Tried,” Eve Ensler’s incredible monologue about the transgender experience. This piece documents one woman’s journey from her early childhood recognition of her true gender identity to trying to mask her gender identity to fit it, through a full transition and her joy of finally feeling complete…only to have her boyfriend killed in his sleep. His fatal crime? Loving someone who was “different.”

It’s a powerful monologue, and during each performance, it was hard for me to get through it. But I pushed and struggled through the difficult content, knowing that the piece is important and real and raw. I felt it was a step in the right direction, sharing this woman’s story.

Sunday morning, my feelings of celebration and advocacy dropped to the pavement, just as Chyna’s body had. We’d lost another of our own to senseless, stupid violence. Because of misplaced fear and intolerance. Because Chyna wanted to live her true life.

Chyna is the fifth transgender woman to be killed in 2017. It isn’t even March.

Chyna’s death was a sobering reminder of why The Vagina Monologues are performed every year. Survivors (and those who love them), advocates, activists, actors, mothers, daughters, sisters, and more will annually take to the stage in an effort to end the cycle of emotional, sexual, and physical violence that so many women endure in the course of their lifetimes.

We’ll recite the monologues for your sister, who had a little too much to drink at a college party and woke up with a stranger on top of her.

We’ll recite the monologues for your mother, who has endured years and years of emotional abuse at the hands of the men in her family, her community, her life.

We’ll recite the monologues for your coworker who is considered dumb or promiscuous or “asking for it” because of what she wears.

We’ll recite the monologues for women who endure rape and violence as a systematic tactic of war.

We’ll recite the monologues for the scores of girls who are taught to be ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality.

We’ll recite the monologues for the amazing, strong women who birth new life into this crazy, wonderful world.

We’ll recite the monologues for Chyna Doll Dupree.

As for me, I will recite the monologues for every woman I know who has encountered abuse. Sadly, it’s not a short list.

Participating in The Vagina Monologues this year was an incredible experience. I made new friends, forged relationships with new Vagina Warriors (both male and female), had a brilliant time onstage, and helped InnerMission Productions raise more than $3,000 to benefit Think Dignity and Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.

And I’ll do it again next year…and the year after that…and the year after that.

I’ll do it for Chyna.

I’ll do it for you and the people you love.

I’ll do it prove I’m more than a statistic.

I’ll do it until the violence stops.

I Am Rising

Rising

1 in 3 women worldwide will experience sexual assault or violence during her lifetime. That means if you’re having dinner with three of your girl friends, there a good chance one of them has been assaulted. If you’re a guy, there’s a good chance your girlfriend, sister, mother, wife, or friend has been a victim (or will be). It’s a harrowing and frightening statistic.

There’s a reason we girls don’t walk by ourselves at night. Why we have to carry Mace. Why we take self defense classes – not for recreation, but for protection. Why we learn how to shoot a gun. Why we don’t accept drinks from people we don’t know at parties or bars. Why we ultimately live in fear.

It’s because of that statistic, the statistic that continues to grow more and more frightening. It used to be 1 in 4. Now it’s 1 in 3. There’s something incredibly wrong with that.

Enter Eve Ensler, activist and playwright extraordinaire–who also happens to be a statistic. Over the course of her career, Eve has shared that she was physically and sexually abused by her father as a child. As an adult, she decided to speak out and end the cycle. Using her talents for writing and activism, Eve wrote The Vagina Monologues, a play which is essentially a collection of stories (monologues) collected from interviews with women about their experiences with men, women, violence, and of course, their vaginas.

Vagina Monologues

The first production of The Vagina Monologues occurred in 1996 in a café basement in Greenwich Village, New York. Since then, the play has been translated into 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries.

In 1998, Eve started V-Day, a global movement aimed at stopping violence against women. On February 14 of each year, women worldwide take the stage to perform The Vagina Monologues, raising their voices against oppression and collecting funds that are distributed to domestic violence shelters, community-based anti-violence programs, and safe houses in countries where women are routinely mutilated or killed.

Last night, I raised my voice and performed in The Vagina Monologues for the very first time.

And it was brilliant.

Before the first show, I signed the wall of the Playhouse on the Park theater, claiming a spot in posterity for my performance.

Signing the wall

When it was time to begin, I had butterflies and the urge to pee, adrenaline coursing through my veins. The last time I was onstage was in high school as Maria in The Sound of Music. Now, I would be talking about vaginas. A logical progression, right?

As part of his welcome to the audience, our director, Joseph Benesh (who we lovingly called our “pussy herder” during rehearsals) asked who was seeing the play for the first time. At both the six o’clock show and the nine o’clock show, the majority of audience members were virgins, which made me so excited. These stories, this work is so important and I – we – would act as the conduit for information and education. I love knowing that people walked away from this show (hopefully) forever changed or enlightened. I also love knowing that proceeds from this show went to the Arizona Coalition Agaist Domestic Violence.

I performed “Reclaiming Cunt,” a poetic monologue that breaks down a word that is usually reprehensible to women and makes it sexy, and beautiful, and vibrant – fitting for a girl who studied poetry and linguistics in college. It ends with the performer (me) asking the audience to chant “cunt” with her. During my performance, I hopped down into the audience, urging everyone to chant with me, working the audience into a frenzy, and even high-fiving a man at one point.

And all of my castmates were brave, and funny, and poignant; whether speaking to hair, sexual domination, sexual awakening, or rape, they raised their voices and demanded to be heard.

The show ended with a reading of Eve Ensler’s newest monologue, which she wrote a few short weeks ago after returning from a trip to India. It is called “Rising,” chronicles the atrocies that occur against women everywhere, and then demands that they stop, that women rise to express themselves, and join the dance. This all feeds into Eve’s initiative for 2013 called One Billion Rising. The One Billion Rising website reads:

“1 in 3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
One billion women violated is an atrocity.
One billion women dancing is a revolution.
One V-Day’s 15th anniversary, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants our world to see collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.”

Yesterday, there were live streams from across the world of women dancing, celebrating, starting a revolution. Though they aren’t live because the event has passed, there are still videos on the webpage. They are beautiful, and wild, and inspiring.

After the final monologue and before our bow, we all rose, one at a time, and told the audience in our own words why we were rising. I said, “I am rising because no deserves to be a statistic.”

And that’s the truth, pure and simple. No one deserves to be a statistic. No one.

Last night was for me, for every woman who has been victimized, for every woman who has yet to find her voice. Most of all, it’s for every woman who has or will have the strength to rise.