Sex + Dating

What I Learned From 5 Years as a 'Vagina Monologues' Actor

vagina monologues
Jennifer Garza Photography 

When someone first mentions The Vagina Monologues, you might automatically associate the idea of verbal vaginas with the movie Teeth. But the Monologues has nothing to do with eating or killing men. Dismantling patriarchy and ending gender-based violence? Yes. Murder and mayhem? Not so much.

In 2012, I attended The Vagina Monologues for the first time with no clue what it was or what to expect. Would women be naked? Would there be puppets? Is this legal? As a college senior, mainlining white wine and trying to graduate, I was intrigued.

The Monologues came from Eve Ensler’s exploration of women and their relationships with their vaginas. We all know the story of why women hate their vaginas: abstinence-only education, misogyny, rape culture, Drake songs... So Ensler set out to transform that self-loathing into discourse. She interviewed women from all over the world about themselves as women, but also about the personification of their vaginas: "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?"

The women discussed pubic hair, squirting, rape, transgender experiences, and sex work. The monologues became a chorus of relatability: women finally talking about a part of their body society has deemed unmentionable. Those conversations became the book that would birth the show I watched from a darkened theater seat. I was moved. So I joined the troupe. Having now been part of the Monologues for five years, I've learned three major things about myself.

1. My vagina is my village

When I was 18, I liked my vagina well enough, but not concretely. Then I was raped, three times within a year. After that, my vagina became a war zone:

My vagina. A live wet water village.
They invaded it. Butchered it and burned it down.
I do not touch now. Do not visit.
I live someplace else now.

I don't know where that is. -- "My Vagina Was My Village"

The Vagina Monologues taught me reclamation. Trauma follows us, stabbing and blinding us, keeping our bodies bleeding and broken. For me, trauma fractured me into two selves: one was normal and got good grades; the other was reckless and suicidal. And I made sure no one saw a problem. When I first heard "My Vagina Was My Village" performed in 2013, I bawled. On stage. The piece depicted how I felt: fractured, compartmentalized. Someone understood that experience. So maybe I didn't have to stay broken. Maybe I could be put back together.

2. My vagina changes

Moving from a fractured self to a whole self is a process, and the Monologues played a big role in that process (along with multiple therapists and prescriptions). So as a worshipper of The Vagina Monologues, I read it over and over, watched clips on YouTube, and heard its recitation almost daily for months on end in preparation for its performances. When you spend that much time with a text, noticing its flaws is inevitable.

Without a doubt, the Monologues is powerful. The performance provokes intense reactions: laughter, tears, distress, discomfort, even frustration. However, certain parts are a little behind the times. Many of the vagina names in the "intro" are unpronounceable, let alone recognizable, and others are simply offensive (referring to lesbians as "bulldaggers"). And of course, at times, the show borders on man-bashing:

I became a moaner. It made most men anxious. Frankly, it terrified them. I was loud and they couldn't concentrate on what they were doing. They'd lose focus. And they'd lose everything. -- "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy"

Most performances aren't revised and rereleased. However, Eve Ensler modifies the yearly production of the Monologues by writing a new "Spotlight" to conclude each show. She chooses which monologues are performed, and by including a new one each year, she has the power to revise the others. The pieces are meant to portray the voices of many women, not to demean men. In this sense, the Monologues has taught me the struggle for intersectionality and inclusion when it comes to speaking for an entire group. Being politically correct isn't the point. But maybe being modern is. Does anyone call a vagina a "poopelu" or a "piche"? Seriously.

3. My vagina is a warrior

Year in and year out, I see The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day organization do incredible things. People dance in the streets. Abusers are locked up. Laws change. The different monologues can trigger trauma, but they also trigger change and healing.

The heart is capable of sacrifice.
So is the vagina.
The heart is able to forgive and repair.
It can change its shape to let us in.
It can expand to let us out.
So can the vagina
. -- "I Was There in the Room"

The Vagina Monologues taught me the power of my vagina, metaphorically and literally. Healing starts from just being understood. And no, domestic violence won’t end with a group of women shouting "cunt!" at a frightened audience. But at least it'll make the fight a little less daunting. At least we’re not fighting alone.

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Monica Prince is a freelance writer and choreopoem creator who believes in vaginas as much as she believes in their ability to talk. Follow her for late-night musings: @poetic_moni.