“So “” I’m gonna talk about periods for a little bit.”
If you stepped into the Fiesta room on Monday night, you might have heard Emily Bourgeois speaking those words from a raised platform. You would have probably noticed the large crowd of women wearing lavender shirts, sitting cross-legged on that same stage. And you would have definitely heard the monologues that followed, which discussed periods “” and a whole lot more.
The Vagina Monologues premiered Off-Broadway in 1996, and have since expanded into an international celebration. Every year, the rights to perform the monologues are granted to any organization that donates their proceeds to a group working to end violence against women, and Trinity has been home to the tradition for years. Directors Elizabeth Metzger and Katie Farrell highlighted how underrated the cost of feminine care is.
“People don’t talk about how expensive pads and tampons are, and how people can’t afford them,” Metzger said, “If you’re homeless, it’s next to impossible to stay clean. People use rags and toilet paper. It’s terrible.”
This year, proceeds went to a number of different charities, including the Rape Crisis Center, Camions of Care, Haven of Hope and The Bra Recycler. The cast collected bras, boxes of pads and tampons and over a thousand dollars in donations and ticket sales. “The charity aspect made this feel really worthwhile,” said monologist Julia Palmer.
The monologues are based on 200 interviews conducted with women, and the pieces vary wildly in subject matter and tone. Some are humorous, celebrations women’s experience of love, sex, coming-of-age and mastubation, while the more serious monologues intend to raise awareness of women’s issues like rape and genital mutilation to listeners.
For some of performers, talking about vaginas came easily. “Every woman has a vagina. I don’t understand why we can’t talk about it,” senior performer Faith Byrne said. “Vaginas are cool. Vaginas are awesome. People shouldn’t be scared of them.”
Repeat monologist Hannah Rusher echoed Byrne: “being a woman, you care. This is your body. This are the issues you face. It was easy to speak about it, because it was never something to be ashamed of when I was growing up.”
Discussing lady-bits onstage was far beyond some of the performer’s comfort zones. First-year Julia Palmer had a chance to perform in the monologues once before, but she opted not to. “I have a vagina, and I don’t necessarily like talking about it,” Palmer said. “Even while we were up there, seeing people file in, I thought, “˜I don’t want this many people knowing I have a vagina.'”
Monologist Kerry Madden put it clearly: “It’s weird to talk about your period.”
For them, it was a mind-expanding exercise. “I saw it as a way to be really okay with myself, and all the parts of being a woman,” said Palmer. Director Elizabeth Metzger made some self-discoveries, too. “I was probably not comfortable saying vagina or cunt. I didn’t know that about myself,” Metzger said. “Now I say it on the daily, I use it in every conversation.”
Monologists pointed to female family members as key to their understanding of female sexuality.
“Growing up, I wish that me and my mom talked more about this kind of thing,” said first-year monologist Kerry Madden. “I wish I had more of a comfortable space to talk about being a woman, and my vagina.”
In the same vein, Jocelyn Suarez learned a few practical things while preparing for the monologues “In my house, using tampons isn’t a thing. You had to use pads,” Suarez said. “When we did the monologues, a girl taught me how to use a tampon because I did not know. I’m 19.”
Performers described the experience of the monologues as equally important important to as the content of the pieces themselves. “We were all in this room together, doing this beautiful thing, talking about vaginas,” Sarah Bastos said. “It emphasized the idea of female unity.”
Fellow monologist Madeline Rhew agreed saying, “I was proud to stand in solidarity with all the women onstage. It felt good to look up at whoever was performing, and give them my energy and support.”
The performers rehearsed the monologues under the direction of Metzger and Farrell. “It was the first time that we were hearing it all together, so we were experiencing it with the audience,” Palmer said. “It made me enjoy the fact that I’m a woman. Being up there, with all these girls, talking and laughing.”
There were issues of representation that came up in preparation for the monologues. One piece was meant to be read by a woman of color, while a different monologue discusses the experience of trans women.
Director Elizabeth Metzger was worried that the casting would not adequately represent every aspect of the monologues, but faculty adviser Amy Stone assured her that it is a relatively common problem.
“At the end of the day it was about letting that voice be heard. It’s better for that voice to be there than for us to cut it,” Metzger said. In regards to the monologue on transwomen, Jocelyn Suarez said, “It gave the idea that any of them could be trans. The face of trans is not one specific type of person.” The monologues offer the rare opportunity to publicly discuss women’s issues without restrictions or apologies “” only humor and honesty. For men, it’s an opportunity to get an education. “A lot of men don’t understand vaginas in general,” says Byrne, “I think everyone should be included and involved in the conversation.”
Julia Palmer grinned widely when the topic came up: “men’s role in the monologues is to shut up and listen.”
The message of the monologues is profound. “It’s really not about your vagina, it’s about how you feel, and how you wanna be treated in this world,” said Metzger, “it’s about how you see yourself and other people see you, how you give and share love.” If you have the chance to perform in it, the experience can be transformative.
“It made me feel proud. I’m part of this special club that has a vagina,” Palmer said. “It made me really like myself more.”
It’s our responsibility to listen and educate ourselves, in order to better understand the vast, complex tapestry that is the female experience “” all of our happiness depends on it.