Intersex Activists Respond to "The Vagina Monologues"

Classification: News

ISNA Kicks Off National Initiative to Educate Playgoers

January 7, 2002

For more information, contact:

Emi Koyama

Program Assistant, Intersex Society of North America

Community Board Chair, Survivor Project

Web: http://www.isna.org/events/vday

Email: emi@isna.org (preferred)

Voicemail: (503) 288-3191 [Survivor Project]

Today, Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) kicks off V-Day
Challenge 2002, a national initiative that will respond to and
coincide (although not officially affiliated) with V-Day 2002 College
Campaign. Founded by the playwright Eve Ensler, V-Day plans to
produce her popular play "The Vagina Monologues" at approximately
500 colleges and universities across the country this February.
Members of the intersex community feel that, while the play is
mostly funny, insightful and empowering, some portions of it is
very hurtful to intersex people.

In particular, the play includes a "monologue" about a "wonderful
vagina fairy tale," which involves a woman who was born without a
vagina. Apparently in an attempt to consol his daughter, the father
of this woman declares: "We're gonna get you the best homemade pussy
in America. And when you meet your husband he's gonna know we had it
made specially for him." Aside from the fact that the idea that
women's bodies need to be modified in order to make them desirable
to their husbands is misogynist, there is a wide disparities between
how the play depicts the genital cuttings in this scene (intersex
genital mutilation) and the genital cuttings in Africa (female
genital mutilation).

The condition in which a vagina is missing is known as MRKH or
vaginal agenesis, and is a type of intersex condition occurring in
approximately one in 5000 female births. Currently, the standard
protocol for treating intersex conditions, including MRKH, is to
surgically alter the appearance of the genitals so as to make them
resemble "normal" genitals, often while the patient is too young to
understand what is being done to them or to be able to make an
informed consent. In the recent years, there is a growing movement
by intersex people and some medical professionals to replace this
concealment-based medical protocol with the patient-centered one
that offers psychological and social interventions and honors
honesty and true informed consent.

Esther Morris, a woman with MRKH and the founder of MRKH.org,
states: "Being born without a vagina was not my problem. Having to
get one was the real problem... I want people to understand that
doing the right thing often does more harm than good. The standard
of normal that we aim for is imaginary. We alter women's bodies when
attitudes need adjusting... Women shouldn't have to endure emotional
and physical pain to perform one sexual act when so many options are
available... Identity shouldn't be centered around body parts -
missing, constructed, or removed..." ("The Missing Vagina
Monologue," March 2001 issue of Sojourner).

"Last year I went to see this play at a local university on V-Day,"
says Emi Koyama, the Program Assistant for Intersex Society of North
America. "As a long-time anti-domestic violence activist, I was
happy that this play was raising awareness about the extent of the
violence against women. But when I saw how the play trivialized my
own pain and turned it into a joke, I felt deeply hurt and upset.
The hardest part was how the roomful of audience laughed
hysterically to that part, and then after the play I had to walk
past many women I knew telling each other how empowered and
validated they felt. I didn't - I felt invalidated and silenced."

V-Day Challenge however is not a protest, says Koyama. "We felt that
it was not wise to protest the play or V-Day, because they also do
many good things. They empower women, raise awareness about the
violence against women, and contribute financially to organizations
that fight these violence." Instead, the Challenge will try to work
with local coordinators of V-Day College Campaign to use them as an
opportunity to raise awareness about the experiences of intersex
people, and to build greater alliances between feminist
anti-violence activists and intersex activists. "V-Day is not just a
performance, but a movement - the global movement to stop violence
against women and girls," Koyama continues. "As such, it needs to
hold itself accountable for damages it causes, however unintentional
that may be."

Intersex Society of North America invites everyone - whether you are
a V-Day organizer, a feminist, a student, an intersex person, or an
intersex ally - to participate in the V-Day Challenge and to help
create an inclusive movement that will end violence against all
women, including women born with intersex conditions. For more
information about the Challenge, visit the V-Day Challenge web site
at http://www.isna.org/events/vday/ or contact Emi Koyama at
emi@isna.org (preferred) or 503-288-3191 (voicemail belonging to
Survivor Project, another small non-profit organization for which
Koyama is a board member).

As an example, production crews at Portland State University Women's
Resource Center have already made a commitment to support ISNA's
effort while putting on the play: they agreed to provide ISNA with a
table at the show, put ISNA's leaflet as an insert in the program,
and make ISNA's local project, Intersex Initiative Portland (which
has a specific focus on domestic and sexual violence) one of the
beneficiaries for the event. ISNA looks forward to working with other
organizations across the country who want to make their cities as
intersex-friendly as they are (or will become) vagina-friendly.


How the play depicts FGM

Female Genital mutilation has been inflicted on 80 to 100 million girls and young women. In countries where it is practiced, mostly in Africa, about two million youngsters a year can expect the knife-or the razor or a glass shard-to cut their clitoris or remove it altogether.

Short-term results include: tetanus, hemorrhages, cuts in the urethra, bladder, vaginal walls. Long-term: chronic uterine infection, increased agony and danger during child births, and early deaths.

How the play depicts IGM

Bet you didn't know, for example, that they love vaginas in Oklahoma City [...] a wonderful vagina fairy-tale occurred--that's a VFT [...]

One girl in Oklahoma told how she had been born without a vagina, and only realized it when she was fourteen. She was playing with her girlfriend. They compared their genitals and she realized hers was different, something was wrong. She went to the gynecologist with her father, the parent she was close to, and the doctor discovered that in fact she did not have a vagina or a uterus. Her father was heartbroken, trying to repress his tears and sadness, so his daughter would not feel bad. On the way home from the doctor, in a noble attempt to comfort her, he said, "Darlin'. We've got an interesting situation. You were born without a vagina. But the good news is we're gonna get you the best homemade pussy in America. And when you meet your husband he's gonna know we had it made specially for him."