During the intermission after the student-written portion of “The Vagina Monologues” on Friday night, I was walking through the audience to find my friends and ask them if they were enjoying the show. Along the way, I was stopped by a girl I didn’t know.
“That was amazing,” she said, “Thank you so much for producing this show.” I thanked her right back for the praise. As I walked away, she and her friend starting discussing “Beauty in Color,” a piece I casted and wrote with a Black girl (shout-out to Aaliyah Jihad at New York University) about white beauty standards affecting our love lives.
I still remember writing that poem. We were both still in high school, both had never had serious boyfriends, both still virgins. And yet, somehow we had stories. Men shouting about wanting “to fuck an Asian / Black girl like you.” Saying that we were pretty for an “Asian / Black girl.” Calling us “unique” and “different” because of our skin. Though we had barely ever spoken before, our stories poured out of us — of being left at school dances, in cars, abandoned for someone lighter, blonder, feeling insecure, inferior, ugly, undesirable, alone. And here, where we felt the most alone, we looked at each other, strangers at first, and realized we were not alone.
Stories are very important to me. They’re how we share and hold memories. They’re how we learn more about people. They can be passed down through time, keeping languages and traditions alive. They can make you cry. They can make you laugh. They can help you learn how to care about people and sympathize with a struggle that may not be your own. They can help you feel less alone.
I’ve been attending “The Vagina Monologues” since freshman year. The first year, I was in the crowd. While watching, I realized that I had lost my virginity before I even touched my vagina. It never occurred to me that the vaginal canal could be a space for me and not him. The second and third years, I was in the cast. When I performed “The Village,” a piece created from the stories of Bosnian women who were raped during the Bosnian War of the 1990s, I had difficulty connecting to the subject matter. I did not even know where Bosnia and Herzegovina was on a map, let alone know anything about war or assault or any theme covered in the piece. What made me learn empathy was realizing that the events discussed were not isolated to just that war. Learning about the Rape of Nanking in an Asian Studies course made me realize that I was naive to think that rape as a war tactic was unique. It’s disgusting, inhumane, painful, real and common. Maybe it’s dumb that I started to understand once the victim was Chinese. But with a familiar face, I started being able to imagine myself there. Learning that story is how I learned to sympathize.
And this year, I produced the show with Clare Fairbanks, an LS&A junior, as the director. I wanted to produce “The Vagina Monologues” because I wanted to change “The Vagina Monologues.” The show had been receiving criticism for being a cis-white-feminist show. I can’t really deny the accuracy of that statement. But I felt like there was something there to save. There is value in a name and a brand with draw and power. The year prior the director, Angelle Antoun, an LS&A senior, started to add student-written monologues to the show. These were the stories that I wanted to see on the stage. Real representation of who we are as a campus, in all our diversity, tragedy and comedy. Yes, I wanted there to be more racial diversity. Yes, I wanted more than one token trans piece. Yes, I probably rejected a lot of great, fantastic, white actresses who deserved parts to get the faces I wanted to see. I wanted people in the audience to be able to look up and feel like they were being heard when listening to someone else speak. The girl who complimented the show during intermission, she was Asian. I hope she liked “Beauty in Color” because she saw herself in the story and saw that people were fighting for her.
And oh my god, is fighting tiring. I cried six times in one day last week. I couldn’t stay in class. When asked, “Why do you think Asians do not appear as often in racial protests?” I replied, “Because it’s easier to ignore the pain than feel it when it’s not your own,” and ran out of the room. Honestly, I wish I didn’t feel as intensely as I feel. I wish I could look at a listicle trivializing the events in our pre-show on a University of Michigan-sponsored website and write off as a joke. Just a bad review. But it’s not about a bad review. It’s not just one dumb guy. It’s the fact that I’m well aware that all I did with all my time, the hours of rehearsal, casting, sourcing material, worry — was to put on one little show — a drop in a bucket. All I wanted was for people to listen. I forgot how people can sit their ass in a chair for two hours and hear every word but not listen at all. It’s the fact that I know the review probably won’t be removed, even though we were misquoted and he never asked us if he could use the words we wrote, even though we clearly stated that he had to. That the material was sensitive, private. That even when you do the best job you can and things go better than you thought they would, of course — of course — it’s never enough. That there are many people who think I’m crazy for being mad at all. That people think I’m crazy to think that anything would change. That I think I’m crazy sometimes that I even try. That you can watch someone telling you about something deeply personal, something the people closest to them may not know, just because they want to feel understood, just because they hope that hearing them will help you be understood, and you can still push them down. How can you look them in the eye and not feel something too? It’s the fact that there is so much fighting left to do.
I am so tired.
But I have to. But we have to. The pain must be felt and shared until it fucking stops. There must still be hope that one day it’ll stop, and that every little performance pushes us in that direction.
That is what “The Vagina Monologues” has taught me.