My recent blog post "Trans* Invisibility" lamented the ways in which trans* identities are often erased, both at the interpersonal level and in the media. Erasure of trans* identities is symptomatic of societal attitudes that often value individuality over community. This attitude often leads to fragmentation and isolation of groups, whether in religion, politics, gender, class, race, ability... the list goes on and on. Even marginalized communities may find it difficult to unite within their presumed "sameness," let alone with other marginalized groups which which they should be uniting to help end systemic oppression.
Now I want to honor a small yet very significant way in which people are building bridges across communities of identity at the local level. You may already know that Feb. 14 is celebrated in many countries around the world as Valentine's Day, but did you know that it's also the 15th anniversary of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls? "One Billion Rising" began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that one in three women worldwide will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. Winona State University's women's and gender studies department is marking this important movement with our 11th annual production of The Vagina Monologues.
In 2004 Eve Ensler published a new entry in The Vagina Monologues, "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy -- Or So They Tried." This piece honors the lived experiences of trans* women. It recognizes and abhors the violence that is routinely perpetrated against trans* women, especially against trans* women of color. This new piece has been performed in many productions of The Vagina Monologues since then, but its performance has also angered some people who claim vaginas as the sole province of "womyn-born womyn." Furthermore, many people find it impossible to accept trans* women as women if they have not had "bottom surgery."
I deeply regret the ways in which we as marginalized people so often build silos around our identities. We so often fail, even refuse, to build bridges that create community to advance the understanding, cooperation and unification that can ultimately enable us to rise up together to bring about true change in our society.
But I am also overjoyed to be a part of a small group of people at Winona State University who are committed to building those bridges, who are creating an environment where people can come together not only to be entertained but to be educated about what has heretofore been thought of as "difference." This year, for the first time, the co-directors of WSU's 11th annual production of The Vagina Monologues have included two original pieces, performed by their authors, following completion of the formal script. One of these two monologues tells the story of a "genderqueer" person who struggles with their relationship with their vagina, and the other tells the story of a non-op trans* woman who dearly wishes she had a vagina but cannot have bottom surgery.
The small community of people directly involved in the play is growing by leaps and bounds in acceptance and understanding of gender identity and expression. We are translating our camaraderie into a unity that we trust will bring about our audiences' growth in acceptance and understanding of "different" gender identities and expressions. And we hope that everyone who experiences the play will spread their knowledge to the wider communities with whom they come into contact. I thank my community of women at WSU who are building bridges to embrace and expand understanding.
Winona State University's tag line is "A Community of Learners Improving Our World." While community building around issues of social justice has not always been "lived out" in a pervasive way on our campus, it is certainly alive and is growing in momentum, thanks in part to the persistent work of people in groups such as those involved in the Vagina Monologues production and the student-led GLBTA Partnership. These brave people are committed to being authentic and building bridges instead of retreating into the safe confines of corners of their lives.