Feel free to check out my latest articles online via Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Hope Inside Love: Published Work
Feel free to check out my latest articles online via Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Hope Inside Love: Published Work
They say the first impression is everything.
But what about
The first kiss?
Your first kiss, a couple’s first kiss, a kiss between strangers…
You can tell a lot about a person from the way they taste
And how they taste you.
As his flesh met her melanin and bones, she couldn’t help but repeat a two letter sentence over and over in her mind. It was the sentence she’d commanded only a minute before.
But he had’t understood.
Such an oddity to her. As she knew the degree of simplicity the singular syllable word held – a word that so many children before her and after her would have ease muttering and understanding.
But he hadn’t understood.
And as they met for the first time inside her core where even she hadn’t ventured to alone, she pressed her eyelids so tightly light danced against the backdrop of blackness behind them. Pain scratched at her throat, tears burned her eyes. They slipped down and past the curve of her lips so she could taste the salt while another no barreled out of her mouth and into the atmosphere of betrayal.
Why hadn’t he understood? She said no.
In the next year, I will be working on a feature-length documentary chronicling the lives of female undergraduates. In preparation, my good friend Annelise Hagar, an executive Board Member of the Organization of Latin American Affairs and Creative Director/Actress in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s production of the Vagina Monologues, sat down with me to answer some of my questions on womanhood, feminism, sexuality and more.
Jasmine: As women we are often not celebrated for our convictions or beliefs. When we enforce our beliefs, we’re commonly told ‘Oh she’s just being too assertive.’ I think it’s important that we, especially as college women coming into our own identities, celebrate our beliefs. So, what was your earliest conviction?
Annelise: The first thing that comes to mind is my mom…My mom really emphasized being myself all the time. I went to an all-girls school for junior high and high school and I just felt very comfortable there and very much in my own skin. [I also felt] strong because I didn’t have additional pressures of being something else. By the time I came to college I was so set in my ways that having men around didn’t bother me which I think would’ve been different had I gone to high school with guys. Being who you are has been really important to me as an individual and as a woman in general. I do identify myself as being quirky and different and I got more comfortable with the idea of being weird but not even weird just being unique and different and not mainstream. It was something that was really hard to accept when I was in elementary school where if you’re weird and different it’s the hardest thing. As I got older I learned to embrace it about myself and make it a positive. I was really fortunate that I had a strong peson in my life like my mom telling me the whole time you’re different, you’re unique, you’re special but that’s okay. I feel like that’s something that a lot of people struggle with but also in particular women in certain regards. I realized that I started to get really comfortable with that idea during high school and towards the end in college. It was a challenge again being in a new place, but I feel much more secure. Everyday, I get more and more secure with being me which is really cool. I feel like everyone should be comfortable with being themselves but no one is. That was one of my strongest convictions as a person and as a female and getting that from my mom who’s also very strong in her way [was great]. So, just be yourself. I worked so hard to improve and I am still improving every day.
Jasmine: As a person who happens to be a woman, and I phrased it that way because I feel like a lot of times when we talk about feminism and what it really means, we forget it really is just that believing that the sexes are equal. And people forget that women are people first and then the issue of being female comes up. So as a person who happens to be a woman, what has been your greatest challenge and how do you feel like you’ve triumphed or struggled in that challenge?
Annelise: It does point out to your fact really well because we are all humans. We are all individuals yet we have all these other labels and categories that we throw onto ourselves: being a woman, a man, a student, a girlfriend. I guess the challenge there would be to hone in on what you are essentially as a person. You have so many pressures around you to be something different, but how do you find the middle ground? How do you grow based off the positive things that you see around you and want to change about yourself versus not being affected by what everyone else tells you have to be? Personally, body image was always a big one. I was, well I’m still overweight. Yes, [laughs] I was a chubster, but that was something when I was younger that was really hard for me. [It was hard] being heavier than most people my age, not fitting into clothes, being too short for adult sizes, but being too wide for adult sizes, convincing myself it was all my fault. [But] my mom told me that it’s not just me, it’s a combination of society and the fact that cloths are made a certain way. Then people are telling me I have to be skinnier than I am [was contradicted with] not wanting to get down to a weight that is disgustingly thin. But, I got to a place where I’m healthy and happy which was really challenging. Being satisfied with your visual is so hard. If you ever just stop and think about how people look at you when you feel like you’re a disaster [you to remember] they’re not judging you for the details and the small things. Like, I’m worried about how some guy I think is cute sees me and he tells me he thinks that I’m attractive and then I think ‘how can he think I’m attractive, I’m not this, I’m not that. I have to stop and realize that there’s something from his perspective that he likes and that’s not going to change from one day to the next. People see me how they want and I don’t need to over think everything. Just let it be. It sound so cliché but it’s so relevant that it becomes cliché.
Jasmine: Can you identify a woman in your personal life or in the media who is a hero ofher own story? What makes her the hero of her story and how is her story told in relation to a woman who doesn’t have a full portrait of herself painted in the media?
Annelise: It’s a little archaic but there is a female poet who is from Spain and she was a nun. Her name is Sor. Juana Inez de la Cruz. I remember when I learned about her. I was ecstatic because I thought she was this brilliant poet. Basically, she was this child prodigy and had all this knowledge and wisdom from little experience and wrote poems about the contradictions of male expectations of women. Like how at her time, men accused women of certain things. She;s writing a long time ago, but I just felt she ended up going to become a nun because that was the only way she could get an education. In the convent she could write and learn and could speak several languages. In addition to that she had these incredible poems. When I hear of historical figures like that who were so beyond their years it means a lot to me because we have advance a lot with women’s rights and individual development, but the people that I feel like surpassed their times are the ones that are most inspirational. Besides from being a brilliant writer, she was just so knowledgeable. She was incredible and she pretty much took her life into her hands and decided to go into a system that would allow her to advance herself. She’s always been someone that I admire and enjoy reading about when I come across her.
Jasmine: Why do you think Boston College woman undergraduates, or college women in general, have a reported lower self-esteem upon graduating than when they entered college? Has this been true for you? Why? How?
Annelise: Having been here for four years I do see the kind of pressure people get here. I’ve heard people think that it has to do with male expectation, but I’ve also heard people say that a lot of it has to do with female expectations. You do spend enough time with groups of people who think a certain way and that does rub off on you. And I feel like I have met certain girls here that are concerned with how they look, how they act, what they say, what they don’t say. I’m always confused by the fact that some girls really dumb themselves down around guys when I know they’re brilliant. In terms of why, I want to say that it’s just become part of the culture and that it has become a bubble of influences. The culture just got perpetuated within the bubble and it’s not just a part of being here. How do you rectify that? But I think it’s partially due to the influences we have on one another within girlfriend groups because we really do listen to each other more than we realize we do. It’s good and bad. Interactions with men here or boys, whatever you want to call them, are not usually positive. Having good, positive relationships with the opposite sex or with the gender of interest really does make you feel better about yourself, even if that just means having a really awesome group of guy friends. I don’t feel that happens as often as it should here. I’ve met a lot of people who don’t. Culture influences from home play a role as well. I meet a lot of people who are coming from backgrounds different from mine and feel pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way. That kind of gets heightened when you’re here. I think it’s some kind of evil combination of everything. But those are some of the major ones.
Jasmine: “Feminist.” What are the first words that come to mind upon hearing this word?
Annelise: Radical. I think that radical always pops into my head because I always meet people who have negative perceptions of feminists. I use to define myself easily as a feminist and then took a course in it and realized that I have a very unique or different approach to it. What was labeled in class as a socialist feminist which basically means that I identify feminism as an additional social issue that needs to be addressed but I don’t necessarily think it’s the end all be all. I don’t think that’s the only problem we’re facing. It’s more than that. French is typically associated with radical feminism but I’m more of a fan of socialist feminism. I do think that feminism is very relevant to the countries that you’re in. that was one of the big things that turned me off to western feminism, this typical US getting too involved in other countries politics. Why should women in the Middle East wear veils? Are they oppressed? Being someone who’s traveled to the Middle East and has had conversations with women who have the option of wearing veils who are Muslim, I have a very different insight on it. Within countries that people are in if the U.S.A needs to assist, let them be asked not jumping in.
Jasmine: What brings you joy in your bleakest moment?
Annelise: Good music. Always. And support from friends. Good music always makes me feel good. Chocolate is a good physical remedy. And talking to a friend and having them genuinely hear you out. Reminding you that you are a smart person who will figure it out once the issue is resolved. I have people who love me and care about me and that is such a blessing. I think that’s very uplifting.
Jasmine: What issues can you identify as being the most plaguing for women of the age 18-24 bracket? Have these issues affected you in your personal life? How?
Annelise: This pressure to be in relationships or dating causes a lot of problems. Self-esteem problems, social problems. Women should be comfortable without it but also open to it to have the best advantage, I feel. I finally got to a good place with it. I don’t know why that’s such a big thing. It’s just like, why don’t you have a boyfriend, why aren’t you dating? Why haven’t you met anybody? Pressure to succeed in an academic setting. They tell you that the further you go up in academics, the less women there are. I think that women our age need to trust their achievements more and go for it and not worry so much about negative outcomes. Focus on the positive outcomes. And pursue things that will make them happy whether that be a career, a family, etc. Just follow through and do your best not to be affected by other people’s opinions. Sexuality is another thing, You know this because you’ve worked with me in the Vagina Monologues but I’m a big advocate for being okay with yourself and open and honest with yourself with regards to sexuality. It is so accepted for men, if a guy doesn’t do that [sex, masturbation, etc] what’s wrong with him. Guys aren’t judging girls. But girls judge each other so much and they judge themselves even worse. That’s the benefit of being an open person or having different perspectives. I really think it’s an issue because no one talks about it. That’s why I think doing vagina monologues is important because you start having these conversations with small groups and then you start hoping they’ll start having conversations with larger groups. It’s a chain of reactions. Be comfortable and open with your sexuality. If you feel like you’re hypersexual that’s okay too. Accept that it’s a part of who you are, that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t have to be an end all be all. You’re not a horrible person if you’re a sexual person. It’s just another facet of who you are. These are what I feel are problems for the 18-24 age bracket. You have a better chance of rethinking things at 18-24 than trying to fix it later. So much of an issue that people don’t know it’s an issue. It is a part of who we are and it is human nature.And also, women being called whores. Who has the right to define what a whore is and what a slut is? You have to choose these words carefully because they really have an impact. I consider myself to be very open and maybe more sexual than a lot of people I meet. And on some level, I could be like ‘crap what’s wrong with me but that’s not a healthy attitude. There’s nothing wrong with me. What I do with it is really what’s important. When a guy sleeps with a lot of women he’s hot stuff. When a girl sleeps with a lot of men, she’s a problem. The best way to combat that is to have conversations about it and really know yourself and be able to clearly express who you are. I feel like you can put a person down for that and they won’t fight back. They’re not going to turn around and say actually ‘yeah I do like sex and I’m okay with that’ because people don’t stand up for themselves. I feel like I could give a whole lecture on that. I’d love to have a talk on this but I don’t think BC would like that.
Jasmine: Tell me about a time when it all changed. ‘All ‘and ‘change’ means anything or everything.
Annelise: I think a big change for me, and I hate making it about men, but he actually was big deal in my life, was my first boyfriend and meeting him and having a very decently mature long- term relationship. Before I had met him, I had a romantic relationship with someone else but I wasn’t treated well. By the time I met my ex, I was kind of confused about what female and male relationships were and didn’t think that I liked men. I was also a very typical ‘ra ra’ feminist at the time. But then he really changed my perspective on a lot of things. Romantically, he showed me relationships do exist and that they’re not perfect but that you have to work on them with honesty and communication. It is so important to life. He taught me about myself and my interactions with others. He brought me down because I was too optimistic all the time and he made me realize the world is not as easy as it could be. He showed me insight into other things I never dealt with. He helped me to work on my patience. He encouraged me to do what I wanted and be happy. He also became a big change because I learned about being independent. I didn’t let him decide my life and I didn’t plan my life around him. When it came down to go to college, he wanted to go to a school in NY just so he could be close to me and I said no. It was one of the most heavily filled decisions I had ever made because I realized then that I was not at a point in my life to make changes for someone else, that I needed to make a path for myself first. And I didn’t want to have someone in my life that was going to put me as their number one because I do not think that’s fair. At some point when I’m older, I’ll want someone but, right now, that’s not what I want. So that’s what I was dealing with. Being interdependent, going to college with a lot of baggage that ended a relationship that lasted for so long. It was a big challenge but it taught me so much. I learned to be strong again and I learned to do my own thing no matter what. Learning to be single again made me feel so much stronger and in my own about life and about men. I’m really happy that it led to something positive. He was undocumented from Mexico so he had a lot of struggles going on that I ended up being apart of when it ended so it felt like a part of me had gone when we ended things. It was definitely loaded and heavy but I’m a large part of who I am because of him and because of his lack of presence in my life. I feel like I reclaimed myself and who I am and I don’t feel like it’s something I’ll misplace again.
Jasmine: Is there anything else you feel is important to your story?
Annelise: I’m a person that is very affected by the people she meets. I like hearing people’s stories. It helps me be able to shape myself as a person. Like figuring out if I’m a feminist or not. Learning how to define and explain my beliefs. Helping other girls become more comfortable in their skin and being able to first help myself. Pure actual happiness comes from having balance and inner-peace. One of the mantras Buddhism has is “you wish for them to be free from other suffering and then you wish for you to help them be freed from their suffering.” Help them be free, then you wish for them to obtain everlasting peace. If you know you’re someone who’s confident in a certain way, give it back. If you know there’s parts of you that you need to work on, then find people who can help you and bring that out in you. There are so many people who need it, who need to talk about things and figure it out. You need to be solid and help yourselves first before you can help others. That’s not to say you need to be perfect. I know there so many things about my life that I’m working on but there’s a good place to start. I know who I can go to talk about these things and ask for advice. I know there would be at least one sentence in what they tell me that will change my life. That speaks to the power of people’s words and experiences. You never know when what you say affects someone or who it’s going to effect.
“Your hair is your beauty,” she frequently reminded us. I’d always thought that was easy for my great-grandmother, affectionately called Mama, to say. She’d had long, thick, flowing locks that created an available path for her brown and black children to run their fingers through. It was a shame she kept it bundle up in contraptions later in her life, it graying at the root. Hair like that deserved to gracefully fall at her slender shoulders. Hair like that was her beauty.
I’d decided hair like mine would need a bit more wear and tear. Kinky, nappy, curly, black then brown, unruly and the one characteristic I had in common with Mama’s hair, thick, my hair was not my beauty. There was no gracefully falling at my rather broad shoulders for my small-packaged body. There was however, pulling, a lot of pulling. And tears, more then I’d like to count. There was also grease, pins, heat, chemicals, burns, slaps…well, more on that later.
Instead, I should start from the root, pun intended. My life and so many other women’s lives can be told through the history of their past hairstyles. Hairstyles, some for the boys, some for my parents, some for myself, some wacky, some practical, were my essence if not at first my beauty. As an African-American, my childhood was a series of braided hairstyles, some simple, some in the most intricate designs.
Ages three through six found me with plaited twists atop my head that traveled down my neck. Dangling from the ends was plastic neon colored barrettes that kept the ends together. And wound around the root of the plait were bright colored bobbles. You don’t know true pain until your Nana or Mom has wrestled you into them doing your uneasy to manage hair. They pull at your hair with such an unwelcomed force and blame you for being “tender-headed.” True pain: when they have finished tying the bobbles around the breads to hold them in place and snap the plastic rounded decoration decorating the elastic against you scalp. Ouch! But if beauty is pain and your hair must be your beauty, then, why not, right?
At age nine, I walked into the black-owned hair salon close to my home and walked out a seemingly new person. Bright and bubbly to passerby who’d complimented me on my newest hairstyle, the braids, called cornrows, threaded across my scalp were intricate curly clues. Cascading off my head and reaching the midway point of my neck, the braids were adorned with navy blue colored beads that rattled when I moved in jubilation. I sported the hairstyle to school, and eagerly welcomed praise from teachers and curiosity from non-African American students unfamiliar with braids. The resident class clown caught me approaching my Mom after regular 8:00-3 :00 (hey, being a student is a full time job) and asked me one of the funniest questions I’ve received in all my nine years at the time. “Did they nail that diamond into your head?” Wait, what? I laughed as my hand traveled to the decorative cubic zirconium nestled in between a circular braid on the top of my head. It was attached to my hair through a Velcro base, but I’d never considered it being out of the ordinary or that others would think I had a real diamond embedded in my skull. I assured him I wasn’t about to pass out from the shock of a diamond being partially implanted in my head, my mom, Raymond, and I shared a good laugh and the Velcro encrusted cubic zirconium was the last of my experimenting years for a while.
The age of thirteen brought an unadulterated sense of wanting to be mature and wanting to look like the successful black and brown people on my television screen. Also, I was just physically exhausted from the pushing and pulling, and wearing and tearing that my natural hair textured had endured over the years. So I sat my mom down and broke the news to her. “I want to get my hair permed.” She didn’t take to the news too well at first. Having your hair permed for African-Americans means to have it chemically straightened. The process can sometimes be painful for you or harmful to your hair, but above all, she was hesitant on what it would mean for my development. Was I trying to grow up too fast? Did I not think my natural hair was beautiful? Maybe. But, she conceded. As almost a right of passage, I received my first perm in the basement of a friend of a friend whose business was up and coming. I couldn’t remember a time when I felt more beautiful. Maybe my hair could be my beauty after all, I remember thinking.
At age seventeen after four years of perming my natural hair complimented by a simple side swept bang, I tried my luck once more at an experimenting style. Mom always meant well, but she could be very controlling about my looks. Well, she was really only controlling about my hairstyles while shooting down any hopes of me ever getting a tattoo or nose piercing. I told her getting blunt bangs to go across my forehead would give me an edge. She didn’t understand why a black girl would want to willing cut her hair, given the slow growth process for our natural hair. But after years of begging, at seventeen I got my first bang haircut. I felt even more beautiful than when I’d gotten my first perm. I tried the new ‘do out at a family function and adored the compliments swept at me. But, being the one of the two most influential women in my life, my mom and her younger sister, my aunt, sat me down and gave me a much needed lesson on self-confidence and history. 1. I had always been beautiful, without the bobbles, beads, glittering hair decorations, perm, or bangs. I was beautiful for being me, like when my brown irises seemed to sparkle no matter the occasion, or when my cheeks traveled to those sparkling eyes in joy. 2. My hair didn’t make me beautiful. I didn’t understand. “How can your hair be your beauty if it doesn’t make you beautiful?” Good question. Mama wasn’t around anymore to answer it. In fact, we were at the wake for her funeral during this conversation. But her granddaughters, my mom and aunt, carried on her legacy with what they told me about what she really meant about hair and beauty. Mama meant that your clothing can be worn, tattered, mismatched, old, etc., but as long your hair is taken care of and healthy, exuberating a confidence from you, you can always be beautiful. That is how “your hair is your beauty.” You’re stunned I know. What insight! What wisdom! I’ve inherited some pretty smart genes here people.
Attempting to live up to the generation of beautiful, strong-minded women in my family, at age nineteen while a sophomore in college, I decided to take care of my hair better. For me, that meant no more perms. At the time when this article is written, I have had natural hair for a year. Erupting from me is a confidence I never felt after my hair was permed, or when I got a trendy haircut. My hair is my beauty because I made a decision for myself to wear my hair the way I want to without regard to societal norms, how it will make others perceive me, or if it will make boys like me. Whether in braids, twists, a bun, or in a protective style (weaves or box-braids), I am beautiful, and without pain.
It’s so bizarre that in this world if you have asthma you take asthma medicine. If you havediabetes you take diabetes medicine. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind there’s such a stigma behind it.
It’s been almost a year since I finished volunteering at the suicide prevention hotline Samaritans Inc., but I still carry the callers’ stories with me today. Angered by their struggles the callers to the hotline face and their battle with mental illnesses, I was inspired to write a piece called ’10 Ways to Love a Person with a Mental Illness’ for Thought Catalog. I encourage those plagued with mental illness or those wanting to support a loved one who has a mental illness to read the article here. May it bring you hope.
If you found yourself on the fifth floor of Maloney Hall at Boston College this past January through February, chances are, you heard the phrases “that’s f%#cked up” or “that’s orgasmic” enthusiastically belted out by 22 vagina warriors. You might have wondered…quite a few things actually. You also might have been worried. Those 22 women yelling were worried as well. In fact, we were worried about vaginas.
Before joining the cast of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s production of The Vagina Monologues, I was experiencing what some may call “the sophomore slump.” Uninspired by much around me, I yearned to simply feel a part of something. So when I saw a Facebook post advertising the tryouts, I was intrigued. After researching the play’s history and a script, I was sure that if chosen to be a part of the cast, it would be a worthwhile experience. Yet, I was hesitant to audition for multiple reasons. “Would I be good enough?”, I wondered. Self-doubt filled me almost to no end. And then, my future director and friend, Lili Chasen, posted the singular sentence that would propel me forward: “If you audition, there will be no regrets, just love.”
Motivated, I showed up on audition day and, surprisingly, not once did I feel overwhelmed or out of place. Instead, I felt a calm wash over me and was very comfortable. As a person who deals with anxiety and ADHD, this was not a usual occurrence. I often act awkward in certain social situations due to my anxiety and attentiveness and I didn’t think it would make for a great audition. But among unfamiliar faces, more active in theater than I I felt at home. Not even when I received the form that we were to submit as part of auditions, which included questions such as, “If your vagina could speak, what would it say”, and “what would your vagina wear” did I run, scared. Smirking, I replied: “My vagina would wear an Afro-pick and say “power to the vaginas.” Of course, in retrospect, I think my vagina would still wear an Afro-pick but instead say “pussy power.” But, I’m getting off topic.
I entered Maloney 528 and submitted my form that detailed my minimal theater history and identifying factors about none other than…my vagina. Met with laughter, I proceeded to audition. I proclaimed, via Eve Ensler’s script, that the word vagina sounded like an infection or medical instrument, at best. And co-director Rebecca Kelley and casting director Annelise Hagar, laughed. I mean, they really laughed and it was at something that I acted out. Was I funny? Truly, Maloney Hall was an alternate universe that I’d entered. I left my audition, feeling hopeful, and tried to refrain from jumping out of my chair in BC’s Bapst Library while I waited for a decision.
Around 6:00 p.m., an unknown number appeared on my phone. Answering, I heard, “Hi Jasmine, this is Rebecca Kelley.” In response, I stumbled down the steps of Bapst Library because, well, I’m naturally awkward and because I knew if a co-director of VagMons was calling, I’d been cast in the show. After regaining my balance, I managed to tell Bex that being cast was “amazing.” I had no idea how truly amazing it would be.
I’d have to wait three weeks before I would meet 21 women who would teach me about womanhood, what it truly meant to be feminist, and how to unabashedly be myself. The first night of rehearsal would define many nights thereafter. First, we introduced ourselves and introduced our vaginas. We also explained why we wanted to be cast for the play. For the majority of us, the idea of performing monologues from diverse women having been interviewed about their vaginas, of all the organs to be interviewed about, scared us. What scared us more was the feedback that we might receive from friends or family. Besides our friends and family, we as students at a Jesuit, Catholic university had a lot of pressure to adhere to almost an unspoken code of conduct: produce the play but don’t be too radical. We couldn’t have an online presence to advertise the play or advertise the play as having been sponsored by Boston College. Rather, we had to market the play as the Women’s and Gender’s Studies production of The Vagina Monologues. What’s more, our play would be performed in a lecture hall as opposed to the theater on campus and figuring out how to buy tickets for the play on BC’s website turned into an undercover operation. Unfaltering and channeling our inner Beyonce, we were able to get funding to wear and purchase fierce t-shirts publicizing the play and declaring our cast “Queen Vs. In any event, I still can’t help feeling as though we could’ve increase proceeds for the play, given to a charity devoted to ending violence against women (in line with Eve Ensler’s V-Day campaign) if we could have had a bigger social media presence. In past years, several students and faculty members, in line with the views of the Cardinal Newman Society, held opposition to the play for the way it, according to Catholic Education Daily, “distorts human sexuality and celebrates sinful behaviors.” Personally, coming from a Jamaican heritage and a Christian family, I’m positive I almost induced a stroke in my grandmother when I told her what I’d been up to recently. However, instead of proving too limiting, these fears and roadblocks united us as a cast because it was for and despite these fears why the majority of us were there, in that room, rehearsing to put on an amazing show. We wanted to give awareness to and stop violence against women, yes. But we were also empowering each other and ourselves. Every member of the cast was able to channel their characters, ranging from rape victim to dominatrix in a way that made the separation between their being and the character indistinct. Watching as they all committed to crying, moaning, thrusting, or yelling cunt to an audience on stage, I realized there was truly nothing I as a woman couldn’t accomplish. When you can stare down a middle aged Irish-Catholic man in an audience and talk about your love of pleasuring a woman, you can truly do ANYTHING.
Of course, while being empowering, we found time to be absolutely ridiculous and unabashedly ourselves. In between running lines individually and as a group, we played warm-up games that, if you haven’t started playing, you need to. The first game we liked to call “That’s f-ed up, that’s orgasmic.” Yes, you read that right. Essentially, you stand in the middle of a circle of people and tell a story. It could have happened last night, that morning, whenever. Just tell any story, about you of course, weighing on your mind. If it’s particularly grueling, the people in the circle will emphatically exclaim, “That’s f-ed up!” and share your pain. But if the story is of pure joy, much like orgasms, unless of course, you’re subjected to faking them, they’ll let you know how amazingly orgasmic the story is and how happy they are for you. This form of therapy is better than any shopping you’ll do in the near future and it’s free. Another game we were fond of playing might not actually have a name, now that I think about it. Maybe no name could completely capture its pussy power. The objective is to stand in a circle with the rest of the players. Whoever volunteers to go first will yell out “pussy” with arms outstretched above to the person next to them. This person then has the option of saying “coochi” and twisting their hips in a circle to the second person away from them or saying cunt with arms formed in an x shape. Upon saying cunt, the person who said pussy prior to you must redirect either a pussy or coochi to someone else. Got all that? Good. Start playing with a group of your good friends as soon as your done reading this article. Getting back to my fellow vagina warriors, we bonded in several other ways, like during our dinner at Cleveland Circle’s Creperie or our “educational” field trip to Good Vibes, a sex shop. We created a VagMons playlist that I often listen to while studying, complete with songs such as “Pussy Pussy Pussy Marijuana” by Andy Milonakis. Make no mistake, while watching others be comfortable with who they are, I soon became comfortable with myself. I could dance like no one but my vagina warriors were watching, whether in the rehearsal room, backstage, or on the dance floor. It didn’t matter that I was a woman of color in a predominately white cast. We all had differing characteristics among ourselves and lauded each other for that fact, proving there can be solidarity in feminism. All that was left to do was put on a superb performance.
After three full weeks of rehearsal, the weekend of the play was before us. All our hard work payed off because for the first two performances, we sold out tickets to the show! On the second night, my mother and 18 year old brother came out to see me perform the monologue ‘Not-So-Happy-Fact and after the show, bombarded me with hugs and praise. Despite his previous apprehension in attending my brother was moved by the monologue depicting a Bosnian woman who was the victim of rape in her village. Not the type to express emotion, my brother was in fact close to tears.
My last performance on the third night would unexpectedly be my most angst-filled of all. That night, I got a much unwelcome visit from my good Aunt Flo. Normally during these ‘visits,’ I experience severe cramps as well as nausea. Nothing could make me miss the last night of my performances, however. Being the vagina warrior that I am, I walked out on stage under the bright lights and used all the rage I had coming for Aunt Flo into my piece about the atrocity of genital abuse against men and women. I hadn’t meant to scare the lovely elderly women in the front row, but somehow was pleasantly pleased at their ‘oh my god’ sympathetic response to the piece.
Two months later, I have come to terms with feminism, the way I understand the term. “Feminism: the radical notion that women are people.” I feel it’s that simple. Many do not feel they fit in with mainstream feminism, as it can often single out women of color or those who have much femininity. As a woman of color, this understanding of feminism sits best with me. My cast of new found sisters helped me find a voice, let me know that my feelings are validated, and subsequently taught me that, above all else, I am a person. Even when I didn’t feel I had a place at a predominately white, Catholic institution, I put my anxiety, fears, and familial expectations aside, and did something for me and so many others. Thank you to my fellow VagMons cast members and sisters for bringing me home.