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.