The benefit performance showcased the trans community’s best and brightest women from all over America. Many were still living in “stealth” and chose this performance to come out.
Working with famed playwright Eve Ensler, Deep Stealth Productions’ Calpernia Addams and Andrea James produced an all-trans version of Eve’s beautiful monologues – a series of evocative readings about the experiences of womanhood, and about the reclaiming of self through loving and respecting our bodies.
Beautiful Daughters documents the events surrounding the performance, starting with the initial interviews with trans women (which led Eve to her new trans monologue for this production), through weeks of auditions and rehearsals – on to dress rehearsals, opening night back-stage jitters, the star-studded Hollywood audience, and culminates with the performance itself.
Excerpted from “Anatomy of a movement: the first all-transgender V-Day event”
Before delving into some larger issues raised by our first all-transgender benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues, it’s critical to acknowledge how it became such an important artistic and political statement for those involved. We are often seen as less than women and even less than human, so this was a remarkable chance to address a number of issues through a powerful and multi-layered message.
One of our main goals was to give a voice to those who do not normally get a voice in our community: the successful, assimilated women living quiet productive lives, and those who are on the front lines, working to help our youngest and most vulnerable who face the highest rates of interpersonal violence. We wanted activists onstage and involved behind the scenes. Our community is typically portrayed in the media as prostitutes, punch lines, and psychopaths, as victims or criminals, and we wanted to remedy that with an inclusive event that celebrated the diversity of our community. We also felt it was important to show our community raising money for good causes, so that our ongoing monetary and cultural contributions could both be acknowledged. We chose The Task Force and the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women as our V-Day beneficiaries, rather than trans-specific organizations, because we wanted to build bridges to other communities of activists and show that queer issues and women’s issues are our issues, as they have so often done for us.
Community response was overwhelming when we announced the event. Women from around the world expressed an interest in getting involved. When one New York based actress couldn’t afford the flight to LA, a woman in Europe who had never met her gave her the money to come out. Several prominent doctors who provide services to our community (notably Douglas Ousterhout and Toby Meltzer) donated the up-front money we needed to secure a venue big enough, which it turns out still wasn’t big enough– we sold out the event.
In many ways, the entire event was a microcosm of issues facing our community as it struggles to find its nascent political voice. As we worked to be inclusive and representative in our production, we faced issues of thresholds and inclusions when casting. Taking our cue from Eve’s historic 2001 event in Madison Square Garden, we were certain that we wanted to showcase people who were activists and prominent figures in the community. After that, we wanted to make sure we had representation from those on the front line: those who work directly with our youngest and most vulnerable. We had engineers, authors, healthcare workers, film effects technicians, therapists, entertainers, models, graphic designers, lawyers, activists. Some of us had been to jail; some of us had been to medical school. We had women who completed their transitions in every decade since the 1960s. One woman left for her vaginoplasty the day after our event. Some never planned to have it.
Unlike most community-based V-Day events, our community is not geographically based. We are a cross section of society, of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our numbers are difficult to ascertain accurately, since our best and brightest frequently go deep stealth and have little or no involvement in the community once they have completed transition. And for good reason: we have no federal protections in terms of discrimination, and several high-profile cases have resulted in denial of our spousal and parental rights. The risks of losing a job or spouse or children are too high a price for some to pay, and most in our community understand and respect this deeply personal decision.
Those in our community who are beaten and killed are not normally those who have the luxury of writing essays like this. They tend to be young, or socially ostracized, or people of color. Those who face the full force of society’s disapproval of gender variance are frequently those least-equipped to do much about it. But times are changing. We are organizing and sharing information and ideas community-wide. What used to be an oral tradition of collected wisdom and passed-around pamphlets is now available on the internet. It is no longer necessary to run away to a big city or be put into a gender clinic program to start transition as a teenager. It’s no longer necessary to lose everything and start over in another town. It’s possible to find role models and mentors. As we find our collective voice, there will be plenty of setbacks and struggles, but these will be offset by more amazing events like V-Day LA 2004. V-Day director Cecile Lipworth told us that Eve’s transgender piece was performed at 248 events in 2005, a humbling and amazing testament to all the women who put their hearts into this project. It’s amazing what can happen when a dedicated group of people make the most out of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Women in our community occupy a unique place in the struggle to end violence against women and girls, and we are deeply honored to join in this fight, one of the great struggles our time. Our perspective and experience as women can inform and inspire other communities with specific challenges. We proudly stand alongside all women, ready to add our voices to the rousing chorus of vibrant and beautiful voices brought together by V-Day.