Silence. Intertwined with a pitch-black room filled with ghostly silhouettes, floating just above the floor, feet buried within the void. A panel of a red, hinged door creeks behind an audience, just past their left shoulders. No footsteps heard. The painful, still buzz of air blowing out into the desolate room. People sitting, their thoughts racing as they prepare for what they came for. But alas. A soft, auburn glow of a spotlight sitting atop of a stage that beholds two characters, head-to-toe dressed in black. Again, not a sound. No clapping and no talking. A sigh in the back. A gasp in the front. Otherwise, a painful stillness enveloped the room.
Then, a voice mutters onstage, “Let’s talk about the word vagina…. Vagina. Vaaagiiiiina. It never actually sounds like a word you want to say.” A shudder stilled an already stiff crowd. So let’s talk about it. It’s not like there’s nothing to discuss.
Meghan McGorry ‘22, a white cisgendered woman, grew up in the rural, conservative town of Orefield, Pa. Northwestern Lehigh High School was a place where Tractor Day was celebrated, but conversations of race, sexuality and gender were not discussed. If anyone were to show a sign that they were different, they were made fun of or outcasted. To Meghan, the space was not safe. But she knew that her identity was never in question, except for being a woman. At ages 16 and 17, Meghan was afraid of wandering the streets at night, afraid of being called names. At school, her dress code was rooted in misogyny and she was taught misogynistic lessons that she had to grow out of.
Performing in the Vagina Monologues during her freshman year in 2018, Meghan revisited the performance as an observer in 2022. Supporting everyone’s performances and stories told, Meghan was quite empowered when watching the show. But halfway through the performance, she had to leave due to the overwhelming and triggering monologues performed. Her past history of facing ridicule and hypersexualization made the show a bit too much for her to bear.
“It was really amazing to see these women and non-binary people come together to talk about topics that are sometimes labeled as shameful,” says Meghan, looking back on that night.
Spyro Coffin ‘25, a trans-masculine rising sophomore took to the stage at the 2022 production of the Vagina Monologues. Having experience with theater performances, Spyro, with his orange beanie and squared, black glasses, paced onstage, allowing moments of introspection to seep into the audience. His life growing up was never easy. In fact, his conservative high school and parents led him to a path of inquisitiveness in getting to know his own identity and persona.
Onstage, Spyro interrogates himself in understanding why he was given a body that he doesn’t belong in. Between his parents and a few incidents on Muhlenberg’s campus, Spyro wanted to tell his story to a greater audience. Of having a vagina and being a man.
Although there are no exact numbers of non-binary and trans students at Muhlenberg, one study has shown that women comprise 60.8% of Muhlenberg’s student population. However, a study by Gallup, finds that as of February, 2021, adults have increasingly identified with the LGBT community by 5.6%. Muhlenberg’s goals has been working on increasing diversity within the student population and to make the campus more inclusive.
Inclusivity and the expression of one’s identity has become a pressing topic for the Vagina Monologues. In 1994, Tony-award winner Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues hit the stage at Middlebury College. It discussed reproduction, menstruation, sexual harassment, and sexual experiences and the production started appearing in colleges across the country. Among the hundreds of colleges that The Vagina Monologues were introduced to, Muhlenberg presented its first performance in 2002. Opening the door for discussion about gender, sexuality, and identity, the Vagina Monologues have allowed open conversation on topics that may normally be hushed. In a study published in the Journal of American Preventive Medicine, gender minority populations have been shown to face increased risks for mental health including thoughts of suicide, depression and anxiety, in comparison to cisgender populations. The evolution of the Vagina Monologues could continue to contribute to sharing people’s stories, and decrease the taboo of the vagina.
“I know too many people who had experiences with sexual assault. I could name probably six or seven people off the top of my head.” Silence. Meghan counting on her fingers, had abruptly dropped the idea.
“I mean I remember the first time I was catcalled in a strip mall in Tennessee, but for a lot of women it happens way before that. Maybe it happened to me earlier, but I blocked it out. Because it happens so much. I was underage, 16 turning 17, and it was scary. It was me, my mom and sister. I would never understand why we couldn’t go out late at night. Why we would have to wait at certain times to take transportation. And now that I’m older, I understand we’re three women traveling alone.”
The kitty kat, the flower, the Holy Grail, Vajayjay, Red Wagon, or the Pink Clam. How could a young girl or teenager know what these things meant? How would these young girls know what a cat call is? Unfortunately, 72% of women find that society is most comfortable talking about male genitalia rather than the vagina. Hell, the vagina is thrown around as one of those things that completely dismisses its owner. “The taboo is really complicated because it permeates through a lot of cultures,” explains Auroni Hashim ‘22, co-president of the Feminist Collective that sponsored the Vagina Monologues. “In some ways it is a product of cultural imperialism. Understandings of gender, sexuality, race have been structured on this imperialism. In a Western context it’s complicated too, it’s hard to talk about it beyond the gender binary. Just that women have vaginas. Does that really mean you’re a woman though?”
“I think it’s interesting how one body part brings all this objectification, and it impacts other things like selfhood, who you are, your past, and how that influences your experiences in life whether social or medical,” says Lauren Losak ‘23. “After so many years of fighting stereotypes of this one body part, we are still continuously fighting it. I had a vagina sticker on my laptop, and had someone ask ‘Oh sorry are you a lesbian?’ there’s a stereotype that if you’re a woman in it, you have more masculine features. Since I am a strong woman, I must be gay? And having this sticker, people just assume.” So how can we bring about talking about the taboo of the vagina?
Meghan well knows that her identity permits her great privilege. And yet, being a white woman, she is frightened to go out at night, be alone in a park, or stand amidst a background of white, misogynistic appeal. And as much as she may surround herself with family and friends that create community and a sense of comfort, her vagina is a characteristic grudgingly welcoming in taboos and stereotypes of her identity.
Spyro also struggles with the way gender encourages unwelcome taboos. “I was coming back from spring break and I sat next to a drunk man. He said ‘I’m sitting next to a hot woman.’ Gender dysphoria just came over me. I said my name, and he said ‘Oh you’re a dude.’” The look on Spyro’s face wiped with disgust.
Gender dysphoria. A feeling of discomfort with ones body or with the gender they were assigned at birth. A painstakingly difficult experience. Mental health. Social life. Political standings. All influenced by having gender dysphoria.
For Spyro, being a man encapsulating the vagina is a painful topic. “Trans and non-binary, female assigned at birth people barely speak on this subject. How could you possibly avoid your own gender dysphoria when they’re completely uncomfortable with the thought of being trapped in a woman’s body with little to no escape from it? That’s why I’m here!” Not a man’s problem? Who said? Who asked?
One weekend this semester, Spyro needed to fly back home to take care of mental health issues. However, the flight was canceled and Spyro’s dad ended up driving to Muhlenberg. During the long car ride home, amidst casual conversation of how school was going, or making new friends, Spyro’s dad finally blurted, “You’re not a man.” Caught off guard, there was but little argument, let alone conversation. Because of a vagina? Just because Spyro should want to have sex?
And then there was spring break of 2022 when Spyro’s family went to Disney for a week. Spyro’s mother was sitting next to Spyro at the restaurant Be Our Guest, having casual conversation. When Spyro mentioned that he was not Catholic anymore, she said ok. No problem there. Then Spyro said they were biromantic. She slammed down the thought saying that he wasn’t a lesbian. In all actuality, they won’t even accept Spyro’s name. Apparently, they think of it as just an online alias.
“When on my period I call it my dysphoria week. Why did I get tortured with a vagina? If I were on testosterone, I would not have a period anymore. That would be such a blessing,” Spyro stated. There’s more to the vagina than one’s own pleasure and curiosity, yet is that something people want to really introspect on?
This year was the first in person performance of the Vagina Monologues since the COVID-19 pandemic and it was presented by Phi Johnson-Grimes ‘22 along with Feminist Collective. Two cast members, Honey-Joe and Spyro Coffin, were able to write their own monologues. The Vagina Monologues has had a history of performers reading pre-written monologues dealing with issues of sexual experiences and reproductive rights, solely from a feminine standpoint. Prior to the pandemic, when Meghan performed in the Vagina Monologues, no original monologues were represented. One of the monologues that had been cut was called “Beat the Boy out of my Girl” which was written for a trans fem in the early 2000’s. It was a trans fem woman’s story about how she came to terms with her identity, which included transphobia and how she was bullied and harassed. Phi and Spyro thought this monologue was quite limiting and disgusting. Because the production was performed for 100 audience members in the Red Doors and not a main stage, Phi wanted to include two original monologues focusing on trans and PCOS stories. If this production were written for a larger audience, adding, eliminating, and substituting monologues would not be allowed due to copyright issues. But Phi took the original monologues as an opportunity to introduce intersectionality into a well-known production.
“I think the Vagina Monologues stand for exclusively women’s voices,” said Spyro. “It was written where POC and trans allyship wasn’t always huge. Though in the beginning the Vagina Monologues said they interviewed so many voices. But if you were sitting there, it felt like only white women’s voices were heard. I feel like it’s only written for white cis heterosexual women talking about men.”
While Meghan’s story is to share the fear of living with a vagina, Spyro’s story needs out of its cage. “Whether you like them or not, they’re here to stay but will you abuse them for your own wants?” asks Spyro. The Vagina Monologues and its future are at stake. Let’s talk about how horizons can be expanded to discuss the vagina.
Photo of a Vagina Monologues performance in 2017 by Haris Bhatti