This year Mount Holyoke college, an all-women’s school in Massachusetts has cancelled its annual production of Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. The once controversial work, which in 20 years has become a staple of the American theater canon, is accused of being trans exclusive. That is to say that the play’s focus on the vagina is somehow insulting to trans women who were born without one. According to Campus Reform, the show’s producers cancelled it because they have grown “increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.”
Ensler wrote a response in Time magazine this week refuting the allegations that her work is anti-trans. She points out that trans actors have preformed the work for years and that the piece is in no way suggesting that only women with vaginas are women. The response is far too generous to her accusers. These overzealous censors at Holyoke are engaged in a dangerous game here, and one that ultimately hurts women.
The Vagina Monologues is one of the best-respected, most-produced and most widely known works of feminist playwriting in our culture’s history. Almost every female actor you have ever heard of has performed the piece at some point. And for a generation of female playwrights the piece was a green light to tell the story of female experiences without cringing at the nasty bits. Thirty years ago it was some conservatives who found Ensler’s focus on the vagina to be offensive. Today it is progressive, so-called feminists who think the vagina must not be spoken of so as not to offend or demean women with penises.
Last year I wrote a piece for the The Federalist arguing that conflating the work of trans-women playwrights with the work of women born as women would result in less opportunity and diminished respect for the latter. In a response in the Transadvocate, a leading trans magazine, Marie Bright accused me of being a white, cis, male writer who is a transphobe. Bright wrote “The view that somehow desiring including trans* perspectives is an inherent invalidation of the female identity and a slide down a slippery slope to excluding women’s voices has zero basis in reality.”
Well, here’s some basis in reality. If arguably the most seminal play by a woman about women can be silenced for its supposed transphobic transgressions then so can any play by any woman born a woman. That’s not good for women, it’s not good for men, it’s not good for art and it has to stop.