by Lesley Roberts
February 6, 2004
This particular V-Day event will showcase some notable transwomen, including Calpernia Addams and Andrea James (pictured together below) who have worked very hard to make this happen. Not only will this event help to create awareness of violence against women; it will also give the transgendered community an opportunity to have a voice. We’re so proud and excited for them that we wanted to learn more about how this project came into existence. The following is an interview between Ms. Andrea James and LesbianAlliance.com:
What was your very first experience/ impression of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”?
I actually saw the HBO production of Eve’s performance after meeting Eve at V-Day LA 2003, which was a preview screening of Eve’s documentary “Until the Violence Stops.” That film is simply awe-inspiring. The play itself is a remarkable statement, but to take it from an underground sensation to a worldwide movement showed a kind of vision few people have.
When was the idea for this particular production conceived?
Jane Fonda suggested it when my business partner Calpernia Addams and I met her at Sundance in 2003 for the premiere of “Soldier’s Girl.”
Until recently, “The Vagina Monologues” was centered only around women-born women. How does this progression affect our community?
“Women-born-women” is a very loaded term. One of the major reasons Calpernia and I wanted to get involved in this is because we face the same violence any women face, and in certain ways that violence is because we are seen as less than women, even less than human. We are very interested in building bridges to those who in the past had concerns about what gender variance meant to their worldview.
How far evolved is the transgender community compared to the rest of the GLBT community?
The transgender community is still finding its voice, but it seems to be at an interesting crossroads where the separatism that marked the early political efforts is now being complemented with those of us who have a post-separatist mindset. Both are important facets of any rights movement.
What message is singular to this production that you hope to convey?
Our goal is to raise awareness about two critical issues: The first is the unreported epidemic of violence that engulfs our youngest and most vulnerable. Gwen Smith maintains a Remembering our Dead website at rememberingourdead.org, which lists hundred of transpeople killed due to anti-trans sentiment. We are using this event to bring attention to this issue, since it’s likely we have one of the highest murder rates per capita of any demographic group.
Our second goal is to counter the dismal depiction of our community in the media, which is directly related to the violence. Because we are primarily portrayed as prostitutes, punchlines, and psychopaths, it creates a climate of fear and hatred. What never gets reported are the thousands of transwomen living quiet productive lives in every profession and occupation. Professor Lynn Conway, a world-renowned electrical engineer, has put together a remarkable collection of accomplished women on her site at lynnconway.com
Calpernia and I have amazing media connections through Deep Stealth Productions and through GenderMedia Foundation, and we wanted to put that to work in publicizing the hard work being done by Gwen and Lynn.
The epistemology of the vagina is perhaps the very essence of femininity and womanhood. Likewise, “The Vagina Monologues” is a documentary and celebration of that womanhood. What is it like to be a part of this esteemed explanation of women?
In my own case I was surprised how much having a vagina has changed how I feel about myself. I considered myself a victim of “testosterone poisoning” for many years, and I feel much more calm and clear-headed now.
Personally, I have always loved women and feminine beauty. Calpernia asked me to read Eve’s monologue “The Woman Who Liked To Make Vaginas Happy” as a nod to that. Although I have always loved women, I enjoy that love even more living as a woman myself.
What is the best part and what is the most challenging aspect about being a cast member in the “Vagina Monologues”?
Our cast is coming in from all over the country, which is an amazing testament to the importance of this event, but that has also made it quite a challenge for Calpernia, who is directing in addition to performing two new monologues: one she wrote herself, and one Eve wrote just for the event.
As a born woman and feminist, I am aware of the advantages of being a woman but as a transgender woman you perhaps have the greatest understanding of what it is to be a woman. What is it to be a woman?
It’s hand or shoulder, to smile at people if you wish. It is my personal opinion that the male social role is very rigid and confining, so much so that I believe it is part of the reason some men express themselves with violence. It’s sadly one of the few “acceptable” ways for males to respond.
What have been among the hardest obstacles to overcome in being a transgender woman?
The level of misunderstanding about women in our community is profound. It can be very frustrating for me at times, since I have decided to work at changing those perceptions. The notion that we are some monolithic group is another problem. We are the very essence of diversity.
In a world full of curious people, we are asked the most funny and ridiculous questions with such obvious answers. For instance, my girlfriend and I are often asked who is the man and who is the woman in our relationship. Although I laugh at the absurdity of this question, sometimes I feel like wearing a t-shirt that says, “Answer: there’s no man in the relationship.” Is there a similar question that you are often asked?
What was your old name?” That’s always annoying.
What else do you want the world to know?
Well, that answer would take too long to write in its entirety, so I will just say this: the boundaries between the two nations of “Male” and “Female” are as arbitrary as the boundary between any two nations. There might be some physical landmarks that were used to draw the boundaries, but that doesn’t make the decision to use those landmarks any less arbitrary.
Thank you for this chance to talk about our part in this worldwide V-Day movement! We encourage everyone to get involved, since violence takes many forms and must be stopped within the context of the community in which it is happening. That means all if us have to stop violence wherever we find it. The day that happens is the day V-World becomes a reality!