On Performing in The Vagina Monologues When You Don’t Have a Vagina

This Thursday, March 31, is Trans Day of Visibility, a day that was created to celebrate the trans people who are alive and making themselves known in the world. Autostraddle is a website for and about queer women, and that will always, always, include queer trans women. In order to highlight just a few of the trans women we love, respect and admire here at Autostraddle, we asked several to take pictures of their day-to-day lives and answer a few questions. We’ll also be featuring several essays related to trans visibility by trans women this week.


I don’t have a vagina. It’s fine. It’s fine. Or at least, sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes it’s a thing that I don’t mind, that I’m okay with. The thing is though, it’s never more than fine. In the times when it’s fine, I still know in the back of my mind that things could be better. In the times when it’s not fine, I want to scream because my body feels so fucking wrong. I want to go to sleep and wake up from this nightmare where I feel uncomfortable in my skin every waking moment. But mostly, I’m pretty okay being a woman who doesn’t have a vagina and likely never will.

I’m happy with a lot of things about my body, which is a thing I’m able to say, really, for the first time in my life. I like my hair, I like the freckles on my shoulders, I like my brown eyes, I like my wide hips and my legs and I’m liking my boobs more and more every day. When I look in the mirror I actually feel like I’m genuinely pretty a good portion of the time. But I don’t know if I’m happy with what I have instead of a vagina.

Straight up, I look pretty dang good here.

Straight up, I look pretty dang good here.

I’m usually able to not think about it though. Obviously, there are times when I can’t ignore the genitals that I have, but throughout most of my day, I can just keep it out of my mind. When I was invited to participate in a local production of The Vagina Monologues this past February, I started thinking more and more about the vagina that I don’t have. It got harder and harder to not think about it.

Before I go further: these are my personal feelings about whether or not I want a vagina, not whether or not any other person should want one or have one, and this is absolutely not a judgement on anyone else’s womanhood or lesbianhood. You do you, as they say.

My first thoughts upon being invited to participate were about how happy I was that not only did the Vagina Monologues have a monologue about being a trans woman, but also how happy I was that my community, a city of about 50,000 people, was actively making sure they had trans women reading this monologue. When I looked at performances online, many had cis women reading this monologue and many others had men reading it.

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I read the monologue titled “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy… Or So They Tried,” which is about being a trans woman. Like the other monologues, and as one would expect in a performance of this name, the monologue focuses a lot on the speaker’s desire to have a vagina, and then how much better her life is now that she has one. A lot of the words that I read resonated deeply with me; others didn’t resonate at all. But all of them made me think, and all of them made me examine my self and my body more.

I was paired up with another trans woman to read this monologue; there are five speaking parts, she read Women 1 & 2 while I read Women 3, 4 and 5. These first lines were hers.

“At five years old/I was putting my baby sister’s/diapers on./I saw her vagina./I wanted one.”

I honestly don’t remember the first time I wanted a vagina. I remember being four years old and playing dress up with my sister. No, it was more than that, we were playing a game where I was her little sister instead of her little brother. I loved that game. I was pretending to be my sister’s little sister. I saw myself as her sister. I wanted to be her sister. But I don’t remember having a lot of dysphoria or negative feelings about my genitals until I was in middle school. But, it could just be that I’ve blocked those earlier memories out.

This is where my part began.

“I wondered why I was missing my/Bathing suit top at the beach/Why I wasn’t dressed like the other girls”

I never really wondered why I wasn’t dressed like the other girls. It was more like I wondered why I wasn’t a girl like the other girls. I always knew that everyone saw me as a boy and didn’t want me to be anything else, and this made me profoundly sad and angry. My teachers, my family members, my peers — they all constantly told me I was a boy, and when I performed boyhood incorrectly — which was a lot of the time — I would be punished for it. I knew why I wasn’t dressed like the other girls; it’s because no one wanted me to count myself as one of them.

“But in spite of the apparatus/I was forced to carry around/I always knew I was a girl.”

The thing is, I didn’t always know I was a girl. I always knew I wanted to be a girl, but I didn’t know that I could be one. I thought I was a just very broken boy. Let me tell you, that’s a hell of a way to grow up. And honestly, a part of why I felt that way was because of my genitals. I looked at my body and assumed that since that was real, the way I felt in my head was not. I felt so confused, so small and so trapped, for most of my life. I felt like I was stuck in this horrible life that I didn’t know how to live, and there was no way to make it better. If you’re actually a boy, then I’m guessing being a boy must be pretty fun — my friends made it seem that way — but if you’re actually a girl, like I was, then it’s a fucking nightmare.

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“Got my first hormone shot/Got permission to be myself”

Oh man, I was so brilliantly overjoyed when I started hormones. It was the first time in my life that I actually felt like I was treating my body with the love it deserved. Being able to take active steps to have the body that I’d always wanted changed my whole life. I’ve never been as happy as I have been since starting hormones. I’ve never liked my body, or loved my body, this much. I definitely don’t think that hormones are what make me myself — a woman can be a woman no matter what her body looks like or feels like — but hot damn, I do love my estrogen pills and I love what they’re doing to my body.

Sometimes — a lot of the time — I’m pretty sure this is as far as I’m going to go in my transition. I doubt that I’m ever going to get any surgery. I just don’t think it’s in my future, even though sometimes I dream of it, sometimes I wish for it, sometimes I long for it. But I’m scared of the cost, I’m scared of something going wrong, I’m scared of being judged. I don’t like that my fear is a large part of what’s holding me back from getting surgery. I think that if I set a goal to get a vagina, I could and I would. It might take some time, but I think I’d get there. I don’t know, I don’t know. This is the part of the monologue that really got me thinking a lot. The process it shows in going from identifying as a woman to getting hormones to getting a vagina is the main thrust of the monologue. I’ve done the first two steps, but I don’t know if I’ll ever do the third, or if I’ll ever really want to.

“And my vagina is so much friendlier/I cherish it/It brings me joy”

Now, I don’t for a second think that having a vagina would make me more of a woman, or that every trans woman should have surgery or want a vagina. Not at all. Still though, damn, when I was practicing this line, I imagined saying it with truth, saying it with a vagina and I didn’t have to put on a fake smile. I was absolutely burning with joy. As the opening line says, I wanted one.

Sometimes I think, though — do I just want a vagina because that’s what’s in vogue? Because that’s what a woman “should” have? I know that there is pressure from all around for me to have a vagina; I feel that pressure. But also, sometimes society is pressuring me to do things that I love doing and that I actually want to do, like wearing dresses and makeup. I know that society is telling me as a woman that I should like those things, but also I’m telling myself that I like those things, because I do. Is it the same with wanting a vagina?

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“The orgasms come in waves/Before they were jerky”

Ja, this would be nice. I’m not gonna lie, this idea is a really big selling point. I definitely don’t think having a penis stops me from being a really great lesbian; but also, when I hear from other trans women about what their sex life is like after they have surgery, I do get more than a little jealous.

“It’s like when you’re trying to sleep/And there is a loud car alarm–/When I got my vagina, it was like someone/Finally turned it off.”

For me, not having a vagina is more like there’s an annoying song that’s only playing all the way through all day long on some days. Others, I can barely hear the chorus, and others I can’t hear it all. But every day, I know that that song will be there again one day, maybe even tomorrow, maybe even later that same day. And I hate this song. It sucks. It makes me feel like I’m unlovable, like I’m fake, like I’m bad. It’s a song that taunts me. I really want it to stop, but I’m not sure if getting a vagina is the only way, or even a good way, to turn it off.

I guess if I’m being honest with myself and with all of you, I do really want a vagina. I do. And I think writing this essay has in a lot of ways helped me figure that out. But I’m also prepared to live my life if I never get one, because I think that’s what’s most likely to happen. And this isn’t the same kind of thing where I decided that I was okay living as a boy because I never thought I’d be able to live as the woman that I was — this is something different. When I decided that, I had resigned my life to hopelessness. I was okay with living as a boy because I thought that was legitimately my only option and while I thought I could do it for a while, I never really was able to imagine a future for myself at all. With this, I can imagine being a happy old lesbian who never got a vagina and is fine with that. I can also imagine being a happy old lesbian who did get a vagina, though, and maybe that imagined future is better.

The cast of the Vagina Monologues.

The cast of the Vagina Monologues.

While being a part of the Vagina Monologues made me think a lot about how conflicted I am about whether or not I want a vagina, it also made me extremely happy to be a part of a community of women who were celebrating our womanhood. I was there, a woman without a vagina, talking about my vagina, with a group of women who never once asked me if I had a vagina or made me feel like I didn’t belong there because I didn’t have one. So even if being in the Vagina Monologues did make me wish I had a vagina, it never made me feel like I needed one to be a woman. It just reminded me of the wonderful community that I have because I’m already a woman.

When I was 29 years old, I was participating in the Vagina Monologues. I thought of having a vagina. I wanted one. I wanted one.

Mey Valdivia Rude is a bisexual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a writer, comic consultant and a trans activist. She's a bruja, a femme, a pop princess and she loves comic books, witches, dinosaurs and crying. She has a cat named Sawyer and a very successful twitter.

Mey has written 575 articles for us.

46 Comments

  1. Mey! MEY. I remember my first time reading the Vagina Monologues (long before I got to see it performed) and how instrumental it was in making me feel really uncomfortable but also really positive about my body in a way I’d never felt before. I’m glad we’re all in it together, past, present, and/or future vaginas.

  2. This is superb. I love this show and have seen it several times and every time it’s different, I think that’s part of what makes it such a powerful piece – the reinterpretation and reinvention of the discussion about all things vagina. And it’s really, really wonderful that you’re having this particular discussion about not having one all based around a performance piece whose main selling point is talking about what it’s like to have a vagina. That speaks to the continued relevance of the monologues, but also to your willingness to share with us. It’s so important and so brave.

  3. Thanks for this, Mey! I’ve performed that part solo three times. The second time was the month before I finally got my vagina. While I’m glad that Eve Ensler wrote this from interviews she did with trans women, there are problematic parts. Whether or not you get surgery, stay your beautiful fabulous self!

  4. I am so glad you wrote this piece. I’ve done productions of the Vagina Monologues for years and that particular monologue is so important (all of them are, yes) and I love the cast conversations that are inspired by vaginas.

    You also made the really good point about having trans women doing this monologue. In the productions I have done so far, we have yet to cast a trans woman in that part – although (especially) in recent years, we have had trans and genderqueer cast members. Not all are ready to openly do “that” monologue (and not all of them had even realized it fully for themselves at the time).

    Good memories of a time and people I could really use in my life again. I look forward to the next time I do this show, sharing the stage with my sisters (of all genitals).

  5. It’s very worthy of Autostraddle to highlight the stories of trans women this week. If one thing is clear now, many (most?) cis people still can not imagine our personhoods enough to bear respect. Perhaps now more than before, sincere narration of perspective by trans people will tender some improvement.

  6. Oh wow. I just sat in my car in the parking lot reading this and now I’m sobbing. That was a really incredible piece, Mey. Than you for writing it. Being in the vagina monologues was such an incredible, transformative process for me and recently I started thinking about whether or not we were being trans exclusionary with our vagina focused declaration of womanhood. I think we were, without realizing it in our 18-21 year old best intentioned ignorance. I’m so happy to hear that it’s become more inclusive. Because being a woman doesn’t mean you have a vagina or even want one. It’s just who you are. And that was just a really really beautiful and honest piece of writing.

    Meh. Someone get these onion chopping ninjas out of my car.

  7. Mey, this is lovely. I’m at the opposite end, in a way. Everyone sees me as a girl. I experience dysphoria. I don’t think I’m trans. I don’t think I’m cis. Maybe your piece resonated with me because I didn’t feel like I had to relate to it. Maybe I liked it because I wasn’t comparing myself to it to determine if I am trans or not, to validate my own experiences. Maybe it was comforting to read because I could read it and feel all of my trans feelings without my dysphoria being triggered. Or maybe it had nothing to do with me and your beautiful writing let me feel some of what you feel.

    You picked me up in your arms at the beginning of this piece, held me while you told me some of your story, then put me back on the ground, leaving me feeling more human.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Oh, I have been here too! Some days I think I’m still there. For me, it’s been so hard to claim myself as trans because I keep thinking that my experiences with my gender have been different than many of the other nonbinary and binary trans people I’ve talked to so far… Good luck on your gender journey! It’s a hard road and I don’t even know if there’s an end but hopefully you find a rest stop that calls to you (even if only for a little while).

      Mey’s writing is always excellent and always always makes my eyes tear up. I’m glad that you’ve also found so comfort in her writing. This is one of the reasons I love Autostraddle so much.

  8. Mey, this was a *gorgeously* written piece, and captured a lot of the feelings I had figuring out my own desires regarding surgery.

    For me, I was initially hesitant to pursue it, since I didn’t feel like I had earned it (since I didn’t have utterly crippling genital dysphoria), and because I was afraid I’d somehow make the wrong decision. However, my counselor, brilliant and kind soul that she was, simply responded to the first issue by asking me, “So, you feel like you need *permission* to be happy?” After that, I realized that I was just as worthy of having a vagina as anyone else, if that’s what I truly wanted- and indeed, it was something I very much wanted.

    And while, yes, for I was still afraid I was making the wrong decision, but as soon as I actually went and scheduled my surgery date, I started feeling more and more excited about it. At this point, even though I’ve still got 18 months to go (long waitlist), I’m really looking forward to it (well, not so much the surgery and the recovery period, which I’ve heard can be pretty rough, but definitely the end result!)

    “It’s like when you’re trying to sleep/And there is a loud car alarm–/When I got my vagina, it was like someone/Finally turned it off.”

    This line always struck a huge chord with me, even before I realized I was trans (now I know why). It’s such a perfect summation of what how life feels pre-transition vs. post-transition- and I strongly suspect how I’ll feel when my body will finally be at peace with my mind.

  9. Reading this was pretty eerily topical for me as it’s something I’ve been pondering a lot lately.

    Thinking seriously about surgery was always something I could postpone since there were so many things on my “checklist” before then but that is starting to no longer be the case and it’s kind of scary.

    Beautiful, relatable pieces such as this are a total treat! Thank you.

  10. This was a-Mey-zing. (has anyone else ever made that pun before? I’ll be really happy if I’m the first to have thought of it)

    I’ve never seen the VM – but wish I could have seen *this* production of it!

  11. Thanks so much for writing this, Mey. I’ve never performed in it myself but have often thought of it in the context of exactly what you wrote above–anatomy and title–and I’m so glad you were able to put this into beautiful and meaningful words, especially in the lead-up to Trans Day of Visibility. I think this is a piece I’ll be returning to a few more times in the future.

  12. Quote:
    I looked at my body and assumed that since that was real, the way I felt in my head was not. I felt so confused, so small and so trapped, for most of my life. I felt like I was stuck in this horrible life that I didn’t know how to live, and there was no way to make it better. If you’re actually a boy, then I’m guessing being a boy must be pretty fun — my friends made it seem that way — but if you’re actually a girl, like I was, then it’s a fucking nightmare.
    /quote

    This except for the fact I didn’t realise at the time I am a girl. At least I wasn’t beaten up or otherwise forced into masculinity. Thanks for small long gone mercies.

    Quote
    a woman can be a woman no matter what her body looks like or feels like
    /quote
    Very difficult to believe in when the feedback is negative, even after 5 years of HRT. It’s been at least 4 months since I was last called ma’am and it was 1 of 3 times last year and 30 times total in 5 years of HRT…

    As for visualising gender dysphoria, it’s a drill doing what it does, right next to my ear but on the inside, inescapable. It was this way before HRT and that it is still so after 5 years of HRT.

    I don’t think I will ever have a vagina. I’m not in condition, financial, physical or mental, for ANY surgery right now. Certainly not for genital surgery with all its risks and they seem to be a bit higher here in NL than in some other parts of the world. I won’t have this procedure done here after what has happened at the gender identity clinic.

    These days I no longer dream about having a vagina, a sex life or even a better life. It all went so horribly wrong after 5.5 months. That first day, when I left the hospital with the first paper bag of hormones, was so overwhelming and so emotional. I don’t think I actually had a day of more hope in my entire life.

    Hope is an expensive luxury I can’t afford. I don’t have the resources for it, not anymore. Depending on how you want to look at it I’m now in attempt 8b or 9 and all it does is more or less keeping dysphoria at bay, shakily, and probably not collapse after 6 months. That would be an absolute first. Had to figure it out all by myself as you don’t get ANY help from the socalled experts here in the Netherlands. And illegally buy medication from the internet as what is available here doesn’t work for some reason or is too dangerous being over 40 (pills give a higher risk of trombosis than patches).

    Nothing kills hope faster than the moment you sit across from the socalled national expert, a professor of endocrinology, and that worthy has a panic attack and then ask you, probably rethorically, what he must do. Your work, for starters. I no longer hold my breath to see if he does.

    It’s quite disheartening when a year later you have to get back to him because corrupt US politicians have given in to drug companies and forced credit card companies not to do business with online pharmacies. I have the wrong credit card (Mastercard to be precise) and can’t get another (unless I get Visa gift cards but family and friends aren’t exactly well off) so can’t break the law as importing your own medication is illegal. These days I order my medications from the professor and without any questions ever asked get them even if they are non standard and thus in principle not paid for by my insurance company. Luckily they gave me dispensation from that but there is still the own risk which is higher than the euro amount of medication I use…
    Not to mention the fact that there might come a day when this particular brand of estrogen patch is no longer available. Something that fills me with dread now that I have some stability. Albeit at a much lower level than when I started HRT. let alone before that.

    I cried (I still could back then) when my insurance company, one of the largest here, couldn’t get me a second opinion here in the country, something I have a right to by law… Organising a trip to a foreign country, even Belgium, is beyond my resources, financial and physical.

    No, dreaming about a better life, including even having a sex life, particularly with a body that is not revulsive and utterly loathsome is a dangerous thing. That way are, no not dragons but nightmares and worse. Way worse…

    These days I believe the only true solution for gender dysphoria lies in killing yourself. And I can’t kill myself. Despite having spent 4 years in suicidal ideation.

    Sometimes it doesn’t work. There doesn’t seem to be much info on it. It seems to be rare as I can find very few people who had it backfire as spectacularly as it did for me. There are hints that those few managed to escape from it by death. A route denied me.

    Exhausted sleep by night, if any, and zombie days is what I have. Those are the good days. With my otherwise healthy body and good genes it’s going to be a long disillusioned life (grandparents reached ages well into the 80s and 90s) and I’m only 48.

    I wasted the best part of my life, almost 8 years now. All for nothing. Absolutely nothing.

  13. Mey! You are such an amazing person. It was such an incredible experience to perform with you. The dialogue with you and Danielle was incredible. While reading this piece, I could hear your voice in the words. I wish you the very best on your journey. You have inspired me.

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