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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oakland’s Kin Folkz is Staging The Vagina Monologues for the Benefit of Transwomen of Color

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 12:05 PM

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Since The Vagina Monologues’ 1996 debut, Eve Ensler’s episodic Off-Broadway play has been performed across America about as many times as the Nativity scene. Along with V-Day, the larger movement where participants stage the The Vagina Monologues for the benefit of women’s shelters and other nonprofits, it continues to attract controversy from all quarters.

Most recently, Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts canceled its annual performance because the play was no longer representative of the student body or its conception of gender.

While the first all-trans performance was over a decade ago, Kin Folkz, the founder and CEO of Oakland’s Spectrum Queer Media, is staging a production that likely expands the definition of what it means to be a woman beyond what anyone has with all profits donated to Bay Area Women Against Rape and V-Day. Implicitly addressing the Mt. Holyoke theater group's decision, Folkz believes this production is the first of its kind.

While Mt. Holyoke has a “very beautiful definition of ‘woman,’ I would even say we’ve gone beyond that definition, because [this version] includes cisgender males who identify as being gender non-conforming,” Folkz told me.

There is arguably a universality to the play that may have been overlooked in this most recent contretemps. “The Vagina Monologues is, for me, about the celebration and the protection of anyone who loves, adores, and rightfully understands the reverence of vaginas,” Folkz said. “Hopefully, that will be, on some level, all of us, because we all come from vaginas. I’m a queer, Two Spirit, gender non-conforming individual, and it was important to me to express that as well.”

Hence why Folkz decided to go with the production rather than cast the play off as a vehicle solely for middle-class, college-educated white women, a critique some feminist readers have inveighed against it.

“It’s inspiring other people not to abandon The Vagina Monologues but to embrace it alongside other voices that are necessary for us all to move forward…To me, it wasn’t as much a controversy as a conversation that needed to happen.”

In casting the show, Folkz turned to an often overlooked community (transgender women of color) partly because that is Folkz’ own tribe. But this production is not a wry stunt intended to check off boxes, nor is it a cerebral exercise in provocation or trolling. The connection between The Vagina Monologues’ theme of empowerment and the recent spate of violence against trans women of color is a personal one. As Folkz reminded me, the average life expectancy for a transgender woman of color is an appalling 35 years.

“Because I know people who lived in Oakland and whose spirits still walk the streets of Oakland who were victims of transgender violence, it was very important for me that there are pieces that speak to it in this Vagina Monologues,” Folkz told me, tearing up. “There’s one piece in particular, called "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy - Or So They Tried,"  based upon interviews conducted with transgender women with the experience of violence and persecution and mis-gendering. It’s one of our centerpieces, actually. It was really important to us that it was not only in the play but that we point out consciously that trans gender violence is a concern that we all should have, not just the LGBTQIA community.”

The Vagina Monologues, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 20-21, at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland.
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Pete Kane

Pete Kane

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Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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