Opinion

It's time for trans women to be given space to tell our stories in our own words

Laurie Ward, a writer and performer in Soho Theatre's new 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, writes about how important it is for trans women to be given the space to their own stories

trans women/ 52 monologues

Laurie Ward performing in 52 Monologues for Young Transexuals. Image: Arabella Kennedy-Compston

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals was created with the feeling of necessity. For one, we were both writing terrible one woman shows and needed one another to create something more stageable. But more profoundly, there is a political and artistic necessity in creating nuanced, joyful, challenging, hopeful, real self-representation as marginalised people.

Right now in the UK, there is a real sense that everyone is talking about trans women in the press, in politics and society more broadly. 52 Monologues is our opportunity to tell our stories in our own words, so people can actually hear from us, authentically.

Creating the show, we did interviews with around 10 trans women who lived locally to us at the time, and created it by weaving both theirs and our voices. We asked questions about sex, love, intimacy, and basically had girl talks through these sleepover-style confessionals with one another about our experiences.

What was really striking, in our memory, was not so much the content of these interviews per se, but that none of us had really done this before. None of us had sat down with other trans women and just shared our lives, and shared space. We drank coffee together, sat on the floor, smoked fags out of bedroom windows, without any music and just really talked. This became an incredibly important thrust of making the show: not just to dramatise our experiences, but also to make space in the show for friendship and sisterhood between trans women.

This same sisterhood was instrumental in creating the show. Myself and Charli met at the University of Cambridge and were both in a bit of a state, emotionally, when we found one another. It feels quite cosmic looking back, because we needed one another and this show at that time in our lives.

Cambridge was, on balance, quite a hard place to be trans women, and we felt a lot of rage about the way we were being treated there. Cambridge is also quite small, so we felt anger towards people who were in our community and those we had mutual friends with as a result. 52 Monologues was very much a scream into the Cambridge-void and we really channelled this anger into the show when it premiered originally as a student production. It was like this wake-up call for all the cis people around us, that this is happening, and that it fucking sucks!

A lot of this anger was centring around the way that men in particular would treat us, and this was shared by the trans women we spoke to. But despite feeling a lot of pain and hurt around how we were treated by sexual partners, we also felt a strange disconnect with the language that most (cis) women use to make sense of their experiences with men.

This came up when we spoke about our experiences of sexual violence, in particular. So the play also became a provocation: how do we rationalise, exorcise, heal from these experiences in our own language? And we gravitated toward this hot-pink, hyperpop, bubblegum feminine landscape that is torn down and messed up with all kinds of fluids and mess and so on to exorcise this grief.

This exorcism feeling is also our own twisted way of finding community. People quite often expect community, especially queer communities, to be centred around joy and pleasure and whilst the show is filled with the joy, lightness and humour that you need as a trans girl to survive in this world, it also creates community around points of grief.

The show is described as “a raucous and unapologetic speed-drive through transfeminine experience”. Image: Arabella Kennedy-Compston

These moments of shared suffering, where trans women haven’t necessarily seen their own experiences reflected back to them on stage or in the media, is profoundly unifying. So seeing a pair of trans women saying: “We’ve experienced this too” by supporting one another, and enacting sisterhood and solidarity on stage, goes a long way in making people feel less alone, and less stigmatised. So perhaps counterintuitively, it is the moments of trauma, and tragedy, that make space for community and joy to emerge in and after the show.

These unspoken feelings are really the meat of the show: the things trans women want to say, want you to hear, but don’t really know what to do with right now. We have weaved all of these experiences together into this hot-pink tapestry that is entertaining, lively, but really packs a punch.

Laurie Ward is a writer and performer in 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, on at Soho Theatre, London, until 16 March.

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