On the stage in Irvine Auditorium, the cast of The Vagina Monologues was moaning.
Their moans, ranging from the wailing “car alarm” moan to the muffled “Fisher Fine Arts” moan, were part of the show's commitment to showing a diversity of sexual experiences. Comprised of a series of monologues, the annual show elicited equal amounts of laughter and tears from the audience. But something was different this year — transgender cast members were onstage for the first time at Penn.
Members of the organization V-Day: University of Pennsylvania, who have put on the show for the past 17 years to raise awareness of gender-based violence, said they hope to continue changing and growing as intersectional identities are becoming more prominent in the feminist movement.
“Over the last four years, the movement’s become a lot more aware of itself, a lot more aware of its faults or places where it needs to grow,” College senior and The Vagina Monologues cast member Emily True said. Carol Quezada Olivo, also a College senior involved in the show, agreed, noting that the number of Penn women of color in the show has increased during her time with the movement. She added that for the first time ever, this year’s show also featured members of the transgender community.
The Penn production’s inclusion of transgender actors follows controversy surrounding the Vagina Monologues' relationship with trans-identifying persons in recent years. Women's college Mount Holyoke canceled their production of the show because the student-run theater board felt the limited focus on the experience of cis-women was not inclusive enough.
Publicity Chair and College junior Johanna Matt-Navarro said the V-Day UPenn board is actively increasing the show and movement’s inclusivity.
“We’re trying to become much more inclusive," she said. "Even just three or four years back, you can definitely see a shift in how things are run.”
Matt-Navarro and Finance Chair and College junior Ariana Martino said the board has recognized that the show, created in the 1990s, does not represent all the voices that deserve to be heard. Martino said she believes the movement has become more diverse in gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity and socioeconomic background.
“For every story that’s told, there’s a hundred that aren’t told,” she added.
V-Day UPenn hosts other events throughout the year, including speakeasies, weekly community meetings and Moregasm, to showcase original content and increase their activism. Proceeds from their production of The Vagina Monologues go to Women Organized Against Rape, the sole full-service rape crisis center in Philadelphia.
Rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence persist as issues on college campuses nationwide. A 2015 survey conducted by the American Association of Universities found that by senior year, almost a third of Penn undergraduate female respondents reported experiencing non-consensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation.
In addition to raising money, The Vagina Monologues has become an essential part of the identities of many Penn women, including True and Quezada Olivo.
“You will learn something and experience something," True said. "Every time I see the show I learn something new, and I’ve probably seen the show at least 15 times at this point, so that’s saying something. As a senior, I’ve been really grateful for V-Day as an outlet.”
Quezada Olivo said V-Day UPenn encourages students to get involved in the movement, even if they don't participate in the show.
"You can raise money; you can learn about so many different things. It’s a really great opportunity. It’s awesome," she said.