Hannah Collins had only just entered the world when Eve Ensler first performed The Vagina Monologues off-Broadway, in 1996.
As the acclaimed production has aged, it has also changed with the times, and Collins says she is eager to perform in a new — and extra queer — adaptation hitting an Ottawa stage in March.
“I read about the monologues ages ago, and when the opportunity came up to get involved, I wanted to add my voice, experiences and perspectives,” the 18-year-old says.
Collins thinks the biggest challenge in addressing violence against women is a lack of community conversation and public education.
“The reality is that violence against women goes on unseen in Ottawa, but especially in the queer community; it is something no one ever talks about,” she says, noting that there have been only a handful of Canadian university campaigns to address domestic violence in same-sex partnerships.
“As a queer woman, I feel that domestic violence doesn’t come up because women are stereotyped as victims: how can two victims be in an abusive relationship? Well they can, and we need to talk about it,” she says.
This is why the team behind the new production plans to break ground by including more queer monologues.
Stephanie Monette, who is performing a monologue about a positive queer relationship, says it’s important for her as a straight woman to be involved. “I want a better world for my two-year-old daughter, a place for her to grow up without violence and hate. It is the same reason I brought her to the Capital Pride festival; I want her to see love.”
Monette has known women in abusive relationships. “They internalize the violence and blame themselves. The Vagina Monologues give people hope by breaking that silence and raising awareness about abuse, discrimination, homophobia and the numerous other challenges and intersections.”
Two years after Ensler premiered The Vagina Monologues, she released the rights so community groups could perform it at no cost and raise money to fight gender-based violence.
Fifteen years later, the Ottawa production of the monologues is still creating safer spaces. The group is run as a collective, and the women who organize the event have worked to create a space in which participants can explore their feelings and experiences and feel empowered.
“Funds this year will be donated to the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa, a centre that has worked to be able to address the experiences of queer women escaping sexual violence,” Collins says.
Collins, too, has friends who have experienced violence. “I know a number of queer friends . . . who have been in violent relationships, and it was horrible. That is why I am glad this show addresses those issues, and I hope it will bring together a community of support and encouragement for all survivors.”