Free Love! A V-Day Experience in the Philippines with Eve Ensler and Monique Wilson
This is not about promiscuity, neither is this about a social movement. It is a personal invitation to include freedom in the picture of love as a Valentine's Day activity.
When we talk of Valentine’s Day we talk of celebrating relationships built on love. Yet many of us think of love as one filled with boundaries, restrictions, expectations, and several “unspoken rules”. We can’t help it. We were brought up to think and act in this manner. Today, I dare present an option you can take to break away from this belief system.
Love another by giving them freedom.
Allow me to give my points by sharing an experience highlighting instances that best serve as examples on the point in focus.
Allow Them to Dream and Take Part
Years ago, I dreamed of celebrating Valentine’s Day in a more relevant manner. In 2002, an opportunity came to direct and act in a show campaigning to put an end to violence against women. It meant convincing prominent women in the city to take a risk make a stand and lend their voices to those silenced by the experience.
The play, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues; the celebration, V-DAY Cebu, an activity done on Valentine's Day; the performers, mothers, grand mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, cousins, daughters in law and sisters in law of different families in Cebu; the special guest performer, international artist Monique Wilson, who played Kim, alternating with Lea Salonga, in London’s West End original run of Miss Saigon and who also happened to be the official organizer of V-Day Philippines.” V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations.
Persuading friends, family, acquaintances, media people, writers, managers, teachers, consultants, lawyers, politicians, fashion designers and fellow artists to say the word “vagina” in public was the most challenging part in the process especially in a Catholic country like the Philippines. I was scared to be rejected. Many thought I was kidding, some thought I was crazy, others thought I was too radical but all of them believed in the cause. Amazingly, 32 brave Cebuanas, including my eldest sister, made their stand.
Any liberating experience needs a "Yes" from you. Take part in the dream and free Love.
Allow Them to Discover Their Strength and Be Ready to Applaud
Half of these brave women never acted on stage and not one has ever spoken the V word out loud. More than half needed to do certain things like light a number of cigarettes, drink a few cups of coffee, giggled nervously for over 30 minutes, squirmed around the rehearsal room, or blabbered about nothing for almost an hour before they could utter the words “vagina”. When they finally did, we celebrated with shrieks, shouts, cheers, applause, hugs, more coffee and cigarettes, more of those crazy giggles and at times with tears. There were moments of intimate sharing too as some allowed themselves to be “naked” and confessed that they experienced abuse in their respective lives as well.
Healing begins with you. Allow, accept and free Love.
Allow Them to Stumble or Fall and Be Ready with Bandages
Some performers experienced the challenge of getting concerned calls from friends, and relatives upon seeing their names listed in dailies as one of the “Vagina Warriors”. Others felt the pressure of getting “knowing stares” and “whispers” from students, officemates and subordinates. There were those who got teased and received sneering remarks. A few of them had intense talks with their husbands, lovers and children. Quite a number called to say they had second thoughts of joining the play. There were those who made excuses of conflicts in schedules. I told them we understood and that it was a decision they had to make on their own, only that they make their choice known as soon as possible to give us enough time to reassign their respective monologues. We assured them that our respect and love for them will never change even if they did decide to step back for the time being.
Released from the pressure of having to keep their commitment, these women gained the strength and courage to stand up and run again even amidst the occasional pain from “fresh wounds”. Rehearsal times were "bandages and ointments" to their “cuts and bruises”.Support began to pour in.
Respect differences, honor choices, empower and free love.
Allow Them to Rant or Shout and Listen until They Ask You to Speak
When we do dare to stand our ground “violent reactions” are almost certain. Some sectors called the V-Day project as the “work of the devil”. Some companies shunned away from sponsoring the project because the V word was too vulgar for their corporate image choosing to help bikini shows instead. Wink. Others came in the guise of being interested to help only to reveal their true intent of using or should I say, overusing the title, as an excuse to say the “V” word on TV. Others still, simply hated our guts and blamed us for stirring things up.
While attending to the Photo exhibit featuring our brave performers I was approached by a priest I worked with in a previous project. He was among those curious enough to stop and see what the fuss was all about. He smiled when our eyes met and reached to shake my hand saying “So this is what you are into nowadays. Why?” We both laughed and went into an in depth discussion of the need to actively participate in efforts to end violence against women.
We were into Eve Ensler’s intent of removing the stigma attached to the word vagina when I became aware of other people “eves dropping” on our exchange forming a small circle around us. I took the chance to include our unexpected audience explaining how we unknowingly attach negativity to the word when it is simply a name given to a part of our body just like the nose, the ears, the eyes etc. “Why then must we tell a little girl “Don’t say bad words” when she says things concerning that part of the body? Imagine the impact of such statements to a child’s little mind when she asks “why is something bad attached to me?” I felt the energy around me stand still for a few seconds and then a smile and another question.
“Hmmm is there no other way to do that?” Father asked. I said, “Father, I guess it’s time we get comfortable saying the word vagina if only to remind ourselves and others that the vagina was never created to be a place of shame but rather a place of honor for it is where God has chosen that mankind should gain entrance into this big beautiful world.” He smiled in full understanding and wished me the best in the project.
I believe everyone who witnessed the exchange, including me, found peace in the word “vagina” that instance. Gaining understanding of the knowledge that the vagina is a place where the miracle of a new life flows out is more than enough reason for humankind to treat it with dignity, honor and respect.
Listen with your whole being expressing only your truth and free Love.
Allow Them to Fly and Let Go
I chose to deliver the piece called “My Angry Vagina”-- first, because it was funny and second, I knew I had to deal with the anger I felt towards my own vagina. I always blamed it for the sexual abuses I went through from grade school to high school to college and to my professional life -- all from different people and from different walks of life. I felt it was following me until I decided to fight back. Up until that time, I usually froze in fear, blamed myself and hated myself for being such a weakling.
The monologue provided the venue to let go of the unexpressed emotions I had toward the self and my oppressors. The first time I delivered it, many laughed at my interpretation but some also felt there was too much anger in it. I knew I had to process myself and did so by choosing to continue the efforts of forgiving myself and my oppressors. The monologue and project served as a therapy ground for healing to run in an increased pace.The “flight” to freedom has taken on a new course.
Surrender to faith. Forgive. Let go and free Love.
Allow Them to Be and Set Yourself Free
The performers were all geared up in their red attires looking glamorous in their respective make up and hair do’s. Some were nervously pacing all over the back stage area. Others entertained themselves by constantly checking the arrival of the who’s who in the audience while a few sat silently in a corner preparing for the performance.
Embarrassed giggles filled the ballroom in the first few deliveries of the word vagina. A few minutes later more laughter was heard and the next few minutes people started falling off their seats in boisterous disbelief that these respected women in society were actually saying “vagina” like it was the most natural thing to do. There were silent moments too as tears fell during monologues exposing the plight of women gang raped in Bosnia or how life is under the Burqa (an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of cloaking the entire body)
The show was a success. The project has done its share in helping support the cause to end violence against women. The performers gained the respect, honor, love and admiration of family, friends and media. We were vindicated. The audience was clamoring for a restaging. The first V-Day Cebu project was still the “talk of the town” even weeks after the performance and many came forward to volunteer their services in the next celebration.
Liberation of one can mean the liberation of many. Be free and free Love.
Free Love for a Change
Pure love exist not where limitations are imposed and expected. Pure love exists only in being free. Be free as you celebrate Valentine’s in the manner you so choose and enjoy it to the fullest. I love you.