073. Monologuing

tldr: a mock-up for the MITMonologues

Post number 9 on MITAdmissions.

The first section of this blogpost is meant to be a monologue for the MIT Monologues (including some stage directions). In reality, about half of it will probably be cut for time but this is the amount of detail I wanted for this blog at least. More details on the Monologues and this one in particular afterwards.

My first year, I distinctly remember sitting on the couch scrolling through the various club dormspam emails that were flooding in. I was reading each and every one carefully to find one or two to join. One for a math group, one that plays video games, one for a dance group, another for a dance group, More danc–

No one ever tells you this, but your first year you can feel like you’re completely restarting socially.

Sure, most every other first year is struggling socially with you, like a bunch of baby deer on a frozen lake downstream of the firehose, but knowing that doesn’t clearly help much now does it? And all I wanted my first year, was to feel like a part of something. To feel included. So here I am, swiping through club emails. One for dormcon (Dormitory council), one for The Tech, one for an acapella group, and another for an acapella group, MORE for an aca-

Then there was one that caught my eye in particular: (hand gestures in the air) The Vagina Monologues, run by MIT The F-word.

I really wanted to join, but alas I do not have a Vagina. Now granted, “The Vagina Monologues” were named as such based on a play by the same name, and the club certainly didn’t say in big bold letters “Prerequisite: Must Have Vagina”, but I worried about what might happen. What people might say, and the pain that would follow. So, I deleted the email, and moved on with my baby-deer-life.

A year later, and yet another email entered my inbox– because of course, when do the emails ever stop being sent or received?– advertising: (hand gestures again) The MIT Monologues. And with the removal of the word Vagina, I joined the group to write and perform a piece.

At first, I wanted to write about my experience as a transwoman. But I kept sitting down to write and constantly was on the verge of tears and anger (for reasons I’ll get into later). So ultimately, I switched gears and wrote about chronic pain in the piece Crisp that we just heard (insert name here) perform. And I love this piece, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t what I wanted to write about at first where that piece would end up. It felt like I had let that previous version of myself down.

So about a month ago, I sat down and wrote various memories I might want to talk about in this hypothetical piece. In the end, I had eight specific memories and I didn’t want to part with any of them. Without further ado, here are:

8 Distinct Memories as a Transwoman (at MIT)
(ordered loosely by intensity)

1. I’ve always loved math, and I came out as trans in high school. Yet still, it took me until my sophomore year to realize that I’m a woman in STEM. When I realized this, there was this bittersweet feeling in my throat I couldn’t quite shake for a while. Over time, this fact has made me really happy though.

2. Whenever I meet someone new who clocks me as some amount of Gay, they almost always ask if I live at Random or EC. I laugh it off in that way you acknowledge and partially enforce annoying stereotypes, but really I just want to shout:


3. Though I only came out as trans in high school, I knew I was some amount of queer (not a bad word implicitly) since middle school when someone sat me down and told me that being in color guard made me gay. Still, I never fully felt comfortable with this huge part of my identity until I was kissing someone who had never known me before transitioning. I was 18.

4. I never know whether to put my legal name or my Actual Name on forms when applying for summer research. And to be clear– it is my Actual Name– not “Preferred”; it’s the name I use for myself. Anyways, when it comes to these forms, no one ever tells you directly what to do. When I asked for advice, many just told me to do what felt right– but nothing felt right. I didn’t want to “take” some other person’s spot by misrepresenting myself somehow (i.e. internalized transphobia on my part, not that I actually would be taking a spot from anyone), but I also didn’t want to diminish my identity. And the forms aren’t inclusive enough to ask the right questions that would actually make them accessible to all applicants. My first year, I didn’t apply to any summer programs.

(digression– should be reflected in movement on stage) Being trans can lead to a thousand double-edged swords that lightly poke at you throughout the day. All you want– all anyone wants– is to be included. But instead, my brain creates a false dichotomy. Either I simply don’t join the Monologues, or I get treated weirdly for being trans. Either I simply ignore microaggressions, or I do something wrong and feel bad.

My brain tells me to exclude myself before others can exclude me.

5. Behind the stall door of some of the bathrooms of McCormick, there’s a faintly yellowing paper entitled “Young Ladies Etiquette”, held up by what must be the strongest piece of Scotch Tape I’ve ever seen (both via the title and the coloration). The sign has ‘rules’ like “Remove your hair from the shower walls” and “(extra cheerily) While at home you may have ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow’, here always be sure to flush!”. 

After months of staring at this weirdly patronizing piece of paper, (slowly with emphasis) I gingerly removed it… crumpled it up… and threw it into the trash along with the hair from my just-taken-shower. I hated this sign. Because in what world would there be a “Young Gentleman’s Etiquette” with ‘rules’ like “Make sure to shave daily!” and “Don’t pee on the toilet seat!” in a men’s only dorm?

I sometimes wonder if I only thought to simply throw it out since I’m trans. I’ve often wondered if, since I’m trans, my opinion on this should be taken into account at all. Maybe this wasn’t my place. Maybe I shouldn’t have thrown it out in the first place.

6. Speaking of McCormick, while I was living there I did some research into the trans policies they have in place– the end result being none. Not that, in the bylaws, trans people can live there nor that they can’t– simply nothing in the bylaws at all. Now, the heads of house (who I love dearly) welcome transwomen to come live in McCormick, but something felt off about the situation. So of course, naïve-first-year-me decided to dig deeper.

I sent out a Google form. It only had three questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1-5, how supportive would you generally say you are of transgender and nonbinary individuals.
  2. Do you personally know transgender students at MIT that do not live at McCormick?
  3. and a Feels Box, naturally.

Though simple– perhaps too simple– the responses were interesting. For the first question, most students said they were supportive (i.e. a 5); which I relatively expected. The second question was slightly more interesting. Only 60% of students said they knew a transperson outside of McCormick, and of the remaining 40%, 25% said they explicitly didn’t know any transpeople outside of McCormick. But the truly most interesting responses were from the few people who filled out the feels box. Because while some people thought the data/responses would be “useful reassurance” of how welcoming McCormick can be of trans-students, other responses were worse.

One said they were afraid to be sleeping with a penis down their hall. Another said transwomen should only be allowed to live at McCormick if they’ve done xyz medical procedures. And one said that “If you are considering allowing transgender students to live in McCormick,… that makes me, as a biological female very very uncomfortable and betrayed as a woman.”

I moved to Next House that fall.

7. This year I went to the psych ward for a week for my mental health. The first two days I mostly slept. The first thing I did on the third day? I looked at my medical bracelet– the thing that gets me meds and is supposed to “protect” me– and felt my heart drop. I immediately took a pen, and scratched out my legal name. I wondered if anyone noticed. I worried someone did.

8. My piece from last year, Crisp, is on my chronic pain. Pain and pain expression has always been a sore topic for me to grapple with. Because on the one hand, I’m always in pain, but on the other, I try not to show it. This causes an immense amount of gender dysphoria for me. Because it’s stereotypically “masculine” to hide the fact that you’re hurting, and I can’t just awkwardly laugh away this stereotype.

I couldn’t get myself to write about being trans, because it felt like I was trying to validate my role in the Monologues itself. I was explaining why my experiences as a transwoman are implicitly experiences of a woman. I was trying to explain why I should be included. And I felt so sad and angry that I even should have to. So, I didn’t.

After the first of our few rehearsals with the entire Monologues cast the week before our performances, someone messaged me on Discord asking “What does your piece have to do with gender/sex?” I felt hurt, and frustrated, and excluded. Ultimately, this was one of many nights this year I got cried. One of many nights, I felt alone.

So there we go. Eight distinct memories as a transwoman.

Are you happy?
Am I included now?

The MIT Monologues (MITMo) is a spinoff of the play The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, talking about the intersections of sex, gender, relationships, disability, sexuality, etc. written by people with marginalized genders. Before, the cast performed both pieces from the Monologues themselves and some written pieces, but since last year our pieces are all separate from the original piece. Amber wrote about her experience with the MITMo last year and I love this post so definitely give that a read.

I am glad with how this piece wrapped up, though it’ll probably be a bit different during the performance for any number of reasons. This was really just my mock-up so far. The one thing I just want to say is that these memories are simply the ones that have resulted in weird conflicting feelings I think are interesting to hear about in a performance piece. I didn’t include the numerous amazing and embracing memories of my time at MIT because I feel that’s already talked about a lot. To name a few of these memories: 

  • A friend at Random cutting my hair for me after it had gotten particularly wild who didn’t make me feel ashamed, and rather made me feel feminine and seen.
  • Almost never having to use my legal name or tell professors I go by a different name than what’s on a roster has been so helpful and welcoming.
  • Starting HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and having a collection of friends who were going through the same.
  • Calling friends while I do my injections so we can talk and I can let my mind wander.

What I’m trying to say, is that at MIT I’ve been able to feel seen. Most times for the better. Sometimes for the worse. Take of that what you will.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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