A homeless teen lesbian, a prostituted girl, an underground
abortionist, and a child porn survivor are recruited into
a rapist castration plot by a mysterious woman named
Gynx. Men go into hiding, and their operation makes global
headlines. But when Gynx’s true motives are revealed,
the group is forced to question whether
they are truly on the side of justice.
We had notes that we didn’t have room for in our review of GYNX by Alicen Grey, so, in the spirit of an “outtakes” post, here are some more thoughts on the play:
In some ways, the play reminds me of Disgraced, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play by Ayad Akhtar about the dehumanization of Muslim men in America. Disgraced showed us that stereotyping and racism can lead to the exact dangers that the dominant culture is afraid of. Its characters were realistic people, but they were also stereotypes and symbols. GYNX uses the same method with its characters and story.
In our culture, it’s a stereotype that women are born liars and manipulators. Strong women are called ballbusters and maneaters. Supposedly weak women can’t think for themselves. They’re seen as submissive followers, eager to please. Disgraced explored the stereotypes it presented, twisting them every way it could think of, and so does GYNX.
THEN GYNX KEEPS GOING. Because our society makes a habit of pushing women to their limits and beyond. It’s raw and honest. It demands that you pay attention. It demands that you think about what you’re seeing, and make your own decisions about the material.
One major difference between Disgraced and GYNX is that in Disgraced, Amir, the male, ex-Muslim main character, has rejected his heritage, but still feels some pride in it. He knows he can return to his culture and homeland, where he will be in the privileged class, whenever he chooses. Even if he personally never returns, it exists for him to draw comfort from.
Women don’t have that option. We have no homeland. We have no culture or heritage of proud freedom and accomplishments to sustain us. At least not any that hasn’t been forcibly suppressed like something out of a dystopian novel. All that we have is each other, our rage, and the bits of feminist history that we can cobble together from the fragments that are left to us.
The other difference is that Disgraced is about Amir’s fall from grace, and his struggle to remain at the top of the dominant culture, clinging desperately to the symbols of materialistic success that he’s surrounded himself with.
Whereas, other than Gynx herself, the female characters in GYNX are like fallen angels, homeless or poor, with three of them raped as minors. They live in the world that Amir is afraid of, and his treatment of women isn’t much better than that of the men in this show.
GYNX the play doesn’t flinch from showing that women, when given the kinds of power and privilege that men enjoy in our society, will abuse it just as men do. The ultimate issue is inequality and privilege, but men have enjoyed this privilege for so long that it seems hard to imagine separating it from our cultural image of manhood. Male abuse of power is usually, but not always, what we have to deal with in the here-and-now.
Gynx the character slowly steers the women toward her plan of castrating rapists. In one of my favorite touches, the women practice the surgery on cadavers at the medical school at which one of them, Natasha, is a cleaning woman. Natasha has already taught herself to do at-home abortions. No one at the medical school has noticed that their cleaning woman is also a self-taught surgeon. She’s an invisible woman.
The type of castration they choose to do is a penectomy, amputating the penis but leaving the testes, so that the rapists still have sex drives, but can’t orgasm. Perfect revenge. They reroute the urethra through the perineum, forcing the men to sit down while they pee. The sitting down part isn’t discussed in the show, but I love the emasculation of it. We women are vulnerable while we pee, with our pants down and squatting or sitting, low to the ground, behind a closed door, in a way that men, who pee standing up and in the open, able to see danger approaching and react to it quickly, whether it’s a purse snatcher or a rapist, aren’t. Let them be the vulnerable ones for a change. They’d have the exposure of using a stall in the men’s room to contend with as well, so their secret wouldn’t be as secret as they’d like.
Alicen Grey has done her feminist homework, and slips bits of women’s history into appropriate moments, going back as far as the witch hunts and forward as far as the 80s. Our history is important and easily lost, so I’m always glad to see younger women taking it seriously. It’s not a pedantic history lesson, just bits here and there to enhance the story.
A brief anecdote from our viewing experience: Just as the child porn star says “I was a child porn star,” (she says it as a fairly dramatic announcement), there was a very bright flash of lightning, and thunder so intense it shook the entire house and our very bones. For a moment, I thought it might have been a bomb. Both Metamaiden and I sat there, stunned, unsure if it was part of the show or in real life, since it was a beautiful sunny day outside. After several seconds, my husband started yelling from the next room about how close the lightning strike had been, and we collapsed into hysterical laughter. The Goddess does not not like child porn, kids!
Between the frantic music, the green light that was sometimes used, and all of the castration that was going on, we occasionally felt like we were at Hedwig. Except that there were biological women on the stage. But there was that time we saw Lena Hall play Hedwig…
When I wrote about GYNX before I saw it, I set up some hopes for it as a counterweight to shows that pretend to support women, but actually undermine them, the type of shows which have become way too prevalent in recent years. I hoped GYNX would show women’s honest uncensored feelings. Check. I wanted the women to be themselves, rather than being “nice.” Check. I wanted it to be lacking in the male perspective/male gaze. Check. I wanted it to show our side of the story for once, without worrying about how men would react to it, or how being honest would look to other people. Check.
Disgraced gave Muslim men an uninterrupted voice through which to air their grievances, frustrations, anger, jealousy and other truths that aren’t normally admitted in public. It won major awards and acclaim for doing so.
Alicen Grey has thrown down the gauntlet. Will our culture support her for the same kind of raw honesty, in the way GYNX deserves? I hope so. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all watch and support her amazing show about women, for women, by women.
Alicen is working on setting up GYNX for online streaming, in order to make this theatrical production accessible to as many people as possible. That should be available in the next few days. I’ll update this post when the stream is ready, or you can keep an eye on GYNXtheplay.com
GYNX and Alicen are looking for a new producer as the play moves to the next stage in its life. Contact Alicen through the GYNX website, GYNXtheplay.com if you or someone you know is interested.