On Saturday, October 17, 2015, I drove from Midvale, Utah, where I live, just 10 miles south of Salt Lake city, to Smithfield, Utah, about a two hour drive into the conservative Cache County, from one small suburb to another. I took the day off from campaigning for city council, because as the only transgender person running for office in Utah, I was asked by the creator of the Mama Dragon project if I would be there to show support. Ashley’s death had infuriated me, because I don’t want to see more transgender people committing suicide, thinking that their deaths will somehow spawn society to change, and in effect justify the suicide.
I arrived at the candlelight vigil hosted by her co-workers to see an outpouring of love. About 100 non-transgender people were there, telling their stories of Ashley, and it was clear that she had touched so many people. Her missive to “fix the world” was already happening through her own life.
I have survived too many suicides in the transgender community to see more: beautiful people who felt they were unlovable, leaving a wake in their passing. I have survived my own attempts, and know the struggle intimately. But I also have found that we are indeed lovable, when we learn to love ourselves first.
I have been involved with The Vagina Monologues off and on for the last 7 years. While allowing me my childhood dream to finally appear in a professional performance, it also allowed me to start finding my voice in advocacy. My first performance was at Casa Manana in Fort Worth. The cast had been assembled and rehearsed at a church that I had recently started attending, exploring my true self. So it seemed like fate, when the auditions were announced there, and one of the pieces they planned to do was “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy (Or So They Tried),” a piece that highlighted the experiences of transgender women. As part of a duet, it was my first professional performance, and with another transgender woman from my support group. A third transgender woman, with a beautiful smile and a helpful attitude, preferred to help out with the door and do stage work. A few months later, Cathy, my friend, became my first experience with suicide within the transgender community. And before I could attend her funeral, I had to be in Louisville Kentucky to start a new job.
Meanwhile, I heard another one of my friends was struggling with thoughts of suicide after being raped, and I was struggling because I had been taken advantage of sexually by two men while moving to an apartment. I found the existing support groups did not help women in transition nearly enough, and eventually formed my own, taking it with me to my next job in Utah.
In Utah, I found myself immersed in a political struggle between the LGBT community and the policies of the leadership in both the church and the state legislature. But I found everyday people supportive. I sensed the disconnect. I tried to live stealth for as long as I could, and then a call went out for transgender people to do “They Beat the Girl…” Soon, one of my office workers in her excitement let the whole floor know that I was going to appear in The Vagina Monologues. I had three months to get everyone to love me.
During that time, I was also invited to political rallies, and I was preparing for the surgery that would make me complete. I started taking belly dance classes, and after my foray on stage for the second time, I was willing to perform with dancing troupes and was already doing solos.
My worlds started merging and colliding. In 2011, I was denied the claim for my surgery, as well as all my non-related treatment for the last year. Devastated, I fought back, and let my story be told in the Salt Lake City Weekly, which had more readership than I imagined. I was also invited to perform my own poetry at charities, which I felt more comfortable doing since I had performed, “I was There in the Room” in 2012.
My increasing advocacy eventually led me to run for the Utah State Legislature in 2014. Within three hours of filing, it was out that a transgender person was running for office. I didn’t have much experience, so drew 9% of the vote in a three-way race at convention. But everyone in the party encouraged me to stay active. This year I saw community needs, and ran for a part-time city council race against a 12-year incumbent, who happens to be an LDS bishop. I did a little better this time, with 42% of the vote, and all of the publicity about being “a first.”
When that race drew to a close, and I was invited to audition, and that original pieces were welcome, I knew it was time to tell another story, one of love that often goes unseen. I wanted people to understand that you can make more of an impact by living than by dying. So this is my way of paying back The Vagina Monologues and V-Day for helping me to find my voice in advocacy, and for inviting me into the fold, learning to be an effective voice, and how to use the stage. This is my way of also paying it forward, for the next generation of Vagina Warriors to have another tool to take the stage as our next generation of leaders, and to continue to fight violence with love.
– Sophia Hawes-Tingey
I Didn’t Know (She Was Trans)
A Monologue Written November 30, 2015, for the Vagina Monologues at Westminster College by Sophia Hawes-Tingey (aka Sophie Jean Featherwind)
She was five foot eleven when she walked into the room,
A long tall drink of water.
Six foot one in high heels,
She could have been a model.
Legs that led clear up to…
She had long flowing red hair,
Just begging for my touch,
And I wondered if she had a matching red leather couch
If you know what I mean.
That twinkle in her brown eyes
Was oh so charming
And I just wanted to bask in her presence,
Her slow smile,
The way she tilted her head.
I just wanted to melt against her,
Have her caress my hair
While I cuddled next to her,
And listened to her sultry voice.
But I was too shy.
What if she wasn’t a lesbian
Wasn’t into girls like I?
I had to try.
And so day after day
I sat there
Listened to her
She was so helpful
Yet what was she hiding behind that beautiful smile?
How could I find my way into her heart?
By her side?
With a ring on my finger, I would be hers.
So inch by inch I made up my mind,
That perfect place
That perfect time
I would take her out and we would unwind…
So I sat there waiting
Biding my time.
She didn’t show
She was late.
I waited until half past eight.
And then the news came,
She was gone
Never to return.
She didn’t pack her bags
But she left a note.
A long note in which she whispered
My heart broke.
The world is broken
And I didn’t know
The torture the pain
That hid behind those eyes
Before she took that last train.
I didn’t know
She felt so alone
Unable to speak
I didn’t know…
She was trans
And she didn’t know
It didn’t matter
Remains ever still.
*This monologue goes out to the transgender women who have gone before, taken the last train, feeling that society didn’t accept them and that they were unlovable, when in reality, just by living they were fixing society in ways that their deaths never could have. This is for an end to the suicides by people like Leah Alcorn and Ashley Hallstrom, who took their own lives in 2015, leaving many heartbroken people behind.