Queer Corner: The Problem with Project Vulva

By Jay Marks HMC ‘19
LGBTQ+ Columnist

No one can deny that Scripps is full of politically correct and socially aware feminists. But some events lead me to question whether trans exclusionary radical feminism, or TERF,  is taking over as some students ignore their transgender peers. One of these is Project Vulva.
Project Vulva was an event that occurred on Thurs., Oct. 29. The intention of the project was to “create an open dialogue educating people about the vulva in order to confront society’s stigmas and stereotypes, and make people more comfortable with the many varying images and types of cis and non-cis vulvas,” as worded on the event’s Facebook page. Little did the organizers of the event, paired with the Motley staff, know that the repercussions of this event would be so large.

Five days prior to the event, a transgender woman posted on the page of the event, speaking up about the wording of the advertising of the event. The qualm was with the phrase “generally, society is so comfortable with the image of a penis and vulvas are considered taboo…” She stated that “society is not comfortable with the image of a penis on a woman… to say that penises are universally accepted as non-taboo is transmisogynistic.” Others spoke up as well, stating that the event was violent towards trans women and transphobic, describing it as “gross” and “a mess.” No further specifications about why the event was transmisogynistic were provided.

The response towards the transgender individuals was disheartening at the very least. Instead of apologizing for the transphobic aspects of the event and choosing to cancel it, several cisgender students argued with the transgender students, even going so far as to re-explain the event as though the transgender students were wrong to feel unsafe.

In light of the dialogue, the Motley Facebook page acknowledged the issue with the following statement:

“The Motley wants to validate and support the critiques that have been voiced concerning Project Vulva. We are deeply sorry for the hurt experienced by the trans community both in the space of the Motley and on the Scripps campus in general. Being a privileged and exclusive space has long been imbedded in our herstory, and though we have tried and are trying to become an inclusive space where everyone can feel safe and accepted, we recognize that we have failed.”

This is the point at which I became extremely disappointed in the Motley staff and the organizers of this event. They were told multiple times by multiple people that this event was an act of violence against transgender women, and chose to have the event anyway. This in itself is an act of violence. One cannot “validate and support the critiques” of this event and still choose to host it, despite the wording of its advertisement that made the event transmisogynistic and transphobic.

Whether or not a cisgender individual thinks this event is transphobic doesn’t actually matter. If transgender people say that something makes them feel unsafe and unwelcome, it is inappropriate for anyone to tell them--implicitly or explicitly-- that their feelings are wrong and to essentially ignore what they’ve said.

While I agree with the concept that vulvas are considered taboo and I believe that this is an important issue to address, the way that this event was presented was not respectful to transgender individuals.

A solution to this issue would be to cancel this event, apologize to the individuals who felt unsafe, and create a similar but new event that better advertises the mission of the event with more respectful advertising. This way, the transgender students would not only have been acknowledged, but listened to, and a more appropriate event could have been created to celebrate vulvas.