By Dawn Wolfe
What do an African-American transwoman working as a homeless LGBT youth worker and a 5-year-old “Snotty Boy” who grants wishes for cookies have in common? They’re both fictional characters, and both are part of Julia Lynn Marsh’s upcoming one-woman show at The Ringwald on June 23.
Marsh’s show, “Please Give Me Your Money So I Can Buy a Vagina,” will be part of the theater’s annual Gay Play Series running from June 7-24.
In a recent interview with BTL, Marsh said that the show started off as a fundraiser for – you guessed it – surgery to give her a vagina.
“I had done standup in the past for queer events,” she says, “and I kind of had certain stories that people really liked hearing – ridiculous stories from my life – and one day a woman I knew through community theater came up to me and said, ‘Hey, that whole transgender thing – can I ask you a bunch of questions?’
“We talked about surgery and she asked me if I’d done a fundraiser but I said I wasn’t comfortable asking people for money, so she suggested putting the show together as a fundraiser.”
After writing and workshopping started in Sepember 2012, Marsh’s first inkling that she might have a hit on her hands happened during an Oakland Community College talent show in December. Marsh performed a five-minute monologue “with no intention of winning; I just wanted to see how an audience would react to it.”
The audience reacted very well. Marsh won first place in the competition. “I was so shocked!” she says. “I was the only performer who didn’t sing or dance. That was kind of the first inclination that I could probably do something with this.”
Since that time, Marsh has indeed “done something with this,” including attracting the attention of Ringwald Artistic Director – and her show’s director – Joe Bailey.
Recalling her first show – “Rugrats Hannuka Special” at age 5 – she remembers when she was director.
Marsh laughs. “It wasn’t very successful because my cousin and sister didn’t take it as seriously as I did … and (they) didn’t take artistic direction.”
She continued putting on shows for her family and did theater in both middle and high school – and even took a stab at writing and reading poetry at the old Xhedos coffeehouse in Ferndale.
These were some of her first times on stage as Julia – a transition that has been more successful, she said, than her poetry. “I’m sure people wanted to scratch their eyeballs out with a fork for those couple of years,” she remembers with a smile in her voice.
Not that transitioning as a 15-year-old was an easy time in her life. Like many transgender individuals, Marsh knows what it’s like to be homeless, though she said that her falling out with her parents – primarily her father – wasn’t caused by her gender identity alone. “Dad couldn’t handle my transition, my mother couldn’t handle us together, and I just wasn’t allowed to come back home,” she says.
Now, at 26, Marsh said that her experiences have taught her a lot about life.
“I started my transition when I was 15 – I was either brave or stupid, but I think the two are pretty similar,” she says. “I think bravery in part is being willfully ignorant, or just being ignorant of the trials you’re going to face. I was this whiny little goth trans girl who felt like ‘Oh, woe is me; the world is against me.’ I felt left out from all of those queer activists. Then I found out what the world is really like, knowing what real discrimination is, what real pain is. It’s not glorious, and it’s not pretty.”
Marsh has taken all of those lessons and many of those experiences and put them into a show – and while doing so, learned something very important about herself and what it means to be a woman.
“Ironically, (the show became) about something I had yet to come to terms with because of homelessness and other things that kept me from pursuing the surgery,” she says. “I had to become OK with myself as I am. So it became a comedy show about somebody desperately trying to get a vagina through all of these situations like homelessness and wanting this ultimate sign of femininity – and ultimately realizing you can become your own kind of woman and being OK with that while still wanting to make improvements to yourself. I still want to have that surgery, but it’s no longer integral to my happiness, which is what the show is about.”
In fact, asked to choose between money for a vagina and money for college, Marsh doesn’t hesitate. “Definitely college, for the simple fact that a vagina won’t get you a college education, but a college education might get you a vagina!”