Kling, from Chicago and back for her second Cincinnati Fringe run, has now made what could be considered the ultimate step on the transgender continuum: sex (or gender) reassignment surgery. And it's more than a transgender take on Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues (although it could have served as inspiration).
Kling offers a fun, engaging and deeply personal performance with a solid storytelling, a generous dose of humor — and, yes, with quite a few “groaner” puns — in addition to recounting her emotional and physical experiences. She even delves into the anatomical nitty-gritty of what various surgical procedures involve. She’s direct when she needs to be and offers many details but does so without a pedantic or overtly educational tone. (In addition to performance, Kling also does transgender advocacy and educational outreach work.)
Curiously, she references the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid to frame context for personal, physical transformation and its costs, drawing parallels to the changes Ariel the mermaid undergoes for love and happiness (though Kling discredits the film’s “shitty feminism”).
But ultimately it’s about her own story, her journey. Her candid, periodically bawdy descriptions often elicit empathy as well as a strong sense of her happiness.
What struck me most were the things you might not even think about, or perhaps take for granted: The different physical steps involved in urination and how she misses peeing standing up. How, after surgery, she moved her hand to scratch testicles that were no longer there. During the healing process, sensations of pain and pleasure often crossed wires. The anxiety she experienced before surgery and the fear of possibly never having an orgasm again. The sense of wonder at seeing her new genitalia for the first time with a hand mirror. Powerful stuff.
The show runs shorter than its one-hour time slot, allowing time for a striptease Q&A session at the end. You ask a question, she unbuttons some buttons or removes an article of clothing. It’s a novel idea, and it’s not as awkward as it might sound. But then that’s largely up to the audience.
Above all, Something Something New Vagina makes you stop to think about what gender really is and means — and how it’s defined by more than the physical. As Kling says, even she’s still trying to understand it on some levels.
Though anatomy forms an integral — and
very visceral — part of one’s experience as male, female or somewhere in
between, it turns out we’re far more than just the sum of our parts.
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