Meet the feminist playwright who’s castrating rapists Off-Broadway

Alicen Grey is the writer of GYNX, a new play that tells the story of five women who join together to fight rape culture in an unconventional way.

Alicen Grey

GYNX (pronounced jinx) is a new play by Alicen Grey, currently in production and premiering Off-Broadway this August. It tells the story of five women who find common cause in fighting rape culture, but their methods are a little unconventional. They carefully select known rapists, castrate them and release them. Do the ends justify the means? When justice has been denied to women since prehistory, how do women take our power back?

Grey is fearless in naming male violence, which isn’t a surprise if you’re familiar with her work. But perhaps the most shocking thing about the play (hang onto your seatbelts, women, there are curves ahead!), is the refusal to turn away from the weakness, fear, and power dynamics that threaten the feminist movement. Throughout, a dark humour balances all the destruction.

Grey has already started to get attention for her effort, with a feminist director signed on, a running start on her IndieGoGo campaign, and, unsurprisingly, plenty of hate from pathetic men. I had a chance to interview Grey about all of this.

***

Jocelyn Macdonald: What was the initial spark of inspiration?

Alicen Grey: Anger and grief! Around December 2015, someone sent me an article about the history of underground abortion operations run by feminists. As I read it, this rage bubbled up in me — not only because such operations are necessary, but because I’d never even heard of the “living room abortion movement.” These women risked their lives to save others’, they worked so hard for no recompense, and some were jailed. After all that, they were erased from feminist discourse. Now, all mainstream feminists talk about is whether lipstick and high heels are empowering. How did we go from being so radical to being so easily pacified?

Around the same time, a friend and I were talking about how some countries castrate sex offenders with remarkable success. That same rage bubbled up. I said:

“Why don’t governments do more to protect us? Better question: why are we still waiting around for them to care? Imagine what would happen if we all took matters into our own hands — if we gave ourselves abortions and made rapists fear for their lives.”

When I said that, suddenly I got this vision of a man strapped down to a table, surrounded by five women wearing masks. It felt like a vision from the future. I was overcome with this insatiable craving to write, unlike any inspiration I’ve felt for a creative project before. Now, a year and a half later, I’ve written a play in which five women do take matters into their own hands… And it’s premiering Off-Broadway this August.

JM: Any particular reason you chose theatre as the medium for this story?

AG: At first it was a fun “Why not?” thing, because I’ve been both a writer and a theatre kid all my life, yet somehow I hadn’t put those two passions together until now. But when I decided to seriously produce it, there were so many rejections and hurdles to jump, just to get in the theatre door — it wasn’t so fun anymore. Then I realized theatre was the perfect medium for a story like GYNX.

Theatre, like most of the arts, has a shameful history of misogyny: female playwrights, directors, and production staff have trouble finding work or being taken seriously, and there’s plenty of misogyny in casting as well. And while most art forms are relatively accessible to the average person, theatre absolutely requires space — not to mention lots and lots of resources. Those theatre spaces and resources are heavily guarded by elitism, racism, misogyny, and classism, which is why we rarely see marginalized people succeeding in the theatre world. Any feminist who’s done her reading can tell you that this is consistent with the misogyny that permeates the globe, as space and resources are two things universally denied to women.

GYNX is a story about women who reclaim the streets from the men who’ve attempted to silence and erase them. So, not only is the process of producing GYNX literally challenging the erasure of women in the arts, but it’s also metaphorically challenging the erasure of women in the world at large.

JM: Your play is the story of a group of vigilantes who exact justice on the men who society refuses to even name as the agents of sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, rape, gay bashing, environmental degradation, and so much more rampant violence. You’ve always explicitly discussed male pattern violence in a way that many writers are reluctant to. How do you expect a male audience to react to being so directly challenged by GYNX?

AG: I’ve been getting some creepy feedback from men already, so I expect it to get 10 times creepier when the show actually debuts. One guy who was supposed to give an objective review of GYNX ended up debating me about one of the rapes in the script, in which the woman didn’t explicitly say no — and the way he was arguing, he sounded personally offended. So we can make some assumptions about things he’s done… Another guy wrote this long, grotesque email to me, claiming that he’s a serial rapist but “regrets” his actions and wants me to castrate him on film. I reported his email but never got a response from the police (shocker). Also, two guys have requested to play rapists, with a bit too much enthusiasm.

I think GYNX brings out the worst in men, in a good way. It makes them expose themselves. Media that unapologetically describes reality always has that effect. Whenever women try to talk about male pattern violence, men respond with more male pattern violence (threats, misogynist slurs, sexual harassment, assault, etc.). The irony is lost on them. But it’s not lost on those of us who see sadopatriarchy for what it is and are trying to change it.

JM: Do you expect backlash because this play is so radical?

AG: Absolutely! In fact, I’m counting on the angry masses of men that populate Reddit and 4chan to do our promotional work for us. (Just kidding.) But yes, I expect wrath from MRAs and maybe liberal feminists too. I’ve been trashed on Reddit, 4chan, and Tumblr so many times, I don’t even flinch anymore. There was a time when I gave a fuck. Those days are over.

JM: Do you have a plan for dealing, personally and in the real world, with male violence, boycotts, or harassment?

AG: We did put aside a certain amount in our budget for security. It’s sad and infuriating that a play might inspire atrocious violence from men, but we’ve seen it before, and we don’t want to see it again.

Part of why I brought Maridee Slater on board as the director for GYNX’s first production is because she produced a play at Fringe Fest NYC in 2015 called The Boys Are Angry. It’s about the toxic masculinity that drives these online anti-feminist sausage parties. Inevitably, they wound up being harassed and trolled by 4chan dwellers. But the whole team pushed through and produced the play anyway. When I was choosing a director, I didn’t want just anybody who called themselves “feminist.” I wanted someone who had already been through the fire and was willing to go through it again. Raising consciousness about women’s oppression is not easy work. And if feminism is easy for you,  you might be doing it wrong.

JM: What do you want the audience to come away with after seeing your play?

AG: Based on the responses I’ve gotten so far, it seems like people are expecting GYNX to spark a debate about the ethics and efficacy of castrating rapists. And like, sure, people can have that debate. I’m down for that.

But the whole rape-revenge plotline of GYNX is actually a Trojan Horse. I’m trying to put ideas in people’s heads — plant seeds. I want everyone — men and women — to walk away from this play asking themselves: What more can I do for women?

JM: How would you personally answer that question?

AG: I’ve been meditating on that a lot lately, and I’ve come up with more questions than answers. Is tweeting pro-feminist sentiments enough to qualify one as a feminist? Does activism mean marching and holding signs, then going home and saying you did your part? Those tactics can be part of our strategy, absolutely. But too many of us stop there. We get too comfortable doing all our activism in a way that requires very little action. We state our opinions loudly and proudly, and we virtue-signal our asses off, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t restore tangible resources to the marginalized groups we’re shouting about. So I want to inspire all of us to think about how we can make our activism less demonstrative and more impactful.

In the play, we meet one character who taught herself how to administer surgical abortions to desperate women. We meet another character who taught herself how to hack child porn websites and infect pedophiles’ computers with viruses. These characters are based on real women I’ve read about. Their work humbles me. Because they exist, I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to call myself a feminist yet. Most women haven’t, if we’re being honest here. So with this play, I’m kind of shaking my fellow self-identified feminists by the shoulders and screaming, “There are so many ways we can meaningfully impact women’s lives! Why are we still wasting our time on Facebook debates and Twitter wars?!”

***

JM: When will this play see a stage?

AG: GYNX is premiering Off-Broadway at the Thespis Theatre Summerfest in NYC! Show dates are August 21st, 25th, and 27th. We’re going to need all the support we can get, so we’re asking people to donate whatever they can to our IndieGoGo campaign.

Unlike most theatre crowdfunding campaigns, which only offer “producer credits” or a “social media shout-out” for your contribution, we’re giving people a chance to see GYNX for themselves. No matter where you are in the world, you can watch a professional recording of GYNX archived online, for a donation of only $25, which is the same cost as a ticket to the live show. All the info you need is at the website: www.gynxtheplay.com.

I’m so excited for everyone to see this show!

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  • For some reason the indiegogo link isn’t working. I hope it’s just that the site is down,

    • Meghan Murphy

      Fixed!

  • Hekate Jayne

    This sounds fabulous.

    Everything with males is circular. Rape never happens, except when it does, and then it’s never the fault of the male, and anyway, it never happens.

    Or they use the systems that support them and protect them as proof of justice. Males rape us because they know that they can get away with it. Their male justice system protects them and vilifies us. We are never believed, and even when rape is proven, the male system still protects the rapist. Because the rapist matters and is important because he is male. And we are just whores, sluts, incubators, hosts, etc.

    Instead of asking the male justice system to protect us when it’s obvious its job is to protect males, we need to just sidestep males altogether. If a rapist male got his ass beat by a group of women, he might think twice the next time. And he would probably go to his justice system and cry, and press charges.

    So what? We go to prison for defending ourselves against violent males already. And he may not press charges, because he may be embarrassed that women handled him.

    I am sick and fucking tired of waiting on males to treat us as human. They aren’t going to change because we ask nicely. Why would they?

    • Atheist

      Did you see this? A teenage boy rapes a dog, and the woman who caught him and tried to take him into custody is the one who went to jail:

      http://5newsonline.com/2017/05/04/centerton-woman-arrested-after-shooting-at-teen-who-she-says-tried-to-rape-neighbors-dog/

      This is fucking bullshit. You know if it were a man who fired a warning shot that the public would scream for him to be released and demand the teenage boy to go jail.

      • Hekate Jayne

        Absolutely fucking disgusting.

        This is really why guns won’t protect us, because males will punish us with their laws.

        The law is protecting the boy that tried to rape a dog. Sends us a very clear message, doesn’t it?

  • A while back I read a book about the establishment of the rule of law in Britain and Europe. It took about 400 years to persuade men to give up dispensing their own punishments and/or revenge to people they believed had harmed them. The governments had to persuade men that punishments would be meted out on their behalf through a legal system.Since then I have come to realize that the law doesn’t protect women because it doesn’t need to. Women have no history of dispensing justice on their own behalf. There have never been women vigilantes. Women don’t go about killing the men who rape or otherwise harm them. Is that what it will take before governments take seriously their responsibility to protect women?

    • Cassandra

      Female vigilantes: Fun fantasy #323 in my collection!

  • shy virago

    This is incredible! I love reading Grey’s answers, and wish I could see the play. I especially appreciate the
    difference she points out in actually doing something to stand up for women, and writing your thoughts on
    a Facebook page. It’s too easy to say you’re something (a feminist, an activist) without actually doing something.

    • You CAN see the play if you donate $25 or more to our IndieGoGo! We’ll give you access to a recording of GYNX online that’s only accessible to our $25+ IndieGoGo donors. Think about it 😉 <3

  • cday881@gmail.com

    Slightly off topic, but has anyone ever seen this?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091370/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

  • Cassandra

    Oh, Alicen Grey, a girl after my own heart! I just about jumped out of my seat with joy when I read that a play like this is actually being produced! How’s that even happening in a political climate so soaked in the stench of raging trans MRA and regular MRA assholes? And in New York, a giant shit stain of identity politics and home of the village idiot/Oompa Loompa we call the President! You can bet I’ll be at one of the performances! Yay!!

    I myself have so many fantasies about meting out justice to men. I have very long, complicated plots in my head about all sorts of violence. As women we are socialized to think that violence, even in the name of self preservation, is simply not our right, and that because we’re women it’s EXTRA bad to even think about it. Even in feminist forums one person will always take it upon herself to chide me for expressing my wish to do harmful males harm. I mean, peace out, dude, and give peace a chance. Sing along with John Lennon, everybody; just ignore that he was an abusive asshole to women. That’s totes different! He was a still a great, peaceful man and artist, totally.

    So what’s the answer? Seems clear to many of us that men have no intention of curtailing their relentless terrorism against the female sex. I’m not ashamed to admit that if I had a magic wand and could get away with it I’d wipe out every male rapist, porn watcher, strip club owner and customer, prostitute buyer, sexist asshole power abuser-predator, stare-er, street harasser, mansplainer and manspreader as well as abortion restriction legislators, little shit pharmacy pants pricks and *their* sincere beliefs about women’s bodily sovereignty, and the pope.

    And you know what?—the world would be significantly less clogged and polluted with the toxicity of repulsive male dominance—and I’d feel not *one iota* of guilt.

    • Just Passing Through

      “Seems clear to many of us that men have no intention of curtailing their relentless terrorism against the female sex.” A truer sentence was never spoken!

    • Hekate Jayne

      I think that it’s naive to be consistently passive when facing male violence.

      I am not a violent person, by nature. Maybe it’s my age and experiences, but I will be damned if I am going to continue to be all nicey-nice and tell women that we should keep explaining to males, all patient and sweet-like, why it would be ever so nice if they could tone down with the rape/harrassment/beatings/ect., pretty please.

      The fact is that violent males count on us to be sweet and passive. As long as we meet their violence against us with sugar and spice, it’s not going to stop. If that worked, males would be somewhat human. Kindness just keeps the violence coming.

      There will be a shift when our force matched theirs. An uncomfortable truth, and not the outcome that I would choose. But males are choosing it.

      • Cassandra

        I don’t think this is a good thing (at least I don’t think it’s a very good idea in the long run), but I read somewhere recently that the biggest growth in handgun sales is coming from women. Every year the number of women buying handguns (in the US) goes up.

        • Hekate Jayne

          I understand the wanting a gun, and I support women who will choose that.

          Guns aren’t for me, though.

  • Hekate Jayne

    “Women will not be free as long as walking down the street, with eyes straight ahead, stomach contracted, is like running the gauntlet.”

    Ann Sheldon, “rape: a solution”, 1972

    “Woman was and is condemned to a system under which the lawful rapes exceed the unlawful ones a million to one.”

    Margaret Sanger, “woman and the new race”, 1920

  • calabasa

    Thank you for doing this interview, Ms. MacDonald!

    Ms. Grey, GYNX sounds like a great play! I will pay to see the recording! The backlash will be enormous, which, as you say, will be free publicity. I hope the show gets sold out every night of its run!

    Stories, plays, shows–they’re so important. You’re definitely doing your work as a feminist if you’re getting your voice heard. And changing the cultural narrative so it’s not mostly men’s stories told from men’s perspective would be an enormous accomplishment.

    I had a similar idea (really, what woman who has been raped hasn’t, even if it’s only fleeting?) for a story about women vigilantes capturing rapists and forcing video confessions. I couldn’t go the whole hog, so to speak (the castration route), but I applaud Ms. Grey for doing so in her play. Similarly, I loved Sweet/Vicious on the MTV network, so this idea is having a cultural moment.

    I was also a theater kid, and I also think it’s a great medium for women to talk about rape culture and male violence (and I know it’s as misogynist as film and television world).

    I had an idea for a surrealist play based on something that really happened to me, in which two men who assaulted me 15 years apart were both invited to a white elephant gift party around Christmas (I found out about this because my trans roommate of the time–not an important detail, but funny how he was such an ally in this regard in spite of sexism in other ways) was also invited to this party, but refused to go because of rapist #2 (whom my roommate knew about as he’d met him around the scene, while I was never going out and crying all the time about what he had done). I looked up the guest list and discovered rapist #1 would be there too (the first penetrative sexual assault I experienced, by a much older guy who was the first person I ever slept with when I was a teenager; we became involved and he was sexually abusive–grooming behavior, and just grotesque–and then he got violent with me). He is still friends with people I know, and it took me years to call a brutal rape by him what it was, rape (because, you know, I had willingly slept with him in other ways, other times, and smart as I was as a teenage girl I still didn’t fully know you could be raped by someone you’re sleeping with; we need to do way more to deprogram girls–and boys–of dumb rape myths, and teach about sexual abuse and intimate partner sexual violence in relationships as a part of sex ed and of talking to our kids about sex); it also took me years to come to terms with how much it affected me, and set me up for revictimization, something which I never talked about until recently.

    Rapist #2 (the ex I have ranted about at length) I actually had feelings for, and I opened up to him about rapist #1, as well as other experiences, and while we dated he was very supportive, at least in the beginning, before he became abusive (after we broke up he ended up doing the exact same thing to me, something I specifically said no to because it’s triggering, and he held me down and forced it anyway). And then he ends up at a Christmas party with #1, an intimate affair of fewer than 20 people, all liberal-identified people in their early to late thirties, many of them old friends of mine.

    I don’t want to say that rape has defined my life (I’ve done many other things with it that have nothing to do with male sexual violence, and in fact was gone from my hometown for most of these fifteen years), but certainly in this scenario my “life in rape” came full circle, with the first and last men to do this to me invited to the same Christmas party.

    I later thought, what if I had crashed that party? Or better yet, told my roommate to accept the invitation and gone as a plus one? Said hi to my old friend, the host of the party? And then offered up my own white elephant Christmas gift? I can guarantee you both of those guys–number one with his wife, number two trying to hide what he had done from others–would have gone for that gift. What if inside that gift were a little state-of-the-art recorder? What if I asked the person who got it to play it out loud?

    I wrote this as a short story, but my sister suggested it might make a good surrealist play, with the party at the end, as the denouement: starting out with the main character beginning to speak out about these guys in the community, talking to other women, finding other victims, and then at the party, urging them to speak out, until all the women in the group turn on these two men, who try desperately to escape. Just calling out other women, calling them to stand together and not remain silent. Men like this tend to abuse women within their circles. I thought this might make a great ending, of this woman calling the other women to action at this increasingly tense gift exchange party (maybe some of the other women could be in on it, with more creative gift ideas being passed around, making everyone uncomfortable), and then, as she stands to accuse them, two other women get up and go block both exits. End scene.

    I thought it might make a fun play to write and specifically be about communities calling out and not hiding known predators. Including having the women speak to other men in the group, saying, “I know you know this guy, have been out drinking with him, have seen him take home stumbling drunk women,” “I know you know how this guy corners his female friends,” etc. Telling men they need to call their buddies out, too, and not hide known rapists in the group. And calling on the wife not to stick up for her creep of a husband, who must treat her disrespectfully also (even if not, he doesn’t get to creep on everyone else and turn around and treat just his wife with decency, and no woman should side with a man who does that). (I happen to know #1 still sexually harasses–and who knows, perhaps worse–other women).

    By “fun play” I mean it might be good to have some humor in the dialogue; as women we are allowed to write our narratives the way we want, and I refuse to let them steal my sense of humor. If this becomes a “rapist’s worst nightmare” (of vigilante reprisal and public exposure) at the end, with all the women ganging up on them, it might make a good funny/poignant surrealist scene. (I’d have to work at the dialogue).

    Anyone have ideas for creative white elephant gifts the women who have been victimized by these guys could bring, to make them feel reeeeallly uncomfortable during the white elephant gift exchange scene?

    • calabasa

      TL;DR: Ideas for white elephant Christmas gift exchange to expose two predators within a circle of friends?

      White elephant is when people purposely bring strange or useless gifts, have a gift exchange, but then people in the circle get to “steal” other people’s gifts. I imagine if this was being used as a way to “out” people, the people in question would want to get a hold of those gifts, before they could be examined in further detail.

      Ideas? (I thought one could be a recorder). Maybe one some sort of puzzle or code (and then another the key)? I think it would be cool if the women were working in tandem.

  • Sabine

    “Whenever women try to talk about male pattern violence, men respond with
    more male pattern violence (threats, misogynist slurs, sexual
    harassment, assault, etc.). The irony is lost on them. But it’s not lost
    on those of us who see sadopatriarchy for what it is and are trying to
    change it.”

    Ohhhhhhhhh yes!

  • Sabine

    Me too!

  • Liz

    I think removing the penis would be necessary as well. If there’s any possible way to get a boner, men will find it. they’d probably get one of those professional mutilators to give them an implant. A new line of business in case sex reassignment surgeries slow down!

    I recently listened to a podcast that described a South Carolina rape case from the 80s. There were three rapists and the judge offered them to choose 30 years in prison or surgical castration. I believe all three chose castration (1 needed a year in jail to change his mind though, haha). But unfortunately the state decided surgical castration is cruel and unusual punishment before they could be castrated. So they served jail time (nowhere near 30 years) and one ended up raping another woman after he was let out.

    Anyway I think it’s interesting because the three chose castration. I’ve also read interesting arguments that the castration would make men more violent…the whole thing about fragile dick-dependent masculinity turning them psychopathic I guess.

    I’m telling you what, all the ins and outs of this imaginary scenario could keep me occupied deep in thought for days!

    • Wren

      Castration definitely wouldn’t prevent them from raping again. I’m thinking of all the famous rock star castrati of bygone days who had sex with loads of female fans. They just couldn’t “finish” the job.

      If we don’t want them raping again, then it’s off with both the twig and the berries.

  • Liz

    Agree!

    seems like the 4th amendment argument would be shaky. If laws can invade women’s bodies for forced birth, surely laws can invade men’s bodies for such a noble pursuit as almighty justice.

    I would like to see what a bill of rights written by 100% women would look like. Something written by a congress of women at the dawn of a new nation. I guess things written by the suffragettes would be the closest thing to it? Something like this: http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/decl.html. Or maybe some of the things that came out of the 1977 National Women’s Conference.

    • Hekate Jayne

      That’s why I don’t identify politically with anything other than radical feminist. All other ideologies/parties are by males and for males.

      I think that we are just going to have to start ignoring males and going around them. I read the story of Jane, about the underground abortion group in the late 60s/early 70s. Jane was beholden to all male abortionists because there were no female doctors at that time. And they acted like all males do, as opportunists and selfish parasites.

      That’s when the women of Jane decided to cut males out all together and learned to do abortions themselves. Women have always done this, anyway, until males bullied them out of it. But when they got rid of the males, their entire process became so much easier, as is what usually happens when males are dumped.

      Jane worked around males and their selfish, self serving government, religion and medical establishment. We are fast approaching the time where we are going to have to do the same thing with a lot of things, rape and abortion being only 2 things of many.

  • Liz

    Make that 2 of us! Write like the wind, sister 🙂

  • Hey love, you may have missed this part of the interview, but we’re offering donors a chance to see GYNX from literally anywhere in the world! For $25, we’ll give you access to a protected recording of GYNX online (kinda like how you can buy movies on YouTube). If you can afford to donate that much, please do! You’ll get to see the show! ^_^

  • Cassandra

    Hmmm, well I guess that takes a little air out of the tires, huh? Then again it seems to be a common revenge fantasy.

  • Liz

    I finally watched “Felt” — well, I watched it a few days ago, and then spent the next 2 days thinking about it. Mainly my feelings toward the main character and why I saw her as off-putting. I wonder if it’s her refusal or inability to respond to her trauma in a “normal” way (I basically mean she doesn’t seem to repress or hide how hard it is for her to cope, plus it’s like she just lets all this weirdness come flying out at anyone and everyone). And I have been thinking…why does that bother me so much!? Why did I think I would be immune to judging her reactions? How do I think she *should* have behaved instead? Thank you for recommending it.

  • foamreality

    How do you expect a male audience to react to being so directly challenged by GYNX?

    Probably the same way women react to BDSM porn.

    I’m not sure how either helps feminism. If fantasies effect culture (and as the multi billion dollar global advertising knows , they absolutley do) then how is this helping to make a moral case against selling abusive fantasies for entertainment? I dont know how to square that as a feminist: if women agree its fine to enjoy misandrist fantasies like this I’m not sure what femiinism is able to say about fantasies of abuse aimed at the male gaze? UNLESS we really do think men should be castrated as a cultural solution to misogyny? Tempting, but no I don’t think so. So what then is the justification for this play that liberal feminists dont also use to justify their own misogynist fantasies and fictional stories? Was GYNX funded by rich men perhaps? Equality is not egalitarianism. Is this really going to appeal to men? And if it only appeals to women, what will they learn that they didnt already feel or think?

    • Smeagle

      You think men should be castrated for being misogynists? Are you kidding me? You castrate a misogynist and you’ll turn him into an even bigger woman hater. He will get his revenge on women.

  • tastaylv

    Castration is a reasonable, manageable, effective solution to male violent aggression. I’ve advocated for this for years, but it never gets the time of day. We seem to accept violent behavior as a natural aspect of men. Shame on those who do. Nature gave us a perfect solution to male aggression by putting the gonads within easy reach of the scalpel, but we seem to still champion aggression.