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!