Moving Theatre Toward Collective Self-Defense: Virginia Grise’s Your Healing is Killing Me

In “Exercise 2: Punching,” Bryant shares memories of growing up during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. As Bryant punches out with each fist and repeats the movements, she links the current inequities in United States health care and the neglect of BIPOC to policies from this period. In “Exercise 3, Present the Bow,” Bryant recounts her mother’s and grandmother’s curanderismo healing traditions, as well as her father’s Chinese background—cultural traditions that counter health care systems that have neglected BIPOC health. As Bryant raises her arms toward the sky and looks up, she remarks: “Being Mexican was magic.” Bryant, while turning in a circle and opening her arms out in a bow and arrow gesture, names the family cultural traditions that have healed her: “Rose petal limpias; marijuana leaves; agua pura; brown Chinese alcohol in a pickle jar… rising smoke; melting rock.”

In the rest of the third excerise and in “Exercise 4: Kick the Door,” Bryant’s body and voice names the multigenerational traumas that she and her family have endured. As Bryant alludes to the sexual abuse that she experienced at a young age, we hear dramatic piano keys while Bryant’s arms tremble as she lifts them out like wings: “At age five, I had already learned fear, had already learned to be scared, scared of men, scared of the men on the streets in my neighborhood.” Bryant, releasing her head and arms while sitting back into her hips, then says: “At age five, I…I…I…,” followed by a deep exhale. Bryant’s choice to not complete the sentence names the sexual abuses. As Bryant recites the “Ten Characteristics of PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder],” she kicks out each leg, raises her arms, touches her toes, rolls her shoulders back, shakes her arms, and exhales, while the text of each characteristic appears as a digital projection behind her. When she shares that her father, mother, sister, and herself all suffer from PTSD, Bryant’s voice crescendos.

As “Exercise 4” continues, Bryan names the sexual vulnerabilities that queer women of color experience in the health care industry. While walking frantically in circles across the room, she looks up toward the sky and sighs. Here, Bryant recounts the time she got lost in New York City: “Because No Space Is Safe,” which is “a concept [she] learned at a very young age.” The phrase, “It sucks being a woman, huh,” punctuates this section. As Bryant scratches her elbows and arms, she relays the moment she discovered she was pregnant on a visit to the doctor. Then, while looking directly at audience members, Bryant emphasizes a woman’s right to have an abortion: “The silence, not the abortions, created a great deal of trauma.”

Given Texas’s current abortion laws and hostility to women’s rights to choose, I hear Bryant’s next pronouncement, “I have never wanted to be a mother” as a powerful challenge to the state’s violence against women. Bryant then closes the section by listing “Four Things Cis Men Will Never Have to Do” while raising her arms and counting on her fingers: “One, Menstruate; Two, get pregnant; Three, give birth; four, have an abortion.” While directly looking at audience members, Bryant then says, “Yeah, sometimes it sucks being a woman.”

In “Exercise 5: Side Stretch,” the audience discovers for the first time that Bryant has eczema. Bryant scatches her arms as she proclaims, “On face value this doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? But my eczema is extreme. Allergies, rashes, hives, itchiness, dryness around my mouth and eyes, cracked and bleeding skin.” Bryant then explains how she tried many remedies from both a black market doctor in San Antonio, Julio in New York City, and a fancy dermatologist (each who prescribed them the same creams and ointments); yet that these treatments only managed the symptoms and not the cause. She even tried the master cleanse, but this disrupted her gut microbiome, resulting in intolerances and allergies to the foods and spices common in both Chinese and Mexican food. Pointing out the irony, Bryant says: “I am the daughter of a Chinese Mexican immigrant.”

Here, Bryant amplifies how the United States health care industry works to sever BIPOC from their cultural identities. When Bryant recites a recipe for bone soup later toward the end of the performance, we learn that she found relief from her eczema, not from health care systems hostile to BIPOC health, but by adjusting her diet to cultivate healthy gut bacteria, where “healthy skin begins in the panzathe gut.”

Leave a Comment