Not Your Average War Story
Behind the scenes with the War Virgin
By DANIELLE DAVIS on April 17, 2015 10:51 AM
It isn’t often a veteran breaks the unspoken code of silence to debrief the entire populace about their time in combat. It is even less likely they would discuss the sexual frustrations of serving in the military under years of a strictly-enforced policy of no-contact. Laura Westley has ventured into completely uncharted territory to expose what happens when a young, attractive woman — naїve and sexually repressed — comes in close proximity with thousands of eager soldiers. Based on Laura’s memoir of the same title, War Virgin gives a glimpse inside a traumatic childhood marked by religious brainwashing and a war that helped to finally break the shackles holding her sexuality hostage.
A local hailing from New Port Richey, Laura decided to start writing about her experience as a West Point graduating officer and Iraqi War veteran 6 years ago, never expecting it would turn into a monologue — let alone a full-fledged play. While living in Boston she happened across a group of storytellers who inspired her to perform in front of a live audience. It was here where she began public speaking engagements about service dogs, PTSD, and women’s health, as well as where she performed her one-woman show for the first time.
A self-described “memoir junky,” Laura was influenced by the writings of Elna Baker — a devout Mormon who encountered life with equal parts chastity and sexual longing — and Jeannette Walls, whose tumultuous childhood was punctuated by neglectful parents and ever-changing addresses. After an evening of conversation with Laura — hearing tales of trauma inflicted by her father and desire for sexual liberation — I have come to realize that Laura’s coming-of-age is practically culled from these two memoirs in equal parts, perhaps without her even knowing it.
Having seen snippets of her monologues from herwebsite, I inquired where she learned all that dirty humor. It seems almost antithetical to her innocent persona, which, admittedly, is a huge part of her appeal. “I got it from my father,” she confessed. “In one breath he would give a biblical lesson and in the next breath tell a dirty joke. He had a really raunchy sense of humor. ”
As a child, Laura adhered strictly to her Catholic upbringing, even to the point of being a self-described “Jesus addict.” To her, it seemed his main goal in life was to maintain her virgin status, causing her to obsess over keeping her innocence, or as he would say, her “sparkle.” She described the control her father exerted over her sexuality as “intrusive and emotionally traumatizing,” He even had to bless off on her use of tampons. Sensing I was only hitting the tip of the “daddy issues” iceberg, I decided not to pry any further.
The only person who seemed genuinely interested in helping Laura understand her own body was her father’s sister, Irene. To her parent’s horror, when Laura was in the third grade, her Aunt Irene gave her a book entitled How Babies Are Made, complete with cartoon images of male testicles and humping dogs. This burgeoning mastery over the human anatomy even prompted young Laura to ask once during a dinner party, “Excuse me, Sir, do you have a penis?”
When she arrived at West Point— the pinnacle of academic institutions — she still had her sparkle, yet it seemed like she was surrounded on all sides by male genitalia. Perhaps it was the testosterone-laden, male-centered culture, but to her, all the monuments just looked like giant penises. Surprisingly, there were all sorts of rules governing sexual behavior, meaning: there was no sex. Not even masturbation. To show the extent to which the army would limit sexual contact, two people weren’t even allowed to occupy the same piece of furniture. God forbid you grace someone’s knee with yours or catch a whiff of their pheromones!
Even after graduating West Point and being sent off to war — with all the co-ed tent sleeping, zero privacy, and emotions stirred up from all bullets flying through the air — she was still able to keep her feminine wiles in check (not without some close calls along the way). The events of Baghdad afforded her the opportunity to finally break out of the sexual shell she had encased herself for so many years.
I have seen plays about war, and I have to admit they were all pretty depressing, quite deservingly. But what is unique about Laura, and what has resonated most succinctly since we met, is that she prefers to view the tragedies of her past with an “it is what it is” attitude and lots of laughter to go with it (perhaps all those years of therapy might have paid off). There is an often disregarded aspect to serving in the military, one that Laura aims to highlight in her work — the human element.
The musical comedy War Virgin will be performed April 19, accompanied by the Dunedin-based Gypsy Stage Repertory who will be playing characters from her own life. If you are itching to hear more juicy stories from Laura’s childhood and how the war helped to fuel her own sexual liberation, don’t miss Pinellas County’s only showing this Sunday at 7:00 PM at theStudio@620. Tickets are $20.
620 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg