monster trans

by boots potential

As a kid, I had a fascination with monsters. I'd check books out of the library full of movie stills from Dracula, the Werewolf, Frankenstein, King Kong, and the Swamp Monster. The monsters and mutants always scared me shitless and inspired nightmares of all flavors. But I kept going back for more of the same. As any adrenaline junkie kid will tell you, the sheer heart-pumping, palm-sweating terror is the best part.

The intrigue with monsters gradually waned as I entered late grade school, preferring to acculturate myself to the Pretty in Pinks and Breakfast Clubs of the time. However, like any healthy obsession, it gradually worked its way back into action. I began to appreciate the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street slasher flicks (taking a short break for a terribly sincere and plaintive boycott since my feminist consciousness dictated I avoid such maliciously misogynistic garbage). And along with my burgeoning affection for punk rock, zines, and other pleasantries, I developed an infatuation with B-movie classics. By way of the Misfits, I learned titles to various Ed Wood, Jr. greats: Astro-Zombies, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Night of the Ghouls. In my junior high-age, nerdy juvenile delinquency, (and only half in jest) I identified with these mutant, misunderstood outcasts.

I will never make claim to a coherent gender narrative. I could tell you a story about my childhood that would surely predict a queer adulthood: crushes on teenage girl camp counselors, tomboy androgyny and jock identity, Transformers and Tonka trucks, and stealing boys' Underoos from friends' dresser drawers. Similarly, and just as truthfully, I could order my childhood into a perfect predictor of heterosexual and gender-normative fulfillment: cute boyfriends who I thought were hot, a darling collection of stuffed animals and Pretty Ponies, and a subscription to Seventeen magazine. To this end, I will never say that my early fascination with monsters was all about my being a queer genderfreak transboygirl fagdyke. I will say, though, that there has always been something compelling to me and to many other monster-lovers about a living (or undead) thing that can freak the shit out of someone just by merit of their very existence in the world. Especially when, in doing so, it forces us to question the boundaries of the things we once thought were neat, well-defined, and impermeable (human, animal, inanimate object, living, dead, etc).

At this point, my preoccupation with monsters has mutated into something that provides me with an index with which to enact my gender and transness. Cultivating my monster identity preceded me identifying as trans. Part of the reason for this is the rule-breaking nature of monstrosity. For awhile, I was swindled in to thinking, as many of us are, that there is a "correct" way to be trans. That we have to take hormones, get surgeries, get a GID diagnosis, change pronouns, pass, feel like a boy in a girl's body, and get a preppy haircut. My inclination is to break rules or flee from them, and if this long list of rigorous requirements was what it took to be trans, I didn't want that.

However, it was clear to me that I was involved in some sort of gender subversion project. For a long time, my queerness has been in large part about widening possibilities of gender expression. I didn't (and still don't) buy the story that there is something fundamentally dichotomous about gender, and that there are inherent or "genetic" characteristics that lead to expressions of femininity or masculinity (whatever those mean). Unfortunately, being in queer communities didn't necessarily mean that people agreed with me on that point; in fact, many homos that I know are quite wedded to conventional understandings of gender and its rules of conduct. When I became frustrated with all of these "play-by-the-rules" queers, I sought out freakier communities. Some did drag, some put on rock operas about animal-human creatures that subvert the futuristic corporate stranglehold on the world. With these people, I found a number of things I was looking for: political engagement, creativity, an unquenchable urge to fuck shit up, and most importantly, a passion for boundary-transgression and rule-breaking. In and through my work and play with these communities (conversations, drag acts, writings, and so on), my fascination with monsters moved from spectatorship to embodiment. I became the monsters I used to watch.

The monster identity, however, is an imperfect model. I do not necessarily want to associate myself with viciousness, irrational violence, and pathological insanity (although mainstream culture has already associated these with queers and trannies, so perhaps it's not so far a stretch). Nevertheless, there is something very promising about a monster culture that might revel in itself, that might deliberately position itself as monstrous in the sense that it deviates, threatens, and within this, challenges. As in the case of gender freaks (trans, genderqueer, FTM, MTF, multigendered, and so on), it is only the common experience of transgression that defines monsters and arranges them together as a group. Frankenstein, Vampira, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon have nothing in common but their "abnormalities." Yet they are bound by their monstrosity.

This is how I make sense of my gender. It is defined largely by what it isn't (normative). However, it is also defined by what this disruption of "normal" opens up. Monsters are often referred to as "it." Though "it" is not my pronoun of choice, I am heartened by the thought that a living thing (at least within the collective imagination of a filmic audience) can escape immediate relegation to one category of the sexual dichotomy or the other. Like many genderqueers and freaky trannies, I perceive a profound lack of options when it comes to pronouns. "She" fits no better than "he," I continue to use "she" in part to disrupt the notion of what a trans person is allowed to be and partly in resistance to the fact that I will not submit to an "either/or" choice. Many medical, GTBTQ, and trans communities would often have us think there is no other way than to choose one of these, or there is something wrong with us, with our transness, or both. Monsters, on the other hand, open up a wealth of possibilities-what do you call someone or something that eludes you to the point that you can't determine its species or origin, let alone their gender? Monsters demand this of people in their very existence, their rule-breaking bodies and actions necessitate a navigation of language which is unfamiliar and uncomfortable to a normative audience. This is what I would like both my gender and my pronoun to do: create the necessity to navigate language and the concept of gender in a way that is unfamiliar and demands thought and critical engagement.

Similarly, monsters open up new and unfamiliar categories with regard to their bodies. They often fall outside of the set of prescriptions that define female- or male-bodied people. It is often useless to attempt to determine their "kind" (whether animal, plant, person, or thing) because they are rarely a member of an easily defined "kind." They may be a hybrid (werewolf, swamp monster), an undead human (vampire, zombie), a semi-human/machine (Frankenstein, Astro-Zombie), and so on. All of these are frightening partly because they defy their kind, they are never entirely what they are supposed to be, and we are able to read this transgression on their bodies. I plan to seek surgical alteration of my gendered chest. I am not intending to "pass," my goal is rather to be able to be read as trans, to create a lack of gender-cohesiveness on my body. In other words, I aim to defy the "kind" that I am supposed to be, true to my monstrous affiliations.

We queers often make the mistake of replicating the conventions we initially intend to defy. How often have we heard proponents of gay marriage or gays in the military talk about liberation? How often have our sexual practices and identities been policed by other queers (dykes and fags can't sleep together, femmes can't be FTMs, butches can't fuck butches, trannies should always try to pass, MTFs have to hate penetrating during sex, etc.)? It seems that we queers in particular have a lot to learn about the monstrous habit of staking out new ground and in doing away with rather than duplicating the rules.

As I mentioned before, the drawbacks of associating with monstrosity is rather clear. Monsters are associated with evil, bloodthirst, violence, and aggression. Monsters populate nightmares and haunted houses. They are beings, real or imaginary, to avoid at all costs (except when we watch them in movies or read about them in comics and books). Less obviously, but equally importantly, the concept of monsters has racial implications. Monsters are oftentimes associated in negative and damaging ways with "darkness" and "blackness." They are "foreign" in many different senses, lending to a sense of xenophobia. There is a none-too-subtle connection made between the "monster" and the "savage," a well-worn racist term historically used by colonizers and anthropologists to indict populations of people with cultural habits different from their own, and to justify attempts to colonize, enslave, or persecute them. These are the connotations of monstrosity that I wish to avoid, disrupt, and question. Film and fiction culture have a history of subtle and overt racism that often plays out in "monster" stories, and this is unacceptable. At the root of these problems is a deathly fear of difference. It is in and through this terror of those that appear foreign to us that we superimpose upon them a sense of danger. We make the monster by seeing it as scary.

I think it is entirely possible to divorce the concept of "monster" from an inherent evil. Queers inspire fear in people because they fail to fit a prescribed social and societal norm of heterosexuality. So too, we might argue, in the case of monsters: they inspire fear not due to an inherent evil, but rather as a direct result of failing to conform to an expected set of standards as to what a living thing should be and look like. Furthermore, just as there are many varieties and embodiments of queerness, so too are there of monstrosity.

My favorite monsters are the B-movie variety. This is the source from where my gender enactments are inspired. They manage to be at once deliberate in their freakishness, fictional, contrived, shocking, fascinating, never "correctly" human, always tenacious, and often campy. I take from this my pleasurable enactment and embodiment of transness. I revel in being freaky and campy, attempt to use the nervousness I inspire in people to challenge, and never settle into categories I don't feel accommodate me. And every once in awhile, just to punctuate my point, I wear an old-fashioned martian mask for fun and for effect.

It is interesting that I came to identify as trans in and through my gender-as-monster ideas. There is of course more than just monster culture that preceded and inspired my identification as trans, and there is more to my transness than monstrosity. However, it is interesting how much easier it was to say "I'm trans" when I had a tangible example and concept of how I could explain my transness outside of the medical model (of Gender Identity Disorder). For me, thinking about rule-breakers like B-movie monsters laid out a neat framework of what I want and expect out of transness. It makes anti-gender-cohesion as fun a game as it is a serious project. And of course, monstrosity and transness are both of those things.

The most hopeful and beautiful thing about monstrosity-as-gender is the fact that once you become a monster, nothing looks "normal." Everyone is a monster waiting to happen, they are just choosing, at the moment, to cohere to an arbitrary and fictional set of rules and regulations as to what they are supposed to be. You start inhabiting an entire world of monsters. And nothing looks better.

For a number of years, I have been aware that rule-transgression and other forms of productive and challenging delinquency are important projects to me in terms of gender and other personal and political questions. However, in the last year or two of thinking about monstrosity and trans in relation to myself, the concrete ways in which I hope to enact those transgressions has become much less of a mystery. It is an answer that makes sense in reply to the question, "how can I approach gender in a way that is equal parts radical, fun, politically challenging, personally comfortable, and a serious and sustainable project?" It suddenly feels like my project goals are dovetailing with the concrete ways I want to achieve those goals. I am thrilled to have a vehicle which allows me to be simultaneously politically engaged, campy as hell, tough-as-nails, sissy faggy, butch new-wave dykey, dead serious, boy-girl-whatever, pansy, and terrifying all in one fell swoop. Male/Female dichotomies do not allow for this mobility and simultaneity, but monstrosity does. I find it extremely pleasurable that it is B-movie monsters that made it possible for me to pinpoint the way I want to do gender and the way I can make sense of my queerness and transness. For once, the story ends happily, and the monsters are the heroes.

Bootsis a transboygirl fagdyke living in Seattle, where she engages in low-level acts of hooliganism. She is a B-movie monster-gendered, bicycle-riding fiend who spray paints for fun and for liberation. She is a science nerd and co-facilitates a political reading brigade.