I Love Monsters Because I am One

“I’ll be lurking for you, Transman.” Dr. Paul Bearer as himself. Image: Crazedfanboy.com

My brothers used to make me watch Creature Feature every Saturday. Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick, Sr.) would introduce each week’s “horrible old movie” with bad puns, awful jokes, and terrible props. He was the old-school monster movie host–dressed in an undertaker’s black suit and speaking in a gravelly voice from his chair in the crypt set. One of the thrills of my young life was meeting Dr. Paul Bearer at our local library. Yay, library! Yay, culture! Yay, monsters!

The films that rolled across the screen were the usual 1950s B-movie schlock. My brothers watched them for the bad special effects and occasional actual scary moment. I watched them because I could relate.

“I love you, but I’m cursed.” The Wolfman as played by Lon Chaney Jr. Image: altfg.com

As a child, I probably couldn’t have put my feelings into intellectual thought, but I knew I was different from the start. And I knew I was so different that it had to be monstrous. I had to keep my true self and feelings hidden. This is why I loved werewolves and vampires from an early age. Both appear human, but have a secret that no one else can understand. Both are cursed. Neither must show their true nature or they will be killed.

All of that sounds dramatic, I know, but keep in mind I was growing up in the Deep South in the 70s. The days of the KKK burning crosses on people’s lawns weren’t such distant memory during my childhood, and the Bible Belt morality reigned supreme. When the first black kid was enrolled in my school, white kids whispered not to touch him or let him touch us because “it might rub off” — “it” being the boy’s skin color as a contagion. If people were that afraid and ignorant of difference on the racial level, one can only imagine how they would react to something like a person being transgender, something that seems invisible and therefore was maybe even more dangerous and most certainly work of the devil.

“You do know I’m dead from the neck down, don’t you?” Image: bustedmissive.blogger.com

Monsters as a metaphor for one’s “otherness” isn’t a thought that’s unique to me. Some Queer Theory scholars look at the spike in vampire literature, specifically the Anne Rice novels, during the 80s as a reaction to the AIDS crisis. In these novels there was the exchange of blood and death wrapped in sensuality that mirrored to some degree the way AIDS was spreading. Dr. Sam George of the University of Hertfordshire has written about the transformation of the vampire in modern pop culture and notes that the vampires of the 1980s were used to address disease and corruption … “it was a way to talk about AIDS. Vampires are used to bring up things we don’t want to talk about.” **

In most versions of Dracula, he comes back across the centuries in search of his love. For me, vampires represent unrequited love and the inability to have a relationship due to my body not being what I or a potential partner want. Yes, yes, girls find the vampire figure romantic, but that’s not what they want in reality. I also know transpeople do find lovers and mates who accept them for who they are, but it is very hard to shake the socialization that took place three and four decades ago, and that socialization put everything into a straight male/female binary. Damn you, Disney, for all your “happily ever after” endings!

“The first person to sing Warren Zevon gets their throat torn out. Just kidding. I love Zevon.” Image: celluloidzombie.com

Even more than vampires, I related to the werewolf. I had a feeling of being cursed by being transgender, of looking “normal” to others, but having a secret side that always threatened to escape my efforts to keep it under control. While I was growing up and far into adulthood, there was a side to me that I felt was so shameful I kept it buried as deeply as I could, but it still managed to surface all the time in my inability to conform to expected gender norms.

“How do I get in on that action?” Image: Treehugger.com

Besides the surface things like walking like a boy and having the same hobbies as the boys in my class, I also couldn’t relate to other girls and their experiences and expectations of life.***  Boys, on the other hand, well, I fit right in with them mentally and emotionally. Only my body kept me from being fully accepted as one of the guys. Once puberty hit, I didn’t fit anywhere and I was like Quasimodo up in his bell tower looking down on the square and watching life from afar.

The monster has been transformed in contemporary pop culture. Things like the Twilight series have changed the monster from a source of fear to a source of forbidden love. Ultimately, they occupy a place of pity in the reader/viewer’s imagination, which is not something I identify with. Shows like the BBC version of Being Human hold more appeal for me because I can relate to the characters’ search for friendship, love, and understanding in an increasingly alienating world where their “difference” puts them at risk for rejection, isolation, and destruction.

Being trans is not a choice. While I’m no longer ashamed of it, I would still choose to be born with brain and body in alignment. I’ve somewhat come to grips with the fact that I’m trans and that it isn’t my fault that I was born this way, but it’s still hard to shake that feeling that once the villagers know the truth they will chase me down with their pitchforks and torches.

And now because I don’t want to leave you totally depressed, please enjoy these tunes:

** http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/apr/06/vampire-conference-literature-hertfordshire

*** Two pieces that explain this a little: http://theadventuresoftransman.com/2012/03/01/im-sorry-but-this-is-a-curse-not-a-blessing/


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32 responses to “I Love Monsters Because I am One

  • CarlyBeth's Blog

    Great post! Love the comparison – very insightful and makes sense. Got me thinking about characters/creatures I could relate to :)

  • Stacie Chadwick

    This doesn’t leave me depressed. Just a little sad, and impressed by your bravery. I was born in Atlanta and raised in Kentucky, so I know what you were up against as a child. Cristy has always said wonderful things about you, and as I read your work, I understand why. =)

  • susielindau

    One of the best books I ever read was Middlesex! And it got a Pulitzer Prize so think of how many eyes were opened to what your life is like. For every 100,000 kids born there is one trans, so think of how many there are! I can’t understand why anyone would be prejudice if they are informed about how common this is. And that is the key! Information. So you are doing all of your readers a huge favor by blogging, as Eugenides did when he wrote Middlesex!
    Excellent post! I hope it gets Freshly Pressed!

    • transparentguy

      Thank you, Susie. I know there is far more information out there than when I was growing up, but there is still a lot of misunderstanding and plain fear out there, too. For trans kids growing up in small towns without resources, it is still hellish. The internet can be a way for those kids to get information and not feel so alone, but it can also be so full of bad information and anonymous bullying.

      • susielindau

        It pisses me off that people are so judgmental about everything they are ignorant about. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin which is the San Francisco of the Midwest and grew up very open minded!

  • paralaxvu

    It might help you a little to know that Anne Rice’s novels were written during the time her child was diagnosed with, and died of, leukemia. Sometimes people use supposed truths to back up their own theories. No scientific theories,queer or otherwise, however, can best you at your philosophy of life. I am in awe of you. Know that there are people out here who are loving and understanding–possibly even a few in North Carolina;-)

    • transparentguy

      I knew Anne Rice had written “Interview With The Vampire” while dealing with the grief from her daughter’s passing, but others came along later and read into the series what they wanted. It’s strange, though, how we often miss some of the metaphors and symbols in our own writing. When I was working on my MA, I would turn in stories to workshops thinking they were basically slice-of-life pieces and other writers would see all these things going on under the surface and I was like, “yeah, the mailbox? It’s just a mailbox.” Then, I would go home and think about the comments and realize that on some level, they might have had a better understanding of the work than me.

  • ethelthedean

    This is a really strong piece of writing. I know you already have a doctorate and all, but in case you have a hankering for another go around – this would be a fascinating place to start. :)

    • transparentguy

      Thank you … I’m trying to get some more serious takes on being trans put together. Our fascination with monsters and horror is as old as humanity. Many marginalized people are equated with monsters in literature. I think we’re just reaching a point in history where literacy is widespread enough that the “monsters” can write their own stories and answer back.

  • susielindau

    Oh My God! I left a long comment this morning and it went into your spam file! Fish it out please! I would love for you to post it. I got my problem fixed with WordPress! Yeeha!

  • susielindau

    I am checking to see if this comment goes into spam as well…wish me luck Transman…

  • purplemary54

    That’s not a connection I made before. Thanks for the insight.

  • Alison

    I can relate in some ways to feeling different – more due to lifestyle choices which I need to keep in my marriage – but I cannot comprehend the pain and suffering you must have endured for so many years. I wish you the partner you deserve if ever you decide to open yourself up to that. I am happy for you that you finally have been able to live as you always were in your head. x

  • Remy

    Oh man, can I relate! It’s a wild ride, but certainly not a shameful one.

  • walkwiththerabbi

    Well written. Thank You. However, as I reflect for a moment on what’s going on in our world today on any number of levels, I’m able to identify some “real monsters” – and you are not one of them. Make it a great day my brother!

    • transparentguy

      Thank you for dropping in and reading this post. I hope things are going well in your neck of the woods.

      As I was writing this, I was also thinking of some of the Marian tales from the medieval period that cast Jews as monstrous. I don’t know why humans feel so compelled to divide themselves and create enemies out of those who are different in some way.

      • walkwiththerabbi

        We fear that which we don’t understand. How sad it is that we limit ourselves in so many ways by virtue of the choices we make. We think that by surrounding ourselves with the familiar that we’re somehow safe. We’ve actually sown the seeds of our own impoverished limitations. Keep Walking my friend.

  • americantransman

    Awesome post, man, that really resonated. I haven’t seen this perspective before, which makes it all the more interesting.

    And damn, I used to watch Creature Feature too! I sent in a drawing once of a human skull with one bloodshot eye and blood running out of the eye socket and won Creep of the Week!

    • transparentguy

      You were Berni Wrightson as a child? That’s a great story.

      Thanks for the feedback on this post. I don’t often write about being transgender in the first person, but this sort of dictated that voice … and it was a vulnerable space to be in.

  • americantransman

    I don’t know how I missed that you wrote this post in the first person. Slipping in my old age I guess. Anyway, I know that vulnerability space, but I also know that the feeling becomes diminished with each post, at least for me.

    I had Swamp Thing #1, and maybe #2. Loved the art, and the story. Maybe subconsciously that had something to do with the topic of this post. Or maybe I knew somehow that I was destined to try to blow myself up in the lab… (still trying, by the way – dammit, I knew I should have gone into chemistry instead of biology. there’s precious little in cell culture that has the capacity to explode.)

  • americantransman

    Likely would never get to that point — as a fan of unagi, I’d probably eat the experimental units.

  • ‘Inception’ and genre « thefilmprof

    […] For a personal take on how horror movies can be read as metaphors for the search for identity in a complex society, see blogger Transparentguy’s “I Love Monsters Because I am One.” Click here. […]

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