I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters and monsterhood lately; about the shadows we all share, even under different lights. About blending what is and what has to be, giving in and embracing. About Becoming, about Less, and about Else; about trauma, empowerment, reclamation, and comfort; about queerness.
Monstrosity is a part of the identity of many of those I hold dear, but I never quite stopped to wonder: what makes it such a powerful shared symbol, what makes it so useful for finding oneself?
This entire post needs to be prefixed by this:, by its very definition, is extremely personal—the most personal, perhaps—and so I cannot possibly speak for others; I can only try to write about my own understanding of monstrosity. It could be exactly the same as someone else’s; more likely, it’s entirely different. This post is “how Fox understands monstrosity as a part of one’s identity”, written as an attempt to figure out what monstrosity as an identity concept means to me and perhaps in hopes someone might find recognition and a way towards healing in this; it is not an attempt at figuring out what anyone in particular has been through—those stories are only theirs to tell.
What is a Monster?
A Monster is something misshapen; almost defined by its ostracism, by its absence from the idealized “surface world”—from the “light”—by its Othering. A Monster is something people are scared of—something vague, something it’s easiest to pretend is unreal, because accepting Monsters as a part of one’s model of the world forces one to recognize the world as much less friendly, the light as equally cruel as it is bright, and personhood as much more brittle than one would like it to be. I don’t think one chooses to be a Monster, but, like Frankenstein’s monster, like vampires, like werewolves, is made one; forced to be one. I don’t think there would be Monsters without people to cast them into shadows; without a shape to not–fit, without a light to be rejected by.
And the more I think about this, the more I turn and analyze this concept in my head, the more it resonates not just with queerness, but with trauma.
Trauma is hard for me to talk about, still; especially with traumaqueer identities, where it’s such an incredibly personal, incredibly intimate concept, I don’t like to think about how a person breaks. Instead, I’d like to celebrate rebuilding, redefining oneself entirely, the inherent empowerment of it—but to do so, we must first consider what creates the need for that redefinition in the first place.
A Monster cannot remain a Monster in the light—to do so would be death—and so is rejected, pushed away into the shadows, Othered. That rejection, in turn, makes it more monstrous—what may have passed as a person in the light seems to twist eerily in the shadows; the glint of a tooth is much scarier in the dark than when part of a bright, friendly smile.
Looking back, in much of the writing and conversations that I only now in retrospect realize were adjacent to this topic, there’s a recurring theme of the boundary between this is who I am and this is who I have to be. Those made Monsters have to hide their monstrosity so long as they want to remain in the light—the light doesn’t like to acknowledge anything that would make it uncomfortable—and resist the discomfort of a skin that doesn’t quite fit right, clothes that seem little but a frustrating charade.
It seems rare, if at all possible, to unbecome a Monster. Even if masking perfectly, even if allowed back into the light—the shadows remain familiar; the sharp, monstrous edges still present underneath the scar tissue.
Scraped and hurt and torn–up enough to be driven out—the cracks grown too numerous, the edges between them too prominent to be able to sustain remaining in the light any longer—one gives in fully into the shadows. Denied and rejected by the light, the person they used to be is cast aside and shattered, leaving behind little but a few sharp fragments and a gaping wound.
Identity is, I feel, less about what fits or describes oneself best; yes, those are vitally important, but they’re only the derivative of the much more important question: what brings one comfort. An identity is a blanket one can wrap themselves in, trace the outline of the resulting shape, and know: this is me. A surface that describes one’s outer perimeter fully, defining a self.
And with the person gone, that blanket no longer covers everything, agitates the wound left behind, doesn’t quite follow the jagged edges of what remains of one’s shape. One has to, by its very nature, find a comfort, an identity, that allows for and aligns with the fractures. Embrace the shadows, rather than just give in to them.
In finally discarding that old comfort, something important happens—the Monster rejects being rendered something Less by those who made it one. It, instead, redefines itself as something Else—and starts retracing its shape anew from there.
Whatever remains is indescribable, uncomfortable, scary to those in the light. In retracing its own shape, its identity, around that, the Monster finds not just comfort, but empowerment. It finds that in acknowledging and embracing the vagueness of the shape of what remains, in no longer trying to force itself into the shape of a person despite the multiplying cracks and chips and scar tissue, the up–to–now ever–present pressure disappears. In asserting that indescribability as part of itself, it opens itself up to grow in any direction, to take any form. Reuniting this is who I am and this is who I have to be lets it find a home here, in the shadows; lets it be safe.
Becoming a Monster lets it find agency it was previously denied; lets it determine, on its own, who and what it is and what that means for it—under a system chosen and defined by itself, rather than one ready to discard and abandon anyone who cannot fit in.
The wounds close; the missing pieces get replaced with new ones. The shape is different—it will always be different—but it’s a shape of one’s own, under no obligation to conform, be justified or explained. It’s, finally, one of comfort; one built by and for itself and nobody else.
I’m not sure how to close this out. The symbolism in identity is infinitely varied, and different for everyone; I can only try to evaluate monstrosity as an identity in relation to my own feelings, experiences, and cultural associations. Everyone whose identity is at least a tiny bit monstrous will have that mean something else to them.
I know one thing—monsterhood, self–identifying as a Monster of any degree and shape, is an immensely powerful act of reclamation, of empowerment, of asserting one’s will and being, of building a home for oneself from nothing, in spite of everything. Of finding enough beauty in oneself to reject and refuse a system insistent on wiping it out.
And though that may not be my shape, so long as there are those empowered by it, we will wait for them in the shadows.