Monsters

There is a meme going around the internets.

It is simple yet funny. It is a few lines of text that made me laugh and then made me think. It sunk it’s fangs into my mind and would not let go.

It opens with a line of people calling LGBTQ+ people monsters. It follows this with a statement from us that this is fine. We then go about gathering up the cryptids.

It plays to the crowds with humor and intelligence but found little traction. It, like us, is transgressive and plays with a cultural icon and bends it in a fashion that people aren’t used to seeing.

The use of monster is correct. Take a trip back to Beowulf and you can see what it means to be a monster. Grendel lives outside of society, literally outside of Heorot. Grendel is excluded from society and all the the things that this provides. We are also outside of society. We behave in a fashion that defies the expected and we are treated just like Grendel. We are not given the same rights as the other members of society and are tolerated at the best or killed at the worst.

What’s a monster to do? When you are exiled to the dark and must survive on your own. The need for connection and the need to feel powerful get all mixed up. Thus, Grendel lashes out and wreaks havoc on society. Hrothgar and his soldiers are at a loss and unable to defend against a thing which they have excluded from the mead hall. They have reveled in their ignorance and lack the ability to understand what they face.

The Hero, the walker between worlds, must defend the people from that which has been deemed an outsider. It is with guile and force that the hero steps outside the hall and deals with the monster. The hero is the one that strides between worlds and is welcome in none.

This meme struck a chord. Instead of being the hero, we embrace being that which does not fit in. We take up the narrative and do not allow the idea of being a monster isolate us from those that are excluded. We find the other monsters and gather them up. We create a place where they are welcome and can be a part of something. It may not be perfect but it provides a family.

The hero, just like in Beowulf, is blind just like the crowd. He sees the monster as unfeeling and uncaring. Nothing more than a thing to be killed. He misses the point that Grendel has a mother and that they loved each other. His arrogance leaves more people dead in Heorot as he blinds himself to the idea that the monsters are just like the people in the hall. They want to fit in, be loved, and exist.

This fits well with the current trend of elevating monsters. There are those that hate the Twilight books and movies, as well as the Underworld movies. But they do a thing that people miss. They show you monsters that the humans want to be. They show you monsters that just try to get by while still being monsters. The allure of being both within the group and free to be who you are is highlighted in these simple pieces of fiction. There are those that want to step outside of the constraints that have been placed around them and take up the mantle of monster. They see the families that the monsters have created and feel the authenticity and that is to be had from embracing who you truly are.

On a personal level, the idea of the monster has always held an appeal for me. I’ve mentioned many time my love of mythology and the gods. I’ve always loved the monsters that followed in the shadows of the gods and found their tales to be fascinating. As I aged, my love of werewolves and all lycanthropes came to mirror both my fear of being found out and the deep seated need to shed the disguise and leave the closet and be myself.  Back before MMO’s there were text based games called MUDS. You created characters and ran around slaying dragons and fighting other players. I was an avid MUDer. There was a mud that allowed you play a lycanthrope character. You could define what type as well. Bear’s were just coming onto the scene and I had discovered them on BBSs, newsgroups, AOL chat rooms. So, I created a werebear and it felt so good. I enjoyed the game for some time with this character until one day I received a message in game basically stating that the person knew my friends and wondered if they knew I was gay. Panic and terror ended that character and ended exploration for some time on my part. It didn’t end the idea of the monster and transformation though.

We are embracing the idea of the monster a little late. We take back language in order to regain power but this is different. The cultural cache of the monster runs deep. It occurs throughout all societies and provides a mirror by which a society views what they are and what they can be. The monster is what allows a society to define its heroes and how it treats these self same heroes.

Accepting the monster as a part of society is where the stories differ across cultures. Here in the west, we see them as something to be driven out and destroyed. This, in turn, defines the hero as something that stands outside of society as well. The hero is also a destroyer. They are to be lauded for keeping the things outside the walls at bay but should be viewed with caution as they too, are destroyers. When the idea of the monster is accepted as a necessary part of the society, it redefines the hero as well. When we embrace the idea of the monster we show them that what they have isn’t special or new. It is something that we can create through force of will and not the prerogative of those deemed appropriate. This in turn allows the hero to be a full part of society as well. They are accepted and embraced instead of being kept at arms length.

Transformative.

So, takes some time this pride season to think about monsters. Watch the Babadook and be open to the allegory within. We have been called monsters for a long time and our process of accepting ourselves reflects this. This doesn’t strip us of our humanity but gives us the power to show others what it means to be truly human.

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