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Fear of “The Other” and Trans Symbolism in ‘Frankenstein’ [Trapped By Gender]

The past few articles I’ve had published on this site have been a dream come true for me. I’ve been on this site as a reader since I was in high school during the early 2000s. It’s at a point where I’ve now been reading this site for over half of my life. I’ve seen a lot happen throughout these years and I’ve seen a lot change in the horror genre. The biggest thing that I’ve always noticed is despite the loudness of the voices that wish to stagnate any progress and keep horror as is, they are not as loud as the progressive voices that enjoy variety in their favorite genre. Despite the tendency towards progressivism today in horror media, the representation of certain groups isn’t the best yet people are continuing to try to improve the messages their movies and art convey.

In the past many, many queer people lacking adequate representation would look to the villain of the piece because of the phenomena of queer coding, which is a number of traits and actions that are placed on the villain to make them “act” gay or effeminate. So you’re sort of forced to look towards the so-called monster of the piece to find something that is BARELY close to a SLIVER of representation. Say for instance with me, trans people barely exist in horror. I can’t find a character and actually feel a kinship, someone I can say to myself, “Hey, they’re just like me.” So I have always looked to the monsters and villains because I’ve felt and been treated like one many times just because that’s how certain people choose to see me. It is comforting to see and know that we finally have some actual queer people at the table in the industry to look up to.

It took a long time to get to this point yet queer people were always here, right from the start. Queer erasure is what happens when you have an entire industry run by cisgender, white men who are always in the majority when it comes to making movies or really anything in life in general. Maybe it’ll come as a surprise to some of you that the creation of the entire genre of Science Fiction came courtesy of a 19 year old woman. Her name was Mary Shelley and it came in the form of the novel Frankenstein. This truly seminal piece of genre fiction was originally published January 1st, 1818. During its initial release the author was anonymous due to even worse antipathy towards women authors during the time period. After it garnered enough attention it was revealed that a woman wrote the book and she was finally credited for her work. Isn’t it strange how 203 years later, there is still an issue with women in Science Fiction and Horror when a woman created one of those genres? Not only did this woman single handedly create an entire genre, she created a story that has endured for literal centuries.

One thing that is not very well known is that Mary was a bisexual who some hundred or so years after her death had her book made into a movie which was directed by an openly (for the time) homosexual man named James Whale. So not only is Frankenstein sci-fi, it’s queer horror too, through and through. This makes it the first Science Fiction/Horror story. Another thought to keep in mind with Mary Shelley is that even if she didn’t create it, she most definitely perpetuated and popularized the Mad Scientist Trope. Just think of the hundreds of horror films with that trope alone created during the 1950s. No Godzilla, no Kaiju, no Back to the Future, or Rick and Morty without her. Show your Queen and those of her gender some respect, will ya?

Personally, I’ve always felt a type of kinship with Frankenstein. (Sometimes I’m going to refer to The Creature as Frankenstein because his creator was named Frankenstein and usually those born from someone else take their last name, so Frankenstein it is). I’m out here trying to live my life and some people seem to want to burn me for no other reason than their own fear or a misplaced sense of justice in trying to protect the children and “real women”. In some ways Frankenstein is the ultimate story of otherization which unfortunately is a concept that queer people are not strangers to. It shows a narrative that someone like me can use to relate some of my own personal experiences to those who may not have experienced similar.

In many ways it’s a story about learning who you are and how to be a person when you have changed so significantly from who you were before. Frankenstein has much growing to do, arguably both The Creature and The Doctor. It would help if The Creature were treated better, abnormal brain or not. Neurodivergence is no reason to mistreat anyone. It’s almost as if our Queen Mary was onto something over 200 years ago. Treat those different than you with the same respect as you would your own family and you will find kindness, friendship, respect, and loyalty. These are all things The Creature wanted, just to have some friends and be shown one bit of kindness. No wonder he feels, “We belong dead!” at the end of Bride of Frankenstein. Can you blame him after his treatment the past two movies?

There’s mountains of unintentional transgender subtext in Frankenstein. Looking into it, Frankenstein is reborn into this newly stitched together body (not all trans people have surgery, but many do) and he’s immediately ostracized by the community at large. This happened to me when I began to transition. Once you’re easily read as transgender, there goes all pretense of kindness. Especially if you have to go to the bathroom in public. Do you choose the one where you’ll get beaten up or do you choose the one where people may call the cops on you?

Decisions, decisions…

When people see someone different than themselves that they don’t understand it’s easier for them to lash out like with the townspeople and The Creature. They hate him, intentionally scare him, and the tactics used to ostracize him are very similar to the ones used against transgender individuals. A very easy comparison you could make would be between TERFs and the townspeople with their now stereotypical pitchforks. TERF is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. They align themselves with fascists because that’s exactly what they are. You can only be a woman or a man according to their bonkers beliefs if you win the genetic lottery at birth and are born the way you see in your head. Validity does not matter to these people. If you’re transgender you crossed a line with them just for being born and they treat you like you’re the problem. They’re bullies. These people are so evil they go after children’s charities such as the Mermaids foundation in the UK that helps trans kids feel more like themselves, more aligned with their physical body and more comfortable than without the support. They have a lifeline for suicidal trans youth. They do research to further transgender healthcare. They’re very good people and you should maybe shoot a few bucks their way for the kids. If one kid can feel less pain with gender dysphoria like the kind I went through as a child it’s worth it. It could save a life. As they say, when will somebody think of the children? https://mermaidsuk.org.uk/donate/

After his resurrection, Frankenstein is forced to learn new societal rules and learn how to act within his new role; there’s no going back to the same life after being brought back from the dead. Like The Creature, I do not have a neurotypical brain. It’s been shaped by trauma inflicted upon me by society and genetics. I have learned so many new things socially since transitioning. Trans people have to become their own maker just like The Creature. He leaves Dr. Frankenstein and teaches himself to read. He learns more about how to be as human as can be yet still something else entirely. In a sense Frankenstein thrives, becoming more erudite as the novel goes on, and ultimately very well spoken and well read. This is exactly what I had to do. I had to teach myself different subject matter regarding being a woman in our society because I wasn’t socialized in the same way growing up. Just like Frankenstein, I have to continually be putting in extra effort to fit in.

I took control of my own development the day I started hormone replacement therapy. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s Creature I was allowed to grow, but only once I left the place I was born. When I started transition in 2008, the discourse at the time was either hide and cocoon in your room until you have transformed enough for yourself, or move to a new place where no one knows you and you can define yourself to these new people on your own terms. So I moved to a new place; no one knew my past, and I could continue anew. I had to extricate myself away from a mob that didn’t care about my name or how I felt when they would misgender me. Like The Creature I had to get away to my own Antarctica or as it’s more well known here, Lovecraft Country in New England. I’ve never been able to escape those who may want to hurt or kill me but I have grown and changed in many ways that would have not been possible had I stayed where I was. The more I write of this, the more I believe that there is no better allegory for transgender and queer individuals in general than that of Frankenstein.

The catharsis alone that horror movies and horror stories bring for the othered, the hurt, the strange, the outcasts, and those that are queer cannot be stated enough. For those working within the horror genre that say that their art isn’t political, you can say that, and believe that. However, you have influences and I can guarantee you that your influences had political beliefs, ones that show up in their work. You are being subconsciously influenced and carrying those beliefs over to your work. There is no such thing as apolitical art and media. Frankenstein is the ultimate example of this, even if unintentional. I don’t know Queen Mary’s intentions while writing it. All I know is that it has helped and comforted countless queer people over the past couple centuries.

There have been so many adaptations of the Frankenstein novel over the years and I’ve yet to see one directed by a woman. Maybe there is one and I’ve missed it; I’m not including Frankenstein-like stories. I’m talking about THE story that birthed the genre. The one that needs a new adaptation. One that is faithful. I’d love to see a woman direct an actual Frankenstein film. In fact, I’d love to see a trans woman specifically take on the story. Transgender individuals know a thing or two about body horror. After all, we live with it every day.

Your Horror Tran,

Alice Collins