The Alterhuman Media Project

Monsters vs Metaphors: A Complicated Case of Fantastical Identity

I've been plagued by a specific issue for a while. I run into much more frequently than I ever expected. I find it in my talks with copinglinkers, in essays about the confrontation of transgender with 'transspecies', in panels about monstrosity as a vehicle for queer expression. The thing is, I am a metaphor by nobody's admission but my own. And when I see people applying the word 'monstrous' to movements, identities, concepts, in an analogous sense, I feel betrayed. Used, even. Am I right to feel like this?

Not many people seem to react as strongly as me, but the people I spoke to about this did voice some related frustrations. Literature about nonhuman creatures abounds, but how many stories have you seen about nonhuman-identifying people? The almost-but-not-quite representation is almost as bad as none at all - especially since, as many people described, there's a feeling of guilt in stretching an analogy to fit yourself when it was written about someone else.

Or, in some situations, the exact opposite - "that was my real, actual life," said several people about fictional narratives that are popularly believed to be 'about' something else. It can feel invasive and patronising to have your identity scrutinized and picked apart to "find out" what it "really means".

Source: Amy Phillips
So we end up feeling coerced into specific ways of being or expressing ourselves. I mean this both in the sense of, say, an elf feeling compelled to live up to the stereotype of 'elfness', and in a much more general way. "We know we're human really" and "otherkin are just people who take roleplaying too far" and similar go-to lines for both besmirching and 'defending' the community, they're all products of the idea that monsters only exist in the fictional, allegorical sense. We fall prey to it ourselves, too, and we internalize it. But we do not end with the closing of a book. We can't choose to disengage from what we are.

That being said, there are alterhumans for whom their identity is symbolic. It's perfectly legitimate to call yourself a demon because what 'demon' represents resonates with you on an analogous level. I recognize this, because I have similar feelings myself. I revel in my draconity being a symbol for change as much as I delight in the feeling of simply being a dragon. The power of monsters as symbols should not be devalued, and I think that we'd all be worse off if they were.

But it's kinda hypocritical, isn't it? Monster as metaphor being hailed as empowering while nonhuman-identifying people are ridiculed. I could call myself a monster with regard to my queerness (in a personally reclamatory sense, of course) and be called brave and subversive but gods forbid I take it any further than that. Gods forbid I actually, literally consider myself inhuman.

Source: David Malkoff
I think the most prominent example of this in current culture is the resurgence of tabletop RPGs. I saw a tumblr post claiming "D&D is part of gay culture now" and while I absolutely agree with and support that (gods know I've never made a cishet NPC in my life) I feel like I'm forced to pretend that's the real reason I love to DM and not because elves and dragons and monsters feel like home.
I have a blessed opportunity to create and enact completely nonhuman ways of thinking, acting and believing on a grand cultural scale and just have that be accepted as normal. Of course the orc said that, he's an orc! But he's also a person, unique and multifaceted like every member of his tribe, and best of all, he can be a person without being human.

Is it simply a matter of a lack of nonhuman representation, then? Because if the whole thing weren't so hypocritical, if nonhumans, real nonhumans, were as well regarded as our fictional counterparts, would I still be so bothered? I don't think I can know the answer to that as it stands, because I literally can't fathom what it's like to be widely represented like that - but I have a feeling it would help.

The issues surrounding nonhuman representation, awareness and acceptance are highly contentious even within the community currently, so I think it's safe to say the normalization of nonhuman identities isn't coming any time soon. But in the meantime, what do we do?

I don't think anyone can stop us seeing ourselves in these things, and feeling very strongly about them at that - nor can we really prevent the opposite scenario. I think it's very much possible to uplift and support people who are empowered through monstrous metaphors while advocating that we're equally respected for literally being monsters. And if, in the face of a lack of representation, I can decide the Babadook's gay and that's that, then I want to be able to do the same for my nonhumanity. Sometimes, I just want my monsters to be relatable without being metaphors, and to be people without being human.

What do you think? What media have you encountered that you can relate to your alterhumanity, and what was it 'supposed' to be interpreted as? How do you feel when nonhumans are used a poetic vehicle for other ideas? Leave us a comment and let us know.

No comments :

Post a Comment