A Beast of a Different Gender

Content Warning: this article contains a graphic image of a werewolf transformation from the television series Hemlock Grove.


       

         Before I started my medical transition, I never thought about the process of change. What I saw was a goal: the finish line of passing. Instead, my body shifted— continues to shift— into something unfamiliar. Like the middle picture on an Animorph book cover, I spend life in-between two states of being. Stretched over my bones is a new, hairy face that wavers in the uncanny valley of both myself and me-adjacent. Not as I once was, I’m a fresh creature burst out from my former self, shaking with blood. That is the shapeshifter’s nature; that’s the nature of the werewolf.

        In order to understand the werewolf, we must go the origination. An origin shapes the story and gives its road the curves it needs. A werewolf is made through one of two ways: either you are born a wolf or you become one. If a person is born a wolf, they adapt to their nature. They’re the lucky ones. For most of us, origins are messier than that. Many stories trace werewolves back to a bite— a curse visited on hapless college boys or girls out past their curfew. This second origin is what preoccupies me most since it is closer to my own experience. I wasn’t born a wolf but I became one through a moment— one that shone like a tooth in moonlight.

        People ask me— often enough to fill a shoebox with the questions—how I knew I was trans. What they want is not so much an answer but a road map: a distance between point A and point B. I didn’t play with trucks instead of dolls and I didn’t know I was different from the moment I could speak. Instead, I learned the word transgender in my gender studies classes in college, and in those classes I devoured words. I tore through tissue paper identities until I was caught in trans-masculine jaws.

        I bled slowly into my new identity. Day by day I took little steps toward a new life despite believing that I wasn’t near good enough to inhabit it. Then, one day during a text conversation with a friend, I confessed how badly I wanted to be named James and I thought Why can’t I be James? As if a light switched on inside me, I realized that nothing but my own reservations stood between me and the self I wanted. Once you accept it, the shift grows ferocious and wants to consume you, to have the whole of you to itself. So I left the doors to my body open and let the wolf come inside so he could devour the girl sleeping in my bed.

        Change doesn’t happen cleanly. It lets small pieces fall into your lap like cake crumbling in your hands. As you lick those crumbs away from your fingers, change suffuses through you. Grime gets caught in your nails from all that change and things about you grow wild from the taste of it. A werewolf cannot abide by neatness and before I could become myself, I had to slough off my old skin to make way for a new one.

        Periodically, I’ll entertain fantasies where the girl I’d been exists as a physically separate entity like a clone or wax statue. In these fantasies, I whack her over the head with a shovel and drag her into a deep grave where she rots. But these daydreams never compare to the ones where I could pull her skin off rip by rip until only the precious wet underneath of me could be seen.

hemlock-grove_55009354-1554x871-1554x871
Peter Rumancek mid-transformation, Hemlock Grove (2015)

There’s a scene in the show Hemlock Grove where a werewolf, Peter Rumancek, transforms in front of his mother and friend. His skin peels away and his eyes pop out; he digs his fingers in deep to tear the flesh from his face. Once he’s fully transformed, he eats his human skin. When I imagine letting go of my previous self that is how I visualize it— gobbling up the remains after I’ve grown free of my previous self. That desperate need to leave no trace of what was fuels my fingers to rend femininity from myself to expose the man beneath. I crave that sublime violence as a reassurance of the beast I am, the one I become through needles in my muscles. There are two skins I wear— one that covers and one that shines. Nails bloody, I tear to expose the one that shines.

        Injecting testosterone makes me feel raw. My emotions are raw, yawning chasms that take in everything and give back nothing. The push of the wind leaves me shivering with small carnal hungers; the thought of food rumbles my stomach like an avalanche. There’s never, ever enough to fill me up. I often wonder if masculinity means being hole-ridden, never satisfied. Throughout my transition I relearn masculinity not just from the men around me but from films and TV shows. When I watch Teen Wolf, I desire to embody the easy masculine presence of Michael J. Fox’s character, Scott Howard. He becomes a werewolf and wins the basketball game. Everyone loves him as he careens

teenwolf
Scott Howard discovers his newly grown wolf fangs, Teen Wolf  (1985)

around town demanding to surf on top of a moving van and scares his bully into pissing his pants. If only, I think, if only I could be like that. But, of course, Scott Howard was born a wolf. I must mold myself into one.

        Once a werewolf becomes a werewolf, there’s no going back. Everyone wants a return to humanity, a happy ending with the line between man and beast restored. But there’s no recourse for a werewolf. Their claws can’t retract and their fangs can’t turn back to flat teeth. I’m reminded of the final scene in An American Werewolf in London, where David Kessler, now a full werewolf, has been backed into an alleyway. His girlfriend begs him to turn back, to stop his violence and, in tears, she calls out, “I love you.”

I’ve been sat down numerous times and questioned over whether or not I want to transition. People have cried on my shoulder about how much they love me and how they just want me to be safe. Sometimes I get questioned about whether or not my hormones interfere with my mood swings and sometimes I get demands that I stop taking my hormones because of someone else’s fear. People, so many people, want me to crawl back into the girl skin I used to wear but I can’t. That skin doesn’t fit anymore. In the end, David doesn’t turn back into a man through the power of love. He stays a werewolf and dies a werewolf. Beware the moon, indeed.

For a long time, I tried to outrun the wolf. Scraped knees and long nights flanked me as I barreled through a dark forest of my own making. But there’s no outrunning a wolf. Soon I was overtaken by the truth I’d always known— that I was a beast of a different gender. Not a cisgendered girl but not a cisgendered boy, I live as a werewolf lives on the edge of human, the edge of an animal. Parts of me become ensnared in the knots of masculinity and others shake in fear of returning back to who I was. No matter what, I do what a shape shifter— a werewolf— must always do. I change.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Scott lives in Arizona with his laptop and coffee pot.  He’s a film reviewer for the blog The Monologue Blogger and recently graduated with a BA in English. Like a real writer, James uses his college education to write fanfiction and blog about horror movies. Catch him on Twitter or Tumblr.


Cover image: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)  ©  Warner Bros.

 

 

4 thoughts on “A Beast of a Different Gender

  1. As I trans man myself I really enjoyed the perspective on the trans experience, especially the parts about masculinity. As I transition I also see masculinity ripping through me as a force I now need to contend with, and while I haven’t considered the werewolf metaphor before, I feel like it definitely works.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The writing here is so heartrendingly beautiful. I’ve always loved werewolf/wolf imagery for different reasons as a woman (little red riding hood, the bloody chamber, all that reclaiming agency in blood), but you’ve written something where I hadn’t even thought about it before but it already rang true as a read it, which is what I use to know i’m really reading something special. I really hope you write more!

    Liked by 1 person

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