As one of my closest friends facetimes our transgender groupchat from post-surgery in Texas, her face is bruised, bloodied, hammered. Her face swollen into a newfound beauty, jaw shaved and skin glossy with sweat. Her eyes are swollen from lid to undereye, painted purple and black with bruising: an elegant eyeshadow that cost thousands. Her scalp sliced open with visible lines of stitching and scabbing, reattached lower to suit her new skull shape, bandaging rendering her nose, which is now slightly upturned, invisible to sight. Her head is wrapped in bandages and ice-packs like a hellish medical babushka. She smiles faintly, and we’re overjoyed — she is affirmed. She is lovelier than before, achieving a goal we set out to have too. We celebrate, we jest, we are genuinely happy for the brutal assault upon her face, because for all of the violence and mutilation that went into this product, it will melt like ice into a new incarnation of Venus, a feminine beauty she was deprived of at birth, and had to seek liberation from at the blade of a bloodied scalpel. This is joy, this horror: and this horror is so closely linked to the lives of transwomen, that this cruel desire is an intrinsic part of our reviled beings.
With a transgender actress mounting the role of Pinhead / The Priestess for the remake of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser”, it wasn’t exactly difficult to find vitriol online about the change in the character’s portrayal, as it had already been rooted in popular iconography as having a particular look regardless of the androgynous portrayal in the novelization. But that vitriol — the adverse reactions, the spewing of unasked for opinions, the frustration of Pinhead now being a woman are all very boring, and ignore a reclamation of a problematic frontier of horror; the transwoman’s place in horror, and it’s authenticity.
Transgender people, in the midst of our transitions, become a sort of Frankenstein’s monster in full coverage foundation: to ease the woes of dysphoria and the ever present issue of being seen as something we aren’t, transgender women undergo some of the most mutilating (and affirming) surgical procedures known to man, and we do so with great cost. Transition rarely ends at HRT (which transgender people are losing access to) which physically warps and alters our bodies in what could be compared to rolling a dice. You don’t know the outcome, you’re unaware of what changes may occur to your mood (will you become more pleasant, or emotionally terrorize your friends and family?) your body will also distort unpleasantly: while i cannot make a truly informed opinion of the body post testosterone, i am aware that many transmen undergo hair loss, a deepening of the voice, and violent, violent acne.
But more interesting than the experimental medication we take and hormones we stuff our bodies with to incite internal change are the procedures we elect and take and save for and suffer for to be affirmed on the outside: only in transgender circles is having your entire face sliced open, peeled off from the scalp, and laid open as a flap while blood is sucked from you with a hose and your skull is shaved down with a variety of machinery a goal. To some, this sounds like a form of torture, and to transwomen, this sounds like a form of liberation.
What is a bit of physical trauma compared to a lifetime of it otherwise? What is being cut open physically, when you contemplate doing it to yourself anyways after glancing at yourself incorrectly? Who better than a transwoman to convey a deity-like figure responsible for providing salvation through barbarism? Who else, other than a person from a group of people who routinely idolize and aspire to have their faces ripped off and bones hammered in, could properly convey this horror?
Transwomen are underutilized in horror for our experiences, but have existed in the medians of horror for a long time: the fear of cross-dressers, of deviants on the outskirts of society, the fear of the androgynous and what it presents — in horror, the stereotypes associated with trans people were misapplied, misconstrued, and taken to create paranoia and misinformation about us. Media is rife with the portrayal of a queer coded, effeminate villain, as feminimity itself is often demonized. What is more demonized, then, than a man who has become feminine? The suburban figure of terror, who threatens your masculinity with a miniskirt and wink? The fear of the unknown, the unstandard, the deviant — that with our deceptive forms and shapeshifting, we become creatures of the night that skulk around, plotting to rob men of their masculinity and patriarchal strengths is applied to us against our will, myth becoming monstrosity. And it’s all very fake — It’s unfounded, it’s unreal. There is no cruel practice, other than what we endure for survival.
Growing up consuming violence and horrific media, the only representations of transwomen I saw were as villain, corpse, or sex worker, and usually some mix of these categories: displayed as unambiguously the victim or a joke-induced villain with no actual connection to any of the violence of horrors we actually endure, Clayton is a sigh of relief, an actual connection to our actual horrors.
For some transwomen, our goal is to become monsters of our own design, plotting and planning ways to achieve physical alteration, a mutation from our default states into our fantasies and the person we believed we should’ve been born as — and in the process, we shed tears, blood, sweat, skin, bone, fat, muscle, guts, souls: we, in some cases, participate actively in our own dehumanization to seek the life we desire as a completed person, a real human — no cost is too high for some. The mental illness, the trauma, the suffering, the marginalization, and the brutality we experience in society and at our own hands to survive in society is the plotline to a nightmare, and as denizens of the nightmare, of course there’s a deep affection for the macabre.
For transwomen, body horror is always on the grocery list: and sometimes, it doesn’t get marked off. This trend in horror will hopefully continue, and whether we be victim or villain or heroine, hopefully it will contain a more than tongue-in-cheek allusion to our real horrors and connectivity with the genre. The real monstrosity of our lives is far more intense, far more scary, and far more exciting than any tired narrative free from our involvement.