As a child I did not get much to engage with popular culture of the 80s and 90s. It wasn’t until the late 90s that I was able to watch most mainstream television or listen to music from popular media without treating it like contraband. Things that were current were suspect, things that were my father’s childhood were probably okay, and things that were old, well, they were classic.
I read a lot of old pulp. I read Sherlock Holmes and I read Robert Louis Stevenson and I read Dumas, and one afternoon, visiting my grandma, sitting on her back step, away from the conversations she had with my parents, I read Frankenstein.
I don’t think, at that age, that I read it right.
First of all, I didn’t find the monster horrifying. Why should I? Was I supposed to? In the book, the monster’s face and features are not given much description by a neutral, meaningfully mentally well Frankenstein. What we get as a description was:
His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.Frankenstein, Chapter 5
When I first read this, as a kid, I remember putting the book down and sthinking about that descirption for a while. Like I came back to that paragraph and kept reading it, and checking it again. Now part of that is the natural moment of seeing my imagination defied. This wasn’t some blocky, heavy-set cereal mascot looking dude you’d see made into a suit on It’s a Knockout!, this description was of a human with a beautiful face, white eyes, black lips and long black hair. His body is then described, athletic and long-limbed, muscular, with skin that just barely covered his muscles, which to me, implied that his skin was really taut over powerful muscles.
He looked, in my mind, like a gothic superhero with lovely hair!
As Frankenstein recoiled from his creation, as his narrative explained the terribleness of what he’d done, the horror he saw in the flesh and shape of him, it seemed to me that he was, well, he was saying a bit much. Surely it wasn’t that bad. After all, he’d described him, and he sounded hot. He sounded hot like I wanted to be hot. It was all kinda this negotiation with the guy, in the story that okay, I understand you’re upset by him, because of what he represents of how you’ve done something, but I didn’t do it. I don’t have to feel that way. Heck, if I’d awoken on a table with pearly white teeth and lustrous black flowing hair, perhaps I’d actually be able to see a way to be cool with having a weird dad.
It was just a fundamentally more sympathetic position towards the monster, and the way that Frankenstein kept harping on the way he found the monster revolting, even before the monster did, y’know, any murdering, sounded unconvincing to me, because the whole story feels like someone who did something bad, reconstructing the story after the fact. The horror is not in the monster, but about remembering the monster. His is a testimony, a story meant to convince, and justify.
I heard a lot of testimonies. They were always by the people who had found their way to the Church to be the ones who got to purge their souls by sharing their testimonies. The people who weren’t there didn’t get to be heard, and that meant that anyone talking about you, as tragically as they did, weren’t necessarily telling the truth.
There’s a tradition in protestant media, the media fixated on the Bible as your template point, of fathers creating sons. In Genesis, Adam is the source of humanity, the first person who was used to create the second person, and that second person was a woman. To me, it’s the first great act of misogyny in the Bible, to take the most obvious, simple, primal description of a thing women are known for doing, and remove it from them, and instead centre that source of humanity on the man. There’s a lot of different ways a myth can come, and a lot of cultures have creator goddesses, but in the protestant tradition, built out of the Bible, Adam is the father of humanity, and it’s from him everything else gets created.
Frankenstein mimics this path – a father creates a son wrong, then punishes the son for it. The monster did not ask to be, does not know why it could be wrong, and only learns of violence because it is what it is told it must be. There is shame to him, to his existence, and what he craves, in order to assuage that shame, is love. Not love from his father, he kinda works out that that’s not happening, but he petitions his father-and-god, for someone to love. What he is given is almost there, he is shown what he can almost have, and then it is taken away, again, by the father who cannot abide the shame of letting him exist, a father who lashes out and destroys what he was working on, what was supposedly meant to help his son!
Created wrong, desperate for love, and rejected for it.
It is very easy to feel constructed as a queer person. Neurodivergence is rife in the queer community not because queer people are necessarily more likely to be neurodivergent, but because neurodivergent people are more likely to consider the systems they’re trying to work within and how they don’t necessarily work coherently. That means that in queer spaces, there’s a lot more analytical and reflective text on just being queer. Queer discourse has a lot of consideration of the building blocks of ‘normal,’ and the behaviour of parents who don’t necessarily understand or know how to reflect an experience.
My parents have no idea what to do with a bi kid. The good news, for me, in the long term health and safety of me, is that they did make sure I was so scared of how I was made that nobody found out until I was basically an adult, and even then, I wasn’t doing a good job of it. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed because I didn’t know what what I needed even was.
Before I had studied anything at university, before my schoolbooks were even trying to get me to engage with work critically – because at church, those books did not want me doing that at all – Frankenstein had taught me about unreliable narrators. Before I knew I was queer, Frankenstein had taught me about being made wrong. Before I had escaped church, Frankenstein had taught me about men who make their children wrong, and demand they fix themselves.