Monsters have always been a prominent part of the games we play; the moblins of Zelda, the demons and darkspawn of Dragon Age, the orcs of Shadow of Mordor, even the grues of Zork – creatures of disparate biology, origin and motive that are clustered together because they are the inhuman enemy – the Other, a concept that is prevalent throughout fantasy and sci-fi genres in all media.
However, there has been a great deal of interest in art, academia and other avenues of exploring what “monsters” really are, how we as a society construct them, and what their relationship to humanity is – which has led to complex understandings of monstrosity that move beyond a simple catch-all category for anything deemed inhuman.
For many marginalised people – including LGBTQ people – monsters hold a special significance that goes beyond just another target for a sword, arrow or bullet. I caught up with a few LGBTQ folk from around the internet who felt a close affinity for all things monstrous, and talked to them about how it manifested in various ways throughout their lives. Many of the links below are not-safe-for-work (NSFW), so only click if you’re prepared for it!
Many of the people I talked to expressed a personal identification with monsters, seeing something of themselves or their own lives in what was depicted in the monstrous, which led to them developing an interest in exploring them more – often in ways which allowed them to explore their own identities by proxy. “I certainly grew up identifying more with people who were flawed, who had this inescapable monstrosity about them, and I think that’s how I ended up drawn to monstrous characters who had more depth than simply ‘Grunt smash!’”, says Aros, a writer and aficionado for all things orcish. “I love orcs because they’re a fictional race that started out being portrayed with the depth of a propaganda poster and ended up with a legion of fans. I love them because of their baggage, not despite it.”
“I see a lot of elements of my personality in the sort of monster characters I like,” says writer and editor Joe. “I’m blunt, I’m pretty much always grumpy or grouchy etc. and that’s backed up by the sort of characters I like.”
For eva problems, creator of monster-transformation games SABBAT and AUGUR, monstrosity felt like a means of granting her the power to solve problems on her own terms. “I always felt like my problems would go away if my exterior could look as monstrous as I felt on the inside, if I had scales, claws, fangs, etc – or at least they would be replaced with problems I would feel equipped to handle”, eva tells me. “Transition has helped me reconnect with my own body and finally feel like I can live inside it, but monstrosity will always be a part of me and my sense of self.”
Mack, an illustrator and the creator of the upcoming monster-dating-sim Summer Roarmance, discusses why they think monsters can hold a great deal of significance to some members of minority groups: “I also think there’s a heavy cultural connection to monsters and minorities … Certain experiences in their life may make them feel scary, mysterious, having to hide themselves, or feeling subhuman to those of privilege. That connection of feeling like a monster can be very validating.” This is echoed in critical work on monsters that draws parallels to experiences of marginalised groups, such as that of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Monster Culture” essay.
For all the empathetic connection that people may feel towards them, monsters also have an aesthetic quality to them that many appreciate. This isn’t surprising, considering that many of the games and other media we interact with include monster designs that are often incredibly detailed or deeply evocative – which Aevee Bee has discussed in her article and game “Removed” on Medium. For many of the people I talked to, aesthetic appeal of their favourite monsters was similarly significant.
“One of my favorite things about monsters is this sort of inherent creativity and openness in design that revolves around them,” Mack says. “In character design theory, having a distinguishable silhouette is sought after and monstrous forms feel really natural to do this with. Even with “predefined” monsters there are many variations in mood, shapes, forms, etc. Merpeople are one of my favorite examples of this.”
Sometimes, the connection that people forge with the monsters they feel affinity with is through sexuality and eroticism: Monsterbait is an artist whose erotic photography and photomanipulation artwork predominantly features ape-men, demons and aliens in various sexual scenarios. When asked what drew him to the monstrous, Monsterbait told me, “Probably the sexiness of it. Most monsters are created pretty hot, strong, powerful, intimidating and attractive. Think of all the art you’ve seen growing up: in both religious iconography and video game art, demons are always built naked and muscular. What a tease, right?”
The strength and power that monsters are typically depicted with is also of interest to Aros, who touches on the fact that the way monsters are depicted is gendered: “I find physical strength generally attractive, regardless of gender. Most people don’t realize that I’m bisexual, given that “Strong” characters are often big hulking dudes. I definitely don’t want the dudes to disappear, but it’d be nice to see more female characters like Zarya [of Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming game Overwatch].”
And although the appeal of monsters is often their monstrosity, it’s pivotal to note that many monster-fans appreciate a touch of humanity in their portrayal, or their condition. “I like monsters who have a little bit of human in them, so stuff like Orcs and Werewolves,” Joe says. “Ones that can talk and have their own personalities rather than just “generic space alien” or “generic swamp monster.”
“For me, it was less about the monstrous and more about monsters who have some sort of contradictory element, like Hank McCoy (Beast) or Bruce Banner,” Aros adds.
The monstrous affinity also allows for groups and communities to form around or adjacent to the idea of identifying with monsters. “I participate pretty frequently in the furry fandom, using an orc character as my representative self,” Aros says, later adding. “Furry Twitter” specifically feels like a fantastic inside joke. Nobody takes themselves too seriously there, and we’re all just incredibly trashy people who constantly pander to each other on our niche tastes.”
“It wasn’t til semi-recently that I made the connection that furries are just another type of monster to me and that’s why I was interested,” Mack adds.
Monsterbait has found a number of communities helpful, including fetish nights at local gay bars, as well as Folsom Street fair, where he and his husband were introduced to the pup-play community, which he described as “the most welcoming of all”.
Although there is a connection for creators and fans of the monstrous with their own identities, there are also significant gaps in the kind of representation they want to see in their monsters, and how that impacts their own enjoyment of them.
“Finding my place in the world still seems to elude me, I am an artist, and an art lover, of all types of art. But the stuff I like the most always seems to be outside of everything that is already outside of the norm,” says Monsterbait.
“I can appreciate the monster designs in like, a castlevania game or a harryhausen film, but the space afforded to the monsters within those works is always antagonistic,” eva adds. “They are creatures meant to be vanquished, and I don’t want to vanquish them, they’re cute! I want to be friends with them and maybe date them if they’re up for it.”
As is often the case – especially when it comes to matters of LGBTQ representation – these creators didn’t wait around for someone else to lead the way; instead, they took charge and brought the things they wanted to see into the world. “…it’s a bit dry out there for us monster-lovers,” Aros says. “My ego’s been inflated enough that I’m trying to solve that problem myself, by writing some fantasy fiction involving queer orcs, but I haven’t reached the point where I’m ready to release it in the wild.”
eva tells a similar story: “A lot of why I started making the things I make is because I didn’t see the specific kinds of love for monsters and monster people out there that I wanted to see, so I decided to make it for myself!”
“It’s the kinda thing I would have loved to find when I was coming into my sexuality,” Monsterbait says, on the topic of the art he creates, “but instead I had to make it from scratch, and still do.”
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that monsters can effectively take the place of marginalised people in fantasy settings, in-game cultures and other constructed worlds. It is one thing to provide depictions of monsters that LGBTQ people can see reflecting elements on their own identity, and something wholly o(/O)ther to suggest that having a monster can stand-in for any given deviation from “normal” and that it should be enough for marginalised fans to go on.
Instead, positive representation can and should include both – more diverse depictions of people, and more diverse depictions of the myths, monsters and magic that people create. In fact, more and more people, beyond those interviewed above, are exploring monsters and inhumanity in ever-more nuanced and diverse ways, including those which showcase the monster as something to empathise with or respect.
Men+Monsters and Ace of Beasts (both NSFW) are comics by Aero Zero which focus on romantic action-fantasy settings involving men and monsters who are romantically involved. Discord Comics’ series “Minority Monsters” has been well received, as has “Fuck Yeah, Monster Enbies”, a blog collecting together non-binary monsters of all stripes.
Some of Mack’s favourite creators are Coey-kuhn and Solomon Fletcher, Monsterbait enjoys the work of the artists monsterbab.es and Karhumies, eva draws attention to WitnessTheAbsurd and Bec of Ginseng and Honey as particularly creative monster-creators. Aros includes some written fiction – Stan Nicholls’ Orcs series, as well as Amalia Dilin’s Honor Among Orcs. Joe mentions Alyssa Leandra Dalangin’s upcoming visual novel, The Duenkhy, a dating sim involving a human living in a community of monsters.
In the online essay “Monster Trans”, author boots potential outlines the connection between queerness and monstrosity:
“I think it is entirely possible to divorce the concept of “monster” from an inherent evil. Queers inspire fear in people because they fail to fit a prescribed social and societal norm of heterosexuality. So too, we might argue, in the case of monsters: they inspire fear not due to an inherent evil, but rather as a direct result of failing to conform to an expected set of standards as to what a living thing should be and look like. Furthermore, just as there are many varieties and embodiments of queerness, so too are there of monstrosity.”
In much the same way that the last five years has seen an explosion of interest in the works of LGBTQ creators in comics and games, we can hope that the next five years will see the depiction of monsters evolving from mere mooks and moblins to something more varied, diverse, and transformative.
This feature was originally published at GayGamer.Net in July 2015.