The Grotesque and The Abject: Brace Fellow Dorian Park Wang ’23 Analyzes Trans Monster Metaphors in Cinema

Examining trans monster metaphors in cinema, Dorian Park Wang ’23 shared a Brace Center for Gender Studies presentation on trans “monstrosity” in Hollywood. Park Wang recounted the prejudiced portraits of queer people in old movies and analyzed three metaphors of the deprivation of queer people’s identity in film: “Frankenstein” (1931), “Psycho” (1960), and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

Stemming from the question “What is a monster?”, Park Wang looked into the adjectives associated with depictions of monsters. The descriptions fell into two major categories of interior adjectives, such as “scary,” “cruel,” and “queercoded” and exterior adjectives, like “mutated,” “deformed,” and “ugly.” Observing how these traits are illustrated in the film industry, specifically old-Hollywood, Park Wang developed the theoretical framework of the presentation: The Grotesque and The Abject.

“The Grotesque, I defined it as a body defined through sights of abjection or orifices and convexities through transgression of life and death and individual collective boundaries. The Abject is sort of built on this previous notion of The Grotesque so it’s defined as the specific reaction or the response to a grotesque figure,” said Park Wang.

Park Wang then delivered three metaphors that illustrated transphobia in the early film industry and how they showcased themes of Grotesque against Abject. The Frankenstein metaphor is located in surgical procedures as transgression and modifications of one’s body. The Skin/Clothes metaphor elaborated on how shedding of clothing is portrayed and utilized in films, focusing on the reorientation of bodily topography, according to Park Wang. For each metaphor, Park Wang used clips from classic horror movies to show the lack of acknowledgment of the queer figures in the industry.

“We see this dramatic shedding of clothing to reveal some sort of ‘sexed truth.’ As we saw this, this sort of response to it that is of shock and fear, for that abject—the trans character. And in this scene when hollywood-men comes in all guns ablazing, metaphorically, and sort of strips Norman Bates of this exterior gender presentation—this is a reveal, this is less of an invitation for the viewer to identify with Norman Bates but rather a sort of movement of the audience into the place of the viewer that is meant to be horrified, that is meant to be shocked, ” said Park Wang

Park Wang continued, “In these old films, we see a lot of these gender nonconforming figures, we see a lot of these queer-coded figures, threatened with violence. We see queer characters just go through really traumatic experiences without even a verbal or outright explicit acknowledgment of their queerness, and it is the silence that really exacerbated from the ’30s to the ’60s by the Hays Code.”

Dr. Marissa Schwalm, Park Wang’s former English instructor and Brace fellow faculty advisor, took note of the amount of effort that Park Wang has put in for the presentation. She was impressed by Park Wang’s intricate ideas and abilities to transform research on films and gender into a larger conversation for the Andover community.

“This has been a tremendous amount of work, research, watching movies, reading endless theory both in terms of film studies and beyond. And so I think it’s really fantastic to see how Dorian has taken this idea that’s really intricate and involved in the written piece… and was able to translate it to a larger conversation for us so that we can see how those intersections are really present in our lives,” said Schwalm.

Darla Moody ’24, resonating with the presentation and personal experiences, expressed that the topic of queer monstrosity in cinematic productions is essential as many people ignore it when watching films.

Moody said, “I do know for a fact that a lot of the cis-people around me have not and probably would not agree to go to this presentation or watch it because they’re the ones who get me to watch these movies full of transphobia saying like “oh this is a great movie, it’s a classic, it’s great you should watch it, let’s watch it together.” And then I am sitting there uncomfortable and they’re sitting there chilling. So it’s proof we need these presentations to exist to bring this topic to people who it doesn’t affect personally.”

Similarly, Sakina Cotton ’24 regarded the topic as essential and appreciated the fact that Park Wang made the thoughtful and profound discussion easily comprehensible for the audience.

“And I think that the degrees that Dorian covered were really in depth, but delivered in a way that was easy to understand. I thought it was just a profound point in what messages are being portrayed and is a great critique of what the Hollywood industry has ingrained in the media that it publishes,” said Cotton.

Editor’s Note: Dorian Park Wang ’23 is an Arts Associate for The Phillipian