America has always been fascinated with the stories of ghastly beasts and rapacious monsters, so it’s no surprise that behind these masks and mounds of fur lie a deeper connection: enter the werewolf.
Also known as a lycanthrope, werewolves are a staple in American horror fiction and, in more recent decades, teen love stories. As a symbol they represent the wayward powers of metamorphosis according to Charlotte Otten, author of A Lycanthropy Reader and the Literary Werewolf.
“Werewolves shift, change, deviate from the expected,” she writes. “Something in human beings long for transformation.”
This deviation from the norm Otten writes about is what prescribes werewolves as a symbolic representation of the ever-growing, ever-reflective realities of queer youth. Long gone is the moral battle between the moralistic superego represented by the werewolf’s humanity and the animalistic carnal desires of the id as described by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In more contemporaneous examples, werewolves take on a different life.
They represent a kind of silent personhood. A reality that can only exist in the dead of night. They’re stories of loneliness and nonnormative experience that often cumulate in an eventual coming out. As neither completely human nor fully beast, there exists an inherent queerness in the werewolf story.
From the latent homoeroticism of all-male werewolf enclaves to the definitively disorderly nature of lycanthropes, it’s a perfect parallel to the coming out story of queer-identified people. “Queer,” in this instance, is used in the broad sense: disruptive, transgressive and counter-normative identity that clashes with insular cultural systems.
The werewolf must hide themselves during the day and can only live out who they are when the full moon peers past the clouds of the night sky. Gender and sexual minorities know this feeling all too well. The need to hide for safety’s sake. The want to be who you really are. The isolation and living within the confines of self-imposed silos and community ghettos. The modern understanding of the queerness is simply restructured in a kind of fantastical way through the cultural lens of the yellow-eyed werebeast.
Professors Noreen Giffney and Myra Hird spoke of this kind of werewolf queerness in their book Queering the Non/Human. The academics write, “its hybridity and transgression of species boundaries in a unified figure is, at very least, unusual, thus the figure of the werewolf might be seen as a natural signifier for queerness in its myriad forms.”
It’s understandable why many of these young people cling to these stories. They’re eerily familiar, but also often triumphant. The werewolves can be the heroine of the story. The object of desire. They speak to a future that may seem intangible, yet completely possible. Often living within social schema’s that mimic our current societies, werewolves in literature are the embodiment of the subcultural “other” and while they may pale in comparison in terms of popularity when it comes to their alabaster, vampiric counterparts, they’ll always be the underdog’s hero. That’s the beauty of storytelling. While the werewolf as queer symbol is still the outcast rebuked by conventional structures, they also represent resilience. And what’s more queer than that?
By Guest Blogger – Brandon Sams
Brandon Sams is an experienced perspective journalist and writer with a
concentration in digital media. His work focuses on pop culture, social critiques and