Junot Diaz once wrote on the subject of representation and monstrosity:
“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?”
I cannot, of course, speak to the experiences of a person of color who grew up not seeing themselves. As a white kid in rural Tennessee, in a town that was just about as blindingly Caucasian as one might expect, my media had plenty of mirrors–plenty of stories of kids who looked like me.
What a weird funhouse mirror trick, huh? Shows you what’s on the outside, but none of what’s on the inside. Probably for the best though, considering what cracked and garish mirrors did exist for what I hadn’t yet realized was the truth of myself.
Villains or victims. Vampires too if you just barely squinted at the new wave of vampire media in my youth–Lost Boys, Interview with…, etc.
White queer kids got a right to see ourselves but only so long as we never actually saw the cause behind what made them dreadfully different. As long as by the end of the film, we got the reminder that all that waited was death for the vampiric villains.
Let’s not even talk about supposed representation for those of us who were also neurodivergent or disabled.
Still, I guess horror was the only place I could see anything in the mirror that wasn’t someone else entirely. There’s a comfort to that, I guess?
Not that horror wasn’t fun too! I was way too enamored with the aesthetics of the spooky and the forbidden fun the genre offered to even realize why I love the genre so much on a whole other level till I was an adult. Horror for kids in the 90s was a booming industry, with Goosebumps books at every Scholastic Book Fair and Disney Channel offering a new spooky original movie every October. I wasn’t the only kid hooked by the genre well into adulthood, even without all of us crossing those same intersections of identity on the way.
Still, the way I’ve approached my love of horror over the years is from a perspective of multiple identities for myself (queer, neurodivergent, disabled) and from an empathy and attempts to understand others through that same lens. It’s my intention through this blog to analyze horror media, particularly film and literature, through a lens of identity.
I go by Res. The name Novel Divergence combines my neurodivergence and love of literature–and also my love of puns and play on words. I have degrees in graphic design and art history (B.F.A.x2), English Literature (M.A.), and Education (M.Ed.), from a couple different universities in my state. My capstone in design was on queering propaganda posters, my art history final journal article was (disabled) queer themes permeating the works of Warhol, my M.A. final work was on the queer themes of Victorian era Gothic Horror, and my M.Ed. proposal was on disability representation in children’s literature. After a stint of doing other jobs and taking time for my health, I taught various grade levels for about five years. Eventually had to quit due to an injury caused by a student, that I might address in a later post.
Pronouns for the purposes of the blog are they/them, though I answer to any of them really. I work in hospitality in a large tourist city, in a decently bougie hotel. Been with my partner for over a decade now. No kids, no intention of kids. Cats though! Got a lot of them lil bastards!
As for neurodivergence and disability, I’m on the double axis of ADHD/autism, C-PTSD, persistent depressive disorder (previously called dysthymia), and general anxiety disorder. With a light peppering of psychotic episodes–you know, for funsies. Physically, I have a systemic genetic disorder of the connective tissues, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, hEDS type. This is comorbid to Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Mass Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD), and even Tempero-Mandibular Disorder (TMD) to name just a few. I’m a mobility impaired medical atrocity! Fun fun.
I use the general blanket term queer as a descriptor. While I’m definitely nonbinary, I interact on different areas of the gender spectrum in different aspects of life, some out of freedom and some for the sake of personal safety. I’m definitely on the multi-attraction spectrum, and while I self-identify as bi, pan is also a decent descriptor tbh. I also use the term queer, though I know some don’t care for it–I didn’t for a bit either. When and where I grew up, it was very much a hurtful term. Still is for some people in some places, and I respect that. I won’t use it for another person if they express discomfort with it, but I prefer it to self-identify and use in an academic context as it has come to be ubiquitous in academia.
There’s definitely more about me that’s interesting, I suppose, but those are more for later entries.
That Diaz quote from above had a bit more to it, fyi.
“And part of what inspired me was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
I eventually realized that the mirror handed to me that showed what I looked like so clearly on the outside was a funhouse mirror of its own: a trick mirror made by society to keep people in the roles deemed most appropriate by the powers that be. The scary mirrors, the one painted with monsters and madmen, are sometimes the more “real” even if they aren’t representative of everyone.
I’m not here to excuse the way horror has reinforced cultural prejudices, to be clear. But for those of us who felt more comfortable in the strange, who felt more empathy or recognition for the “monsters”…
Even if the mirror didn’t show your reflection, I still see you. I hope I can help see yourself better, through this project, even if just a little.
2 thoughts on “On Mirrors and Monsters”
So many times for POC or queer or disabled the only characters we have to see ourselves in turn out to be the monsters.
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Absolutely. Just look to the villains of the Disney Renaissance!