I want to be a monster. In my fantasies, I aspire to be one of those people whose photos are passed around the internet with captions like, horrifying, insane, freak, weirdo. In my most idealized self-vision I am what I call a Nazgul Alien Dowager Emperor, I want to part seas of people with my otherwordlyness. I don’t want to be pretty or age gracefully, I want to mold my meatbag into a vision of my own making and reflection of what I believe is beautiful.
I want to be the culmination and fruition of my own fever dreams.
In the early to mid 80s, I remember my parents snickering when we spotted bright flora of punk kids around. While they sneered at the “freaks” I loved them the way only small children can. When I saw people on television with outlandish looks, I loved them too. I thought they were the most beautiful creatures on the planet. When I played dress up, I was imagining myself as one of their kind. I wanted to be glittering and startling and free.
Later on, in the 90s I taped every daytime talk show that featured club kids. I spent hours studying their looks, I paused the videos to try and figure out the intricacies of the beautiful things they wore. I ‘met’ RuPaul on Geraldo, Nina Hagen, the infamous Michael Alig. I loved them all. During the same time, I was exposed to Goths the same way and I loved them too.
All of these people with their weird make up, sometimes inappropriate behavior and complete disregard for the rules of beauty thrilled and touched me down to my bones. I already had a long-standing love of all things I deemed glamorous, I secretly practiced high glamour alone in my room. The first time I painted my lips black with a .99 cent eyeliner was the first time I touched the golden light of looking exactly how I wanted to and the thrill of inhabiting my own idea of beauty.
I was not taught by society at large or even in my micro world that I could ever be beautiful. I understood that, I should not share my visions and dreams about my own beauty with the world. Part of me kept my secret out of shame and part of me wanted one thing no one else could touch. I knew instinctively that my ideas about gender, my want to have both a well-manicured beard and a giant Goth Siouxsie worthy smoky eye were verboten.
Gender presentation aside, my desire to be a walking art demon has only grown as I’ve aged. I’ve grown into an idea of beauty that both transcends my fluctuating gender identity and affirms it. When people ask what I mean when I say my ultimate aesthetic is Nazgul Xenomorph Dowager King realness, I mean I dream about having my eyeballs tattooed (yes I know, SHANNON NO), I want to design my own facial implants and have a body suit of particular tattoos by the time I am 70. I want a mouth full of blinged out fangs.
I want my clothes to make me feel like I don’t have to say a word. Whether that means I have my chunky butt in booty shorts and platform boots, or Apocalypse Goth Prince in a lavender wig and sporting an under the skin inverted tiara on my giant forehead. In my dreams, I am Evil Art of the sort we see with shrieky headlines. My ultimate goal is to part the crowds and hear confused and angry muttering in my wake while I smile and feel pretty.
That is the fantasy. The reality is that I am a small chunky big busted person who is, generally what I deem office Goth. I wear all black most of the time. I like platform shoes and Doc Martens. Occasionally I wear fluffy layers of ridiculous skirts. I enjoy a collection of multi colored wigs to suit my mood. I have one facial piercing. I like to wear fourteen pounds of eye liner. I have a few tattoos. I am unpleasant looking to a lot of people but, not quite the monster I aspire to be.
My desire to be an art monster of my own making represents the ultimate in bodily autonomy. In the current political climate, I must live with knowing that within my lifetime I may not be able to get an abortion, survive an illness because I can’t afford treatment, a police officer could execute me for being too scary. I live with the weight of these things in my body and for comfort, I run towards monstrous beauty.
As things are, walking out of my house with my head up I am making a political statement. I am Black and Queer and when I walk with my head up unashamed and afraid but doing it anyway, I am absolutely making a statement. The day after a Black woman local to me, Charleena Lyle was murdered by the police, I walked out of my house with my head up. I was terrified but held my head up high. Being alive is a statement when you are a marginalized person.
There are many days when the weight of being both hyper visible and invisible hangs off of me. I feel it on my skin and I can’t decide between being a ghost and being a real person. Those are the days I want to wear my monstrous beauty the most. I’ll wear the clothes that some pinch faced asshole has informed me were unflattering. I’ll wear the matte forest green lip with a big nine pound of black eyeliner wing, I’ll wear the pastel ombre wig.
The weight of the dual reality of me walking around in this world has led me here. If I am going to be aggressively seen, I will show whatever face I want to show. I will create myself in my own image, I will reside in a chunky ass, weird looking temple until my soul finds a better place to hang out. And I won’t be ashamed.
Black people in America are hardly allowed the fullness of humanity in any situation. We cannot be afraid, we cannot weep, we cannot express joy, we cannot be beautiful but, we must be all those things at the demand of Whiteness. I have said on many occasions that Black women and Femmes exist in a liminal space between love and hate. In recent years, we’ve had to watch as aspects of us are taken on by non-Black people as their badges of beauty.
Cultures around the world covet Blackness. Our skin tones, our styles, our hair, our features until, those things are attached to an actual Black person. Many of us have lived through harassment, job loss and general public humiliation because our style is too ghetto, our hair is inappropriate. I was raised to conform. Keep my hair straight, not be, act or look too Black. Blackness and my expression of it was constrained by the White gaze.
I was not taught how to love myself or how to be a human being.
Nothing about my physical appearance has ever been “right” save for a time during an extended eating disorder relapse when I was thin. Most of my life I have been chunky or fat. I am not able bodied. My teeth are not good. My skin is not clear. My hair is, frequently a mess. What began for me as a shameful secret has become the key to my personal liberation. My morals are, abhorrent to American culture.
My self-image as a terrifying alien deity with killer shoes has evolved from my way of rejecting a world that hated me into my way of tapping into the divine freedom of being fully and monstrously human. Sometimes, I wear my monster face with the uneven eyeliner and dreams of being a tricked out meatbag of ain’t shitness and glitter as my armor and my shield. My decision to aspire to aesthetic terrorism and claim visual villainy, has kept me alive.
Aspirations of Alien Realness and looks that are too much have kept me tethered to my mission to be obscenely human. I understand that I shouldn’t want this. I’m not supposed to want to make myself look like a monster on purpose. I’m not supposed to want people to be startled upon seeing me. I should not wear my Blackness this way. I should not feel my genders. I should not be so strident in being publicly human.
Without the aesthetic trappings, I am a walking nightmare for many in America. I am Black. I am Queer. I am not cis gendered and most frightening of all I have a voice. I have the audacity to be unbowed, unbent and unbothered. I walk around with my head up when I know what could happen to me for simply being Black and breathing.
I hold my dreams of an aesthetic reign of terror as the ultimate in expression my rebellious want to live. When I wear things that are strange, I am reminded that here in America in 2019 I am still alive. I have survived myself, I have survived police interactions, angry men and everything else that has happened so far. I will live.
The real point beyond becoming visually arresting is that I want to exercise what freedom I have. The number of constraints put upon me since birth have served to imbue just being alive with treacherous terrain that I can’t always see coming. In 2019 in America I can be fired from a job because of the way my hair grows out of my head, I can be extrajudicially executed for being Black, if I say the wrong words, I can lose access to my favorite social media.
Those things and the many other things that are the things that want me dead, are the fuel to this particular fire. In most areas of my life, I have to do the dance. I can’t have a meltdown in public or call the police because I’m afraid of someone, I walk the line of acceptability and respectability enough so I can survive under Capitalism and White Supremacy.
I have had to give up control over much of myself and I refuse to give the last bit of control over my body to anyone. As I’ve said to folks who disapprove of my tastes, if you ain’t screwing me, paying my bills or otherwise contributing financially to how I walk around in the world, I don’t care if you like how I look.
I want to be a monster. A beautiful, nightmare of an alien God/ess. I want to be a monster. I want to be free. As things stand, my skin is largely naked and I don’t have an inverted tiara implanted under the skin of my forehead. I am not the Alien Dowager Emperor Goth Prince of my dreams and through all of the other shit, that is one dream America cannot take away.
In creating myself as this phantasmagoric fantasy self, I set the path to my own freedom and in doing so lay out clues to yours. Through my rejection of Western Beauty and respectable ideas about Blackness, I have found a way to live rather than just survive.
Shannon Barber is an author from Seattle Washington where they live with her partner and a small collection of oddities. Their work has appeared in Wear Your Voice Magazine, in print in the Unchaste Anthology and in various places online . Find more about their work at https://www.shannonbarber.com/ .