Too many horror writers insist on gendering their demons. Intrepid incubi gallop down gothic hallways, while sultry succubi scurry up satin sheets. Beasts have balls. Ghouls have gaps, but one progressive author is challenging all that.
Drew Chial sketched a bipedal figure in his notebook. Its hair, shoulders, and hips were obscured in shadow. Drew traced the rounded edges. “I don’t want readers to have a clue what the monster is. I want it to be a vague alien threat, something salivating at the end of the corridor. If I tell you what the monster’s sex organs are you’ll have that much more of an understanding and find it less frightening.”
Readers are conditioned to make assumptions about monsters’ gender identities, because grammar dictates it so. The millipede of meat that’s winding up the spiral staircase is either a ‘he’ or a ‘she,’ but our assumptions about this arthropod’s identity are problematic.
Chial is challenging the linguistic illuminati one pronoun at a time.
“I thought I could just find all mentions of the word “He” and replace them with “It,” but there were complications. At first I did everything to avoid the monster’s pronouns. For instance: He wrapped his boneless appendage around his victim’s neck, punctured the skull with his talon-tipped tongue, and slurped the brain matter out at his leisure. Became: The creature wrapped a boneless appendage around the corpse’s neck, punctured the skull with a talon-tipped tongue, and slurped the brain matter in slow gulps.”
“The problem was the more I avoided possessive pronouns the clunkier my sentences became. That’s when I started using they, their,andthem.I just had to conjugate the verbs so it was clear I was using ‘they’ in the singular.”
They arethe serpentine silhouette whose secretions scorch the tiles beneath theirfeet.
Theyarethe mouth breathing mutant dragging a robe of cobwebs behind their back.
Theyare the humongous hunchback whose plates scrape the ceiling above them.
Edgar Allan Poe described his ghosts as phantasmagorical shadows, existing beyond the veil of perception. The narrators that spotted one of these phantoms, could never fully comprehend them. Chial has modernized Poe’s method by obscuring his creature’s genitals. Maybe the monster is gendered. Maybe it’s agender. Maybe it’s intersex or maybe it’s chimerical, something that shifts sexes right before its victim’s eyes. Whichever the case Chial has bypassed the audience’s prejudice by eliminating the patriarchal paradigm.
“I’ve been trying to refer to my monsters as ‘They’ for a while now, but Microsoft Word’s grammar function kept imposing ‘He’ or ‘She’ on me, but I’ve upgraded to the 2019 edition and those little green underlines are gone. Still, Word 2019 has a ways to go. It still autocorrects ‘themself’ to ‘themselves’ forcing me to type it twice.”
Hopefully the people at Microsoft will heed Chial’s words and stop trying to dictate which pronouns paranormal entities can use. Software publishers need to understand that language is fluid as are many swamp creatures. Language needs to evolve as a show of respect to underrepresented people AND to accommodate a horror writer’s desire to enshroud his monsters in mystery.