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Mothman and the Doom of Gender

Mothman and the Doom of Gender

Here's the thing about the Mothman. Even though he scares the absolute crap out of the people who see him, the speculation around him has become very kind over the years. What if he's only here to help?, say the theorists. What if he's trying to warn us about impending disaster? What if that horrible feeling you got was the Mothman telling you to look out, be careful, danger is coming, doom is nigh?

It's one thing to see a harbinger of doom; there are apparitions of ghostly black dogs all over the world that will give you that, red eyes and all. It's another to have one hanging around who actually means well.

I'm going to be an Old Queer for a minute, now, and talk about gay politics in the USA as I watched it over the past thirty years. My experience is my own; my history is shared, but not universal. Sound off in the comments if you saw it happen differently. I want your story, too.

There’s a certain line the right wing in this country likes to use against The Gays, one I’ve heard since I was a small child. It goes: queer people are threatening our way of life. Queer people are the pebbles that start the avalanche of apocalypse, the collapse of civilization as we know it. If marriage becomes something other than Man + Woman, or if Man and Woman become something other than we think they are, then we will lose everything we know and love.

The rise of the Respectable Gay in the 1990s pushed back against this. “See,” cried Degeneres and Savage and all the rest, “see how we’re so very normal? We want to get married and buy a house and have 2.1 kids and a white picket fence. Our marriage doesn’t threaten yours. How could it? We’re just normal, ordinary, white, moderately wealthy, people. We're like you."

This move shifted the narrative across the 90s and 00s. Homosexuality was officially decriminalized in '03, and we got gay marriage in 2015, and every year in between there was another Influential Gay Person saying "I just want to get married, that's all." There were even commercials about it, remember? “Gay marriage is just like yours. Only gayer.”

But... in the mid-2010s this was already wearing thin. Transgender people, gender non-conforming people, gays who didn’t go in for two-person marriage, everyone in the greater LGBTQ+ umbrella who had thrown their support behind gay marriage and waited our turn to get our rights; we'd all been mobilizing, too. We'd been putting together our own coalitions, under the aegis of the greater umbrella or not. And, here's the crux: we were, in fact, threatening the right-wing Christian ways of life. Just by existing in public, by talking and writing and performing and living our lives during the Transgender Tipping Point, trans and non-binary people like me were challenging the foundational definitions of Man and Woman as exclusive, all-encompassing categories of humanity.

It wasn't just the right, either. Straight liberals who were totally on board with gay marriage would look at us and say, "um, wait, really? Really, like that? Do you have to?" The discomfort was palpable. I'm speaking now about some of my own family; they were fine with me dating and getting married, but a new set of pronouns was forcing something on them. It was hurting something intrinsic to their identities. It was, in a very real way, threatening them.

I'm grateful to say that most of them learned to discard the parts of their own foundations that excluded me from existence. This is rarely easy for anyone. I'm honestly proud of those members of my family who have learned to look the Mothman in the eyes, so to speak, and think, "He's just here to help."

It can be awful, sometimes. When I'm unapologetically myself in public, I can walk past a line of protesters at Planned Parenthood and see the hostility rise up, the anger and revulsion and fear. And I do think it is fear, at the core of it. I think something in them knows that I'm just one of 2.6 million transgender people out here, living my life, casually being a harbinger of their doom.

Next time they come to Brattleboro, I ought to greet them with red glasses and a twelve-foot wingspan.


("Pop your hood up," I told model Layton, "and look at them. They should see their impending doom in your eyes." They knew exactly what I meant.)