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Wise, Michelle Denise
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Middle Tennessee State University

This dissertation examines the continued existence of the Monstrous Lesbian figure in contemporary Gothic film. From film’s beginning, it has delighted and entertained the masses. However, as film evolved into a serious art form, directors utilized its appeal to the masses and began to use it as a commentary on social issues such as government control and taboo sexuality. As America’s fascination with film increased, so did the various representations of characters. In early films, lesbianism was hinted at through glimpses between characters or dialogue; however, those glimpses were short lived. In the 1990s and early 2000s, several Gothic-themed films were released that presented lesbians as monstrous and dangerous to the culture.
Similar to early Gothic writers who utilized this genre as a way to hold up a mirror to the culture and to force its members to witness and to address its collective repressed fears, film directors accomplished the same effect through their films. Examining these films through a Gothic lens enables us to unravel the layers of the film and reveal the culture’s fascination with lesbianism and monstrosity, as well as establish the fact that the culture is still fascinated with taboo sexuality and has a tendency to intertwine it with monstrosity.
The films that I chose to closely analyze for this study are: Heavenly Creatures, Sister My Sister, May, Monster, and Black Swan. Through a close analysis of these films, I trace the development of the Monstrous Lesbian and examine its importance and relevance to the culture’s perception about lesbianism. These films were released during a time of social upheaval when lesbians were more visible and establishing their voice within the culture. However, this visibility did not guarantee social acceptance and these films depicted lesbians as psychotic, monstrous, and socially disruptive. For this study, I termed this character the Monstrous Lesbian.
When Christine Papin (Sister My Sister) utters “I am a monster…just like she said,” she acknowledges not only her own monstrosity but also how others, namely her mother and filmgoers, view her.
As these films reveal, the Monstrous Lesbian disrupts the social order of the American culture and calls attention to the existence of culturally acceptable homophobia. Although it appears that there is an increase of social acceptance of lesbianism within the culture, the release of these films seems to suggest otherwise; therefore, this study is important because it forces us to acknowledge the fact that lesbianism is still considered culturally taboo and that lesbians are monsters who create cultural chaos.
Film, Gothic, Lesbian, Monstrous, Women