Of werewolves and men
creative nonfiction by Amy LeBlanc
CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault and sexual violence. Please read at your own risk.
Of werewolves and men: on lycanthropy and the #MeToo movement
I felt like a body in a moth-eaten corset.
I lifted my skin and pulled it overhead.
A slit stretched from my clitoris
to my jaw when skin tore skin—
that space is where the air gets in.
My fascination with lycanthropy blossomed as a coping strategy during the first online wave of the #MeToo movement. Werewolves have the ability to occupy the human and the monstrous spheres simultaneously; they are fluid shape shifters and this hybridity is what we find most disconcerting. The transformation begins with glandular changes; the body begins to sweat, it shakes from a surge of adrenaline until teeth fall from the mouth to carve out space for canine-like incisors. Hair begins to grow over the whole body and the skin stretches until it is taut. The bones elongate. Rational thought is abandoned and pure instinct takes its place. The more time I spent exploring werewolf lore, the more I recognized a similar split in myself. Like so many women I know, I had developed the ability to compartmentalize trauma, keeping it comfortably below the surface. As survivors of sexual violence, we are equipped with knives, knowledge and anecdotes, but the wolves and the forests are still a threat. In her fable The Wolves, Angela Carter instructs that “the good child does as her mother bids – five miles’ trudge through the forest; do not leave the path because of the bears, the wild boar, the starving wolves. Here, take your father’s hunting knife; you know how to use it.” As stories started to pour out from each of us, this split became a chasm.
I fastened my claws and follicles,
dug nails into skin to scrape away the filth.
I bled into the basin from the slit in my stomach,
the itch nestled somewhere inside.
I woke up that morning in October and read post after post about friends’ experiences with harassment, their sexual assaults and sexual violence. These stories spanned generations, gender identities, and socioeconomic brackets. I instantly felt panic permeating through my body because I didn’t want to say what I had been through; I didn’t want to disclose my own history of sexual violence and so I wrote a post expressing support for those that were disclosing but also for those that chose not to. This decision did not undermine what had happened to them. It didn’t make them a ‘bad survivor’ because they chose not to carve open their past and bare all to the world. I wrote this because it was what I needed to hear. I read a tweet by Lindy West that said: I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open & show you everything & let you ogle our pain for you to believe us about predation & trauma. As I scrolled, memories flashed through my mind of various instances over the course of my life: a man’s sweating hand on my leg, a co-worker pulling down the waistband of my shorts to see my underwear, being told that it didn’t matter whether or not I consented to sex because I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
I stand in my handmade circle
arms placed across my chest
as water sloshes through my arms—
in and out.
We are warned of the ‘big bad wolf’ with his teeth, his glowing eyes, his keen ability to spot virginal and vulnerable young girls, and his penchant for imitation. Through the stories we tell, we think we are equipped to recognize this beastliness upon first encounter—we will pull a knife from our woven basket; our mothers will come to save us. As I’ve grown older and watched the #MeToo movement unfold and grow, I’ve learned that the real wolves don’t look like wolves. That’s what makes them so dangerous. When I conjure an image of a werewolf, I envisage the hyper-masculine: sexually charged, hairy, and indiscriminately violent. They are the ‘carnivore incarnate’ and they are incredibly skilled at pretending to be good.
The prodromal sweating begins,
the auras, the fever, the foggy edges.
I’ve been told that my bile is black.
I know my bile is yellow.
I have always been fascinated by folklore and horror stories because they are fully immersive and provide a welcome distraction from reality. While the perception is that men dominate the world of horror and speculative fiction, books including Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, Amber Dawn’s Sodom Road Exit, and Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions are my favourites just to name just a few. My theory is that marginalized authors write more effective horror because they have experienced monstrosity firsthand. Most horror that is authored by men doesn’t horrify me. The fear incited by these tales doesn’t stack up to what women (especially women who are POC, FNMI, disabled or otherwise marginalized) experience and have experienced their whole lives. When I began to question the societal fear and trepidation surrounding werewolves, I came to the conclusion that we fear them because they encapsulate every male trait that has been used to abuse us. Yes, werewolves are fictional, but they are an effective stand-in for a much greater monster. When Angela Carter wrote tales about wolves and young girls, she was discussing something more urgent than the traditional moralistic message. In her tale The Company of Wolves, the girl strips herself of her clothing before anyone else attempts to, essentially thwarting the male sexual appetite by rendering it irrelevant. She shows us how the wolves try to trick, coerce, and manipulate, but in the end, her female characters are too crafty and resourceful to be owned or reduced to pieces of meat. As I read, write, and grow with fellow survivors of sexual violence, the chasm begins to shrink and instead fills with determination to keep these stories alive.
I’ve heard every story you can tell.
I’ve met monsters that send flowers,
they smell of sandalwood and aftershave.
I write, I scream, I howl
until I change shape.