Claiming queer identity in today’s culture requires the eschewing of outmoded ideas of “proper” behavior in society and is often literally an act that forces the individual to shift one’s shape- to claim new, possibly fringe characteristics that transcend the gender binary, the sexual binary, and patriarchal ideals of power, sexuality, and societal efficacy. For this reason, queer identified people are often fiercely familiar with the gender binary and inherit contradictions and complications within it. For female-bodied people and lesbians in particular (though the rest of GBTQ-dom takes part in this as well), the coming out process requires the thorough deconstruction of the patriarchal ideals of femininity- including beauty standards, behavior, and even thought, to subvert the system that aims to commodify and enslave the female body.
In this way, queer people have much in common with shape-shifters. Though literature is divided around the mentality that shape-shifters possess when they are “changed” (i.e. the classic Wolfman character who cannot remember his actions while in wolf form versus the werewolves of Twilight, for example), that they dramatically change physical form AND tap into an “inner-nature” that is more authentic in its id-exploration than their normal human-form is a nearly universal theme. It is this journey that LGBTQ people tap into in both the coming-out process and in the “staying out” process. It is often, but not always, a conscious assumption of a different form.
Why then the lack of female werewolves in literature and films? Despite some notable she-wolf exceptions (Ginger Snaps, The Company of Wolves, and some contemporary paranormal romance), werewolfism is almost exclusively a boys club. Do women, particularly lesbians, not transmute themselves as much as men? The easiest answer to this is pervasive misogyny. The idea of the hirsute woman is still repellent to mainstream culture as a grotesque subversion of the gender rules of beauty. Though nearly all women grow hair naturally, it remains an American cultural imperative to undergo extensive, expensive, and painful rituals of hair removal. Furthermore is the issue of sex. Women’s sexuality is considered a commodity by Western culture (and others, but I will only speak about the culture I am part of here), so that women’s sex is an object that can be bought, sold, possessed, and treated as ‘other.’ It’s an effective way to maintain the hierarchy in which women are by the default assigned a lower rung of social efficacy. One of the more nefarious tools in this war on women’s bodies is shame. Like hair, women are raised to fear and loathe their menstrual fluid, their digestive processes, and the normal human urges like hunger and lust.
Sexuality, like hair, is endemic to the human condition, yet our cultures denies it to women as owners. Werewolves are not the unbridled expression of beastliness. They are the expression of unbridled humanness. And, treating women as 100% human is anathema to ownership of bodies, which is the most effective way of maintaining the patriarchy.
Queerness (as apart from homosexuality, but that’s an essay for another day) seeks to subvert this structure by dismantling misogyny. Queer culture attempts this in a myriad of ways, from drag to new forms of fidelity and family structure. But at its core, the most powerful is the reclamation of one’s body – hair and all – and each person’s right to define their body according to their own self-actualized vision.