We must kill our parents in order to survive: Closet Monster, trauma and imagination
There is no such a thing as emancipation, face it. It’s the New Year and we must give up on fairytales. Or maybe not.
In spite of the huge effort life makes every day in order to break us, some things stay the same: we need colours, motives, patterns, fairytales; vampires and hunters, fantastic beasts, princes and princesses, dragons and witches. Elves, hobbits, wizards, beautiful butterflies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We need to be free to chose which one of them we want to be. It should be the foundation of freedom.
We need all of that and much more. And we need someone in our lives to help us building those characters, to sharp the tools to create them, play them and be comfortable with them throughout a life that will never be kind to us.
Those people are supposed to be parents, family, siblings. We need those people, even if they really suck at parenting, and they are childish and self involved, and they don’t even notice how hard it is for all of us, witnessing their fallibility.
And we need to kill them, at the end of the play.
Metaphorically speaking, at least. And we need to embody the exact moment, taste it, feed on it, regret it and claim it.
Closet Monster plays with perception and senses all the time: Oscar is a really imaginative kid, his father is a playful man who doesn’t seem to be bothered by rules or conventions. He is the kind of unstable character with a lot of tools and no patience to practice them. When Oscar is six, his parents give him a hamster as a present, and the news that they’re splitting up and his mom is going to leave.
Happy Birthay, Oscar. You’re welcome.
Nothing else, no explanations. Oscar grieves as he needs to, and then the hamster, Buffy, starts talking to him. Oscar’d die if it wasn’t for Buffy, not phisically, but emotionally. the strenght of his childish and naif imagination overpower his fathers’. He gives up with creating dreams as soon as his wife leaves, and everything he seems to be up to is drinking and grieving in silence, alone, crying in the dark.
He never allows Oscar to know, to share, to talk about that loss. He never shows himself as sad, lonely or desperate. The toxic masculinity he grew up with operates silently and deadly, killing his soul and his hope to bond with Oscar, starting from the most important event of their lives, the experience of reality.
No more dreams then, just some more toxic and subtle masculinity to begin with, and some other homophobic nonsense to end it.
Surrounded by an absent mother and a broken father, Oscar develops a natural common sense, and a very specific and defined ethic based on heroism and GoodVSEvil. His world is colorful but simple, clear, with sharp edges. There is an explanation for vampires and hunters, there are reasons and plots, but there is no reason for raping a kid with a metal rod leaving him half dead in a cemetery.
He is gay. If he wasn’t he’d be safe. Safe. Safe to hide, safe to be alone. Safe to feel ashamed, safe to lock the closet and pretend. There is not an inch of safety in that.
If Oscar couldn’t find any sense out of it, his father should have at least tried to articulate the horror of what his son witnessed. Sharing the pain, shape it through language. Listen and talk, picture a world sometimes merciless but also complex and rich. Instead of leaving that pain unspoken, instead of let it be, instead of being a close-minded coward, he should have pictured a scary reality in order to make it bearable.
Why did they do that to him? asks Oscar, and the burden of his father’s homophobic answer will be wih him forever.
“Well, he’s gay”
Because of what he is, because of the victim, because of his flaws, his unforgivable weakness, his burden, his mark.
A bunch of homophobes, bullies, cowards, savagely attacked him just because of their inability to conceive otherness in their life, because of the way society treats and pictures the LGBTQ community, because the world is a messy and tough place to inhabit and some people think they have the right to violently impose their sick point of view. Million of becauses, millions of reasons, and the same person suffocated by his toxic idea of masculinity and emotions.
He is gay. If he wasn’t, he’d be safe. Safe. Safe to hide, safe to be alone. Safe to feel ashamed, safe to lock the closet and pretend.
There is not an inch of safety in that.
“That’s why I keep telling ya, you gotta get rid of this hair, buddy.”
And Oscar cuts off his hair, and his freedom altogether, investing Buffy of the sacred right to believe and imagine, to express his inner self through the same language he couldn’t manage to share with his parents.
It doesn’t really matter if she’s an hamster. Or is a she or a he.
“If you don’t hate your parents, you’ll eventually become them”
And Oscar needs to kill them in order to survive and pull out the rag. That physical illness, which is not his homosexuality as his father and those faceless bullies tried to make him believe, but his terror of it, his fear of himself, his own sexuality and desires. That shock comes around every time he feels aroused or interested in another guy’s body. It comes around with Wilder by chance, but it could have been anyone.
What I really love about Closet Monster is its visual imagery, the fact that it’s difficult to separate reality and imagination, the visual and structural aspect of it. It’s nor a love story nor a coming of age story. Not strictly speaking at least. There is the recognition of identity and sexuality, the reappropriation of the complexity of his human body and wholeness, there is Oscar literally killing his father with the same metal rag he just pulled out of his body, the same body seemed to betray him throughout his whole life.
If you pretend and lie, you’ll be safe.
We need to kill the our parents’ language, choices, examples, the ethic they follow and the examples they give us. We might love them, but they are not us. We shouldn’t live to make them proud, we shouldn’t shape our lives and beliefs in order to fill their voids.
Oscar’s father is not even an open homophobe, he doesn’t even react badly when he realises his son’s homosexuality. It’s not even the point. It’s all about his own education, the environment and the expectations.
He isn’t even probably conscious about his subtle homophobia and the toxic masculinity he feeds him with. And that’s the dangerous aspect of it. The more worrying part of the trick. He probably even feels right to protect his son from the big bad world. If you don’t allow them to hate you, if you keep hiding and make yourself invisible, you’ll be fine.
If you pretend and lie, you’ll be safe.
Oscar doesn’t lie eventually. He just get dressed and express himself trough a costume, through the same hamster he talked to his whole life.
Pretending to be someone else he discovers his true self.
We need to kill our parents. We must to. Even if they’re cool, even if they try hard. They seldom have good intentions, the best intentions. But they are messed up as much as we are, often more. They still need to figure out who they are, and we have to do the same.
With imagination, bravery, and an inch (or ten) of madness.
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