Monster High is a chain of dolls, like Bratz or Barbie, but as the daughters of famous monsters. Frankie Stein is a Frankenstein monster, Draculaura is a Dracula, et cetera, et cetera. The Monster High game was a bit of a naff school sim, like Persona 5 if you took away the Personas and the battles and the cat. To explore exactly why it was so important to my transition though, we have to go to my time in the therapist’s room.
So, let’s go back four years. Stan Lee and Grumpy Cat are still alive, everyone is outside catching Pokemon and Leo finally won his Oscar. I’m sat in my therapist’s office for the first time, hunched over, biting my nails. We exchange a stilted but polite back and forth, and then I say it.
“I wish I’d been born a girl.” Then I add, “but I’m not transgender.”
I was, as the Germans say, der Dummkopf.
That last part wasn’t rushed out as part of any embarrassment, internalised transphobia, or shame. I meant every word of it. Trans people had, to me, always known they were in the wrong bodies. They had put on their mother’s shoes and pranced around in high heels when they were three, they had cried over not being allowed to wear dresses to school when they were five, and they had known exactly what they were – and been able to articulate it clearly – for as long as they remembered.
I had always had an interest in women’s clothes, in makeup, always played video games with female avatars, but I also loved – and excelled – at sport, enjoyed the sense of maturity my early peach fuzz suggested and, most importantly, I fancied girls. So you see, I couldn’t possibly be transgender. Like I said, der Dummkopf.
This, I learned over the next four years, was a very typical response. Over the course of my therapy and self-discovery, I found many people like me, whose rigid views of the gender binary made them blind to their own reality. But like all those trans people who shout “everyone is valid!” while whispering “except me,” I found the switch between understanding and taking action the hardest step to take. I’d brought my horse to water but I couldn’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Games are a huge part of my life, and there are a lot of games I credit with helping in my transition. Tomb Raider for offering a female role model. Mass Effect for allowing me to connect so deeply with the Asari. Recently, Saint’s Row for giving me a gender playground where my voice didn’t need to pass. Lots more games besides just gave me a place to escape. There is another game which might just have been the most important, although I’ve always been too embarrassed to mention it: Monster High: New Ghoul In School.
The link may not be obvious just yet, so let’s go back to therapy.
“What do you mean?” my therapist asks.
She’s probably referring to the second part, my denouncement of being transgender. That part appears to me so unquestionably obvious, so I take it to mean the first part.
“A girl. Like… Kylie Jenner.”
To this day, I have no idea why I said Kylie Jenner.
I suppose with her infamous lips, makeup brand, designer clothes, long hair, legions of fans and model looks, she is a thoroughly modern woman. I’d never particularly idolised her though, not in the way a much younger version of myself had with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. If I had to explain it, I’d say I picked Kylie Jenner because she represented a side of girlhood I would never be allowed to have.
The distinction between girlhood and womanhood is important here. I’m in my 20s, and my womanhood is what I make of it. My girlhood is set in stone. Or rather, my boyhood is set in stone, a gravestone, and my girlhood is buried under it.
Fittingly, for a game all about ghouls, Monster High let me dig her up and have another chance at it. You begin the game as, dun dun dun, the newest ghoul in the school. You get to pick your species, your name, and your outfit, which can be customised every day. I’d first found the game on an achievement hunting website, but was drawn to it because of the forbidden fruit of femininity. I never expected it to be so enlightening.
The gameplay casts you as a typical school girl, albeit one with sea monster genes and Kylie Jenner levels of money to burn on clothing. You walk around school, talk to people, walk around some more, talk some more, then go home and get changed. The Witcher 3, it ain’t.
But for me, there was something so freeing in that. To spend each morning and each lunchtime changing into whatever style you feel like that day, to wear something that you feel yourself in, to not worry about judgement or violence from strangers on the bus because they notice you wearing a ring or some clear lip gloss. To walk around and have other women call you by your name and accept you, to welcome you as a friend… Monster High: New Ghoul In School was my first experience of that. The dialogue was stilted and uninspiring, but I simply didn’t care.
Monster High didn’t give me a full on girlhood, it was more like it dug my dead girlhood out of the ground and made it dance around, Weekend At Bernie’s style. Still, that was enough for me to realise what I’d missed out on, and that I didn’t want to miss anything else. I still would have transitioned without Monster High, but possibly not quite as soon as I did.
A lot of trans people speak of a Sliding Doors moment in their life. For me, that came when a kid in my class was starting a football team. Another boy told me I wouldn’t want to join. Until he’d said that, I didn’t. But I’ve never liked being told I can’t do things, so I tried out, made the team, and became one of the boys. By the binary of the schoolyard, had I not tried out, I’d have become one of the girls. That might have given me my Kylie Jenner-esque girlhood and helped me come to terms with being transgender sooner, but also would have subjected me to bullying, had my identity questioned by everyone around me, and might have robbed me of my high level of self confidence which results in me believing people will be interested in the time I talked about Kylie Jenner in therapy.
Here’s to Monster High: New Ghoul In School. You were a crap game, but thanks to you, I got to experience all the good parts of what would have probably been a very crap childhood.