- “Out by Sixteen”: Queer(ed) Girls in Ginger Snaps
Gender, like the real, is not only the effect of representation but also of its excess, what remains outside discourse as a potential trauma which can rupture or destabilize, if not contained, any representation.—Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender
Something’s wrong. I mean, more than just you being female.—Brigitte Fitzgerald to her sister Ginger, Ginger Snaps
Gender Bites; Sexuality Snaps
Released to the cinematic public in 2000, John Fawcett’s Canadian cult-horror film Ginger Snaps was marketed—with an adolescent female audience in mind—as a wry and wrenching female version of classic B-movie transformation narratives like I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Fawcett’s film, scripted by Karen Walton, retains the convention of conflating puberty and monstrosity, but instead of examining the body-changing dynamics of adolescent masculinity, Ginger Snaps holds the satirical magnifying glass up to the biological changes attending the onset of menstruation and focuses on social constructions of heteronormative femininity, including a horrified, comedic look at what manufacturers of depilatory products would call “unsightly and unwanted hair.” The sardonic wit of the film reveals that the excesses of representation alter the “effect” of gender as a technology of female identity, in Teresa de Lauretis’s terms. Corporeal excesses and the accompanying ruptures of maturation pile up early in the film, when the eponymous Ginger Fitzgerald is attacked by a creature that has been attracted by the smell of the blood from her first menstrual period. [End Page 58]
Initially, the film seems to cast the Fitzgerald sisters in the conventional horror-film postures of sexualized monster (sixteen-year-old Ginger) and heroic “Final Girl” (her fifteen-year-old sister Brigitte), to use Carol Clover’s now-ubiquitous designation from her classic study, Men, Women and Chain Saws. In some ways, Ginger’s transformation into a werewolf remains well within the heterosexual norms of horror tradition: she becomes a beautiful female monster whose animal appetites are both eroticized and vilified, and she dies in order to preserve the social and sexual mores of the community. Ginger Snaps also complicates these conventions, however, by emphasizing the problems that attend the depiction of a female monster and by troubling the usual antagonistic relationship between monster and heroine, complicated within the film by the Fitzgerald sisters’ devotion to one another. Walton’s script seems to suggest, at a number of points throughout the film, that the sisters’ relationship includes incestuous homoeroticism, an undercurrent first evidenced in their blood pact to be “out by sixteen or dead in this scene: together forever, united against life as we know it.”
The sisters’ promise to stay “together forever” crystallizes the intense romantic intimacy of adolescent female relationships and also acts as a covert sign for an erotic connection that is an open secret among fans of the film. While Fawcett and Walton did not necessarily set out to make a teen lesbian film, Walton states quite clearly on her commentary track on the DVD of Ginger Snaps that Ginger “loses her discretion” as she transforms, and that Walton intended at least one scene between the sisters—in which Ginger implies that her transformation erases their sibling relationship—to be even more explicitly incestuous. Despite the number of covert—and overt—lesbian encodings in the film, a queer(ed) reading of Ginger Snaps has been noticeable by its absence from scholarly criticism about the film, an absence made obvious in part because fan writing about the film has considered a number of nuanced ideas about the role that desire plays in the sisters’ relationship. For example, Xavier Mendik notes that Ginger Snaps brings “lesbian iconography to the werewolf genre” (81), and Sady Doyle’s feminist popular culture blog Tiger Beatdown praises the intense, “transgressive” eroticized relationships that the film highlights. Doyle’s discussion is especially interesting for the ways that it extends discussion of the reception of the film to a reading of relationships between female adolescent horror-film fans. Doyle’s assessment of Ginger Snaps as a film “specifically for women who used to be awkward teenage horror fans, and have ingested a substantial amount of...