From the eighteenth-century gothic to the modern horror film, monsters have provided audiences with an opportunity to confront their most repressed fears about the evils in society. However, these fears have often been capitalised upon and weaponised against marginalised communities and their perceived otherness.
This dissertation focuses on The Silence of the Lambs and its monster Buffalo Bill as i t remains one of the most significant examples of a trans coded killer’s deviation from the gender binary being utilised to produce fear.
According to gothic theorist Jack Halberstam, the threat of Bill depends upon the violence of his gender identity crisis and the explicit violation of cisgender women’s bodies as he creates a ‘ woman-suit’ made out of victim’s skin. This turns gender transgression into an abnormal psychological state capable of mortal consequences. In my analysis, the impact of Bill’s character is more important than the intentions behind his creation, as despite the film’s efforts to distance Bill from trans individuals, he is still heavily trans-coded and read that way by many audience members.
Using Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification, I argue that it is through the utilisation of cisgender ideology that the gender deviant codes which are intended to make Bill terrifying are formed successfully, as audiences seek to be associated with certain characters and not others to attain a position in the social hierarchy. For example, despite Hannibal’s positioning behind bars, his ability to blend into and benefit cisnormative society places him above Bill in terms of their monstrousness. Lecter is depicted as a virtuously clinical authority figure, from this we are expected to trust his pathologization of Bill’s gender dysphoria.