She punctures her own skin, literally ripping open the fabric of the institution of gender'botsuspiria' on Twitter

Content Note: discussion of violence, blood, murder, death, horror, transsexuality, self-injury, the occult, gender dysphoria

This is a waltz thinking about our bodies. The opening lyric to Thom Yorke’s Suspirium could, too, be the tagline for Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 dance-horror. Inviting the ever-spectral viewer into a Berlin coven where bodies are worshipped, mangled, ripped open and unmade, Suspiria caught me in a period of deep reflection about my own body and its limits. When I reached the film’s climax, watching voyeuristically onto the Markos dance company-coven’s ritual, it dawned on me that this picture was to give me much more to think about than I might have bargained for.

Sat in my childhood bedroom, I could not shake the visceral connection I felt to Suzy Bannion, played by Dakota Johnson, as she transformed into the supernatural Mother Suspiriorum. Clawing open her chest, Suzy lets rip a jet of blood in a moment of absolute Bacchic ecstasy. Having previously been averse to gore and horror, I wondered what had triggered such a shift from overwhelming fear to what now felt like a bizarre kinship with the horrific. Needing to make sense of it – in the way I know how – I turned to the books. It was when I reread Susan Stryker’s 1993 monologue-essay Letters To Victor Frankenstein that I began to understand my newfound connection with the mangled world of Suspiria. Unlikely, perhaps, but Guadagnino’s first major horror began to blossom into my own transgender utopia.

“Suspiria’s ritual could teach us much about trans-liberatory politics if we only let it”

At the film’s dramatic height, Suzy joins the ritual as a sacrifice, only to emerge as one of the three great mothers of the coven: Mother Suspiriorum. It is at the centre of this ritual that Suzy Bannion rips open her chest and casts off her breasts to reveal a cacophony of spectral voices beneath. She punctures her own skin, literally ripping open the fabric of the institution of gender, to let rip the cries of her sister witches. Suzy at once disidentifies with the material body and reidentifies with a witchy genealogy.

In the words of social theorist Legacy Russell: “gender circumscribes the body, ‘protects’ it from becoming limitless, from claiming the infinite vast, from realizing its true potential”. When Suzy Bannion casts off her flesh and bleeds out onto the floor, she moves towards what Russell terms the infinite vast, (unintentionally) represented by Guadagnino as a spectral space populated by her sister witches. Suzy Bannion makes a similar assessment to that from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room – ‘it’s only the body, it will soon be over’. In a moment of pure ecstasy, Suzy refuses the docility-utility of the human body in favour of a new, monstrous form.

Where Susan Stryker looks towards Frankenstein’s monster as an interpretive tool, I look towards Suzy Bannion. Stryker calls upon trans people to lean into our monstrosity and reclaim our status as ‘flesh torn apart and sewn together again’. To Stryker, revealing the constructed-ness of all ‘natural’ bodies is a more fruitful political project than to insist on the ‘natural-ness’ and validity of transgender bodies. It is looking towards monsters and the supernatural that can reveal the production of ‘the body’, at once validating all bodies without capitulating to the commodification of these bodies.

Suzy’s transition to monster form is an undoubtedly bloody business. However, Stryker’s monologue-essay also elucidates the ritual’s liberatory and strangely beautiful angle. Dakota Johnson’s expression as she casts off the weight of skin is one of pure release, as if to say: no more pretence, flesh torn apart and sewn together again. Thom Yorke’s melancholic vocals in Unmade soundtrack the scene, casting its own spell to aid the unmaking of Suzy’s body. For the first time, the camerawork favours a handheld shakiness, reinforcing the scene’s vulnerability and disruptive power. The ritual resonates with me, and its intimate camerawork invites me into its transformative space while still holding me, through the screen, at a distance. This liminal viewing experience places us in what trans artist SOPHIE might term ‘the un-insides’, a term expressing a sense of self and space which is perhaps uniquely resonant for trans people.

“I translated Suspiria’s blood-red dancefloor into a beautiful trans utopia”

Suspiria’s ritual could teach us much about trans-liberatory politics if we only let it. A transsexual literacy, as opposed to an epistemologically normative way of reading, will allow us to learn these trans-liberatory lessons. Such a reading may look more like a hermeneutics of resonance, rather than one of disciplined interpretation grounded in questions of validity. This way of reading would tune us into the lower frequencies of transness, even (or especially) in texts which are ostensibly void of trans culture.

Tuning ourselves into these lower frequencies of Suspiria might prove a useful resource for making sense of trans subjectivity. Perhaps Thom Yorke’s refrain come under my wing, and the collective erotic spirit of the ritual becomes a gesture towards the collective eros and care central to trans utopianism. The key components for Mother Suspiriorum’s ritual may, too, become key components for a political challenge to what Paul Preciado terms the epistemology of sexual difference. It is through these reading practices that transsexuality actualises itself, that we gesture towards a trans way of interpreting art.


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In China Mieville’s Theses on Monsters, he tells us that ‘epochs throw up the monsters they need’. Perhaps my viewing of Suspiria is evidence that these monsters are not just thrown up, but that we too translate monsters into those which we need. I translated Suspiria’s blood-red dancefloor into a beautiful trans utopia: a bloody, ecstatic collection of bodies underground. Mother Suspiriorum’s transition into monstrosity is translated from simple violence to a necessary bloodiness. A necessary rebirth. The coven moves on, the body takes a new shape. A necessary change. Mother Suspirium’s words lead me through my own dance, my own gender transition, my own ritual. Yes. Dance. Dance. Keep Dancing. It’s beautiful. It’s Beautiful. It’s Beautiful.