Episode Fifty Four
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Monstrous Agonies E54S02 Transcript
[Title music: slow, bluesy jazz.]
Monstrous Agonies: Episode Fifty Four.
[The music fades out, replaced by the sound of a radio being tuned. It scrolls through classical music, country music, a voice saying, “-we all are so excited-” and pop music before cutting off abruptly as it reaches the correct station.]
-and to moss you will return.
The time is two forty five on Thursday morning. Next tonight, we hear from our listeners as I answer your questions on liminal living.
First this evening, a listener whose authenticity is being challenged online.
The Presenter (as First Letter Writer)
It took me a long time to find a word to use about myself that felt right. I tried all sorts of things. I'd call myself a magical practitioner, a hereditary practitioner, a born witch, a member of a magically inclined genus, an arcanist, a person with arcane abilities. For a little while I used the Irish term, but though my family is Irish a few generations back, I've never so much as set foot in the place so it felt sort of disingenuous.
Then I realised, I was just shying away from the truth. The right word was sitting there all along, just waiting for me. I'm... a hag.
There's a whole movement of women who use the word, its all over Instagram especially. My mum would have given me such a telling off if she heard me calling myself that word, let alone someone else. But there these women were, proudly posting pictures of their own homes labelled, # HagShack!
It was thrilling, I suppose. These were women like me, women born into this power that never gets the recognition it deserves, it's never taken as seriously as other magic, and our culture, our heritage-- Cultures, I should say, it's not like a Czech hag is the same as an Irish hag or a Greek hag. But they're all lumped in together and dismissed with this word, this one ugly syllable--
And then, to stand up and say, yeah! Alright then. I am a hag. I work magic with mud and spit and teeth. And I live in a bog - not a marsh, not a fen, a bog, a real, thriving, stinking bog teeming with life and...
[laughing] I'm a hag! And I don't care if people use it as an insult. I refuse to be insulted by it. I love it. I've come to really, really love it. I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror like, yes, I am a hag. I've never felt more at peace with myself.
Until I started posting on Instagram. I wanted to join in, I wanted to share this feeling, this celebration. And at first, it went really well. I shared some pictures of the snipe skulls on my altar, some workings I did with last seasons nail growth, a lovely video of the bog in sunlight, a curlew calling in the distance.
And then I posted a picture of myself wearing a crown I'd made of sundew and bladderwort. And everyone got really angry. They started calling me a poser and a faker, said I was appropriating the term, jumping on the bandwagon.
I guess I don't look like a hag. I never really thought about it before but I'm not... I'm-- I'm sort of... [sighs] I'm quite... pretty. Too pretty, according to the Hagstagram community.
Is... Is that true? I know you can't see me, I just-- I love this word. But I don't want to offend people, I just can't make head nor tails of it. I'm so muddled up. W-what should I do?
The Presenter (as themselves)
I hope you already know this, listener, but just in case, here it is, loud and clear: you are not beholden to strangers on Instagram for anything. You don't owe anything to people who have no more relationship with you than commenting on your pictures online – not an explanation, not a conversation, not a debate, not an apology.
Ugliness has a complicated role in the politics of liberation for genuses like yours. You've found your way to a fairly radical political space – that's not a criticism or an approbation, merely a fact.
A more mainstream stance is the demand that beauty standards are broadened so that they include previously marginalised traits. We've talked about it on the show before – the idea that all bodies are beautiful, whether those bodies have wings or horns or beaks, et cetera.
For those who identify as hags, however, the idea is not to argue for their own unique beauty. It's to reject the idea that beauty is something to aspire to at all. For some, it's actively embracing “ugliness”, creating an image of themselves as at odds with current beauty standards as possible. For others, it's about simply refusing to engage with the idea that a person can be either ugly or beautiful, denying those categories entirely.
I think you have a few choices here. You can change the way you engage with this online community in order to minimise the backlash you face. Either you leave Instagram and keep your photographs and videos for yourself, or you decide not to post any images of yourself in the future, thus removing your personal presentation from the equation.
You are allowed to do that. It's not a defeat. You don't have to put yourself through this, not for anyone. Your other choice is to spend some time refining your own views on the matter of hag identity and personal attractiveness, and then... engage.
Is being ugly a necessary part of being a hag? Or is it more to do with rejecting the idea that beauty even exists? You can't help the face you have, after all. Why should it matter whether you face happens to align with arbitrary beauty standards more than the next hag?
I can't answer those questions. It's not my conversation. But if you have the energy and the interest, it might be something you can use your platform to explore with others. Or not, if you don't want to.
We'll get to our second letter... Now. It comes from a--
[The sound of banging on glass. The Presenter raises their voice.]
--from a, a listener struggling with--
[More banging, more fervent. The Presenter huffs.]
[Urgent window banging.]
I'm not playing it! No! I don't care. We can't keep promoting a company that is systematically trying to undermine our community and-- Yes, I know. Yes, microphones, lights, you can-- You can stop pointing at things, thank you. I know! I just... [sighs] It's not right! They're the whole reason you're here, they're...
[sighs heavily] Fine.
We'll hear our second letter after a word from this week's sponsors. If you put your fingers in your ears now, it should be all over by the time you've finished singing Three Blind Mice.
[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]
In association with HauntedSwords.com! With a range of cursed and haunted weapons to choose from at unbeatable prices, you can't go wrong! Buy online, or visit our newly opened store today, complete with coffee shop and bistro. HauntedSwords.com – haunted swords and so much more! Now under new management, and a happy member of the Apocacorp Family.
[End background music. Pause. The Presenter tuts and sighs.]
Our second letter tonight is from a listener concerned about perpetuating stereotypes.
The Presenter (as Second Letter Writer)
There was someone who wrote in to you last year, they said something like, “I'm a party planner by trade” and then laughed like, “err, as opposed to what, by birth?” Well. I'm a ghost by trade. And by, uh... Manifestation? I suppose?
I work in a haunted house. Not like a real haunted house. Although I suppose I am a ghost, and I do haunt it. [laughs] It's a, a tourist attraction. It's pretty good, actually, the guy who runs it takes a lot of pride in it. Top quality props and costumes and all that.
It plays on the city's real history to create this sort of interactive horror story that guests – that- that's what we call them, guests – walk through and get frightened half to death by us lot. My co-workers and me.
We're what's called scare actors. I get paid to scare people. Who have, in turn, paid to be scared. Mostly I sort of waft through the walls at unexpected moments and give them a fright, or I do some wailing and keening and so on, add to the general atmosphere.
I'm doing a bit now where I stand in the corner, facing the wall. And I'm crying, right? Covering my face and sobbing. I'm in a nightdress so I look sort of frail and, uh. Well. Spooky! [laughs]
Then, slowly, I turn around... And I'm still covering my face but now they can hear what I'm saying. I'm saying, [in a frightened voice] no, no, please, no, stop, don't go any further, please. Stay with me. Please stay! Stay with me! [angrily] Stay--
And I grab for them, and my face is all covered in ectoplasm, and my jaw's unhinged and I'm screaming and they're screaming and-- [breaks off laughing]
I tell you, it is the best job I've had! And I didn't think about it as anything except a bit of fun, you know? Make some money, have a laugh. It's not exactly a lifelong career but I'm happy enough.
I was talking to a friend about it – she's between jobs, and there was an opening down at the haunted house, so I suggested she audition. The part was open for all genuses, but I thought being a revenant might give her a bit of an edge, you know?
She was disgusted. It's the only word for it. Said she spends enough of her time trying to prove those stereotypes wrong, she isn't going to go and take money in exchange for proving them right.
I'd never thought of it like that. It didn't occur to me that people would come to a silly little haunted house attraction and get the wee scared out of them by a ghost, and then leave and think that's what all ghosts are like. I mean, you don't see a vampire in a car insurance advert on television and think, wow, vampires must really care about my insurance premiums!
I mean I- I suppose it's not the same though, right? It's not like the problem sapios have with vampires is that their car insurance is too cheap. But there must be vampires who work in, uh, blood banks or something? Or uh. Uh. Werewolf butchers?
[sighs] Am I just making excuses? I don't want to let people down – not my community, not my friends. Not myself! Is this job doing more harm than good, do you think?
The Presenter (as themselves)
I don't see you making excuses, listener. I see you having a different perspective to your friend. She feels one way about this work, and you feel another. It's not an objective fact that either your job is unacceptable or it isn't. It's a matter of opinion. As such, I can't tell you what you should do or how you ought to feel about it.
But I encourage you to explore your feelings more deeply. Your friend has a solid understanding of how she views your work. I think it would help you to have a similarly in-depth understanding of your own point of view – whatever that is.
Ask yourself some questions. How do you feel about the ideas your friend has suggested? What does being “a ghost by trade” mean to you? How does your work intersect with your identity, if at all?
Whether you decide there's nothing wrong with this work, or that your friend is right and it is offensive, or that actually, the whole thing is beyond your interest and not something you care to concern yourself with, what matters is that you can stand by your decision with integrity.
Your answer might change over time. That's the nice thing about opinions – they can do that. There's no limit to the number of times you can go through this process. Just take your time, consider the arguments, and explore your feelings. And remember, you don't have to get to the right answer. You just have to get to your answer.
[Background music begins: An acoustic guitar playing a blues riff]
You're listening to the Nightfolk Network – don't touch that dial.
[End background music]
Next tonight – itchy, irritable and aching all over. Sound familiar? We explore the best at-home remedies to soothe scales, husks and skin...
[Speech fades into static as the radio is retuned. It scrolls through static, a voice saying, “-maybe earworms represent your brain-”, music and static before fading out.
Title music: slow, bluesy jazz. It plays throughout the closing credits.]
Episode Fifty Four of Monstrous Agonies was written and performed by H.R. Owen.
Tonight's first letter was submitted by Ealasaid. Thanks, friend! [Editor's note: Ealasaid's submission was actually used for the second letter, but credited mistakenly for the first in the episode's audio] Submissions are now closed for letters and prompts, but you can still submit your own adverts, so see the show notes to find out how.
Big hello to our latest supporters on Patreon, Brienaandra, Catherine Marie, and Maggie! Join them at patreon.com/monstrousagonies or make a one-off donation at ko-fi.com/hrowen. You can also support the show by sharing with your friends and familiars, and following us on Tumblr, @MonstrousAgonies, and on Twitter, @Monstrous_Pod.
This podcast is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The theme tune is Dakota by Unheard Music Concepts.
Thanks for listening, and remember - the real monsters are the friends we made on the way.
[Fade to silence.]