I’ve been thinking about “Beauty and the Beast” lately, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe there is something inherently heterosexist about the story and how a less heteronormative story would manifest in a faithful adaptation of traditional animal bridegroom (and/or deity in disguise) tales (i.e., things like Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s story and traditional folktales like “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” “Cupid and Psyche,” and “The Serpent of the Sea.”)
While the heroine’s simultaneous fear and curiosity about the Beast could apply to the mysteries of sex and intimacy in general, there is something deeply primal and visceral about the Beast. It is vital that the Beast be a literal beast and not just a figurative one. As a result, what all the traditional stories have in common is their focus on a virginal woman’s anxieties about (cis) male bodies and (cis) male sexuality. Such things are so foreign to the heroine that they don’t even register as human. They are bears (“East of the Sun and West of the Moon”), beasts (“Beauty and the Beast”), serpents (“Cupid and Psyche” and “The Serpent of the Sea”).
If we remove the masculinity from the Beast, would the Beast still be the Beast? A creature simultaneously more than yet not quite human, a creature whose desires stimulate fascination toward the Other and the fear of being devoured? Is it really possible for a woman to relate to another woman the way that Beauty relates to the Beast and still have the same primal, visceral impact as the traditional story? Or is the Beast so closely aligned with maleness and masculinity that the most to be hoped for is, at best, an imitation, rather than a bold new telling?
This is why I’ve always preferred your concept of a Beauty and the Beast as a spiritual tale applicable to different kinds of protagonists with different spiritual needs, primarily in the case of BWOC Beauties, rather than a simplistic heteronormative/sexist idea about ~woman saving man~ or in this case a (white) woman’s venture into sexuality (with men). I don’t have the link to that post on hand, I’ll have to go looking for it.
I think that the Beast is often portrayed with negatively amplified masculine traits, and that rather than this being the sole way a Beast can be portrayed, it’s more the easy way people go about writing the Beast because it’s what we know the most, culturally. People aren’t trying.
It would be interesting to see, for example, traditionally/stereotypically feminine attributes amplified in a otherworldly/frightening way, and to have the communion between Beauty and Beast be a celebration/exploration of the feminine.
So, in terms of “negative” feminine attributes, we have seductiveness, visible emotion/capriciousness, etc. For example, it would be interesting to see a Beast for whom emotion is power. She cries and the lands of her castle begin to become cold and dry and dead. She rages and the fury of the heavens open up and her lands are overtaken by thunderstorms. The castle could be changed as well. I think that while it’s a simple surface concept, it could work really well to inspire awe and thrill. We could have a Beauty who is normally afraid of opening up and showing emotion, however deeply she feels them, because society would shame her or otherwise cause pain, and the Beast’s nature both frightens and secretly inspires awe in her.
It’s funny you say the part I bolded because, in my own reimaginings of the story, that’s exactly how I imagine the Beast-figure. She’s beautiful, seductive, magical, passionate, etc.