Dark Musings: Queer Contributions in Horror Fiction (An Incomplete Thesis)

 

I’ve rattled this notion around in my head for some time, and though I don’t have a fully-formed argument yet, I have mused long enough to know that I’m not wrong. There is not enough conversation about queer contributions to the horror genre.

Perhaps because there isn’t a blatant, obvious, easy connection. But if one looks under the surface, there are lines drawn everywhere. Historically, an impressive number of contributions have been made to the horror genre by rumored or open queer people.

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Mary Shelley – with encouragement from her husband, known to be bisexual, and who may have been bisexual herself – wrote “Frankenstein,” the tale a repulsive creature who just wants love. Bram Stoker, rumored to be gay, brought “Dracula” – an undeniably sensual monster who sucks the blood (by penetrating their flesh! Come on!) of other men. Oscar Wilde created what must be the first openly bisexual devil, Dorian Gray, in a novel about the excess of desire. Even Henry James, long rumored to be bi- or even a-sexual, weaved the horrific story of a governess battling morally deviant spirits to save the innocence of her wards.

It doesn’t stop at classic literature. Two of the best horror films from the early days of cinema, “Frankenstein” and “Nosferatu,” were directed by gay men. Is it any coincidence that both films adapt works mentioned above? With one monster hunting blindly for love that is never returned, and the other a pestilential nightmare that sucks people’s vitality while they sleep (predating the terror of contaminated blood during the AIDs epidemic), I think it’s hard to deny the connection. The trend continues into modern culture – with Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” and the revolutionary “Hellraiser,” which is a dark hymn to ‘unnatural’ sex; even to popular TV shows, like “Penny Dreadful” and “American Horror Story,” which explore queer identities in a much more open light.

These sexually ‘aberrant’ individuals, forced into hiding because of the prejudiced societies in which they find themselves, created works of fiction about beings seen as abject and dangerous, as freaks. In the confines of those stories, they are undoubtedly monsters. But the idea transfers to the way societies project gay identities. As unnatural, as other, and perhaps as deadly. In one way or another, gay people become monsters.

Authors and filmmakers tell stories for many reasons, but a major one is the need to purge emotions – often devastating, unstated. It makes sense that artists who grapple with identity would write about monsters. The ‘heroes’ who battle the beast are not created in the artist’s own image – it is the beast itself that becomes the mirror.

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Horror, too, is one of the most unconsciously cathartic genres in all of fiction. It engages a part of the brain that no one wants to activate in reality – primal instincts of terror, danger, and flight from death – but it does so in a controlled environment where no danger is actually present. Thus, it releases emotion that otherwise would boil and rage unchecked.

So, is it an accident that these queer artists gravitated toward horror? Of course it isn’t a universal trend. It is present enough, though, that I think it deserves recognition. In a community that struggles with self-loathing and self-disgust even today, in our supposedly liberated world, these releases of emotion are necessary. To see a monster on screen or in print and understand its origin, its heart, is to find a piece of one’s self, and give it a name.

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