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LGBTQ Themes in Horror

(First published on Gingernuts of Horror)

Image from Starblood the graphic novel, art by Anna Prashkovich

Perhaps because I spent my formative years reading books by Clive Barker and Poppy Z Brite, I have always felt that LGBTQ has a place in horror. That said the community isn’t always represented fairly. The close association between trans women and mentally unstable serial killers is extremely problematic, but this has been discussed on other articles such as “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Trans Woman” by Mey and will not be discussed here.

Sapphic love

Vampire lore contained scenes of same sex yearning that spoke strongly to me as a bisexual teenage girl. Not only Carmilla (my namesake) but frequently the sexualities of Hammer Horror’s starlets seemed far more liberated than those found in other genres of the popular media. In retrospect it’s easy to see that vampiric lesbians represented a fear of women’s liberation and “perverts” who would kill their children, but thankfully I missed that fearful subtext at the time and saw the sensual beauty instead. I understood that this was a way other people felt, not just me. That’s the power of representation, even when it isn’t perfect.

Representation and Demonisation

So, it doesn’t surprise me that LGBTQ people are drawn to horror in spite of the all too frequent negative representation they receive there. At least we are represented. Our status as fellow human beings who actually exist and share space in the world is acknowledged even if we are, more often than not, the antagonists. After all the baddies in horror are more exciting than the heroes. Another argument might be made that as someone whose sexuality is demonised in heteronormative culture it is easier to identify with demons than the humans who fear them.

Other voices

In my own work I write about a spectrum of gender and sexuality. I use horror to consider the personal struggles for freedom in an intolerant world. Horror allows us to sympathise with a myriad of characters, emotions and motivations. It gives voice to those who do not comfortably fit in the mainstream world. It offers narratives which include more perspectives than any other genre with the exception of fantasy and often, at least for me, horror and fantasy are strongest when linked.

Depending on how deeply you look, you can find LGBTQ subtext throughout horror and sometimes it is positive. It can be about overcoming bullies, breaking away from toxic families, facing past or present trauma, and standing out from the crowd. While these themes deal with what it is to be human they can feel all the more poignant to someone made constantly aware of their difference from the norm. Horror also teaches us that we have a responsibility to survive, and perhaps that is the most important message that we can take away.

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