Monday, June 17, 2019

Guest Post: All Vampires are Gay, or: Why I Tried and Couldn't Write a Proper Queer Horror History Essay By J. Danielle Dorn

All Vampires are Gay, or: Why I Tried and Couldn’t Write a Proper Queer Horror History

By J. Danielle Dorn

Since I couldn’t find anything anyone else had written about the history of queer women in horror, I figured the old axiom about writing it myself would hold true for nonfiction same as it does for fiction.

It doesn’t. And as a non-binary gynesexual person, I should have known better.

Even when writing about queer horror, cisgendered white men are the majority of visibly queer authors, which in my opinion makes it even more crucial that we as readers seek out and celebrate authors who identify as queer and female. That said, we live in a world where, right now, laws against cross dressing are used to punish transgender people on the basis of their gender identity and expression [1]. In 77 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships, with at least five of those countries utilizing the death penalty [2]. Same-sex marriage is legal in 24 countries, with the Netherlands being the first in 2001. Trans rights haven’t even been on the table until recently, and the current U.S. administration is looking to eliminate what small progress we’ve made since 2015. It is not legal to be “out” in many places, so the literature we’re able to analyze from a historical perspective is coming from Western countries, within the last forty years.

That isn’t inclusive, to me. And that makes it hard to celebrate.

I want to shout about Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories as being the “actual” first lesbian vampire story every time I hear Sheridan Le Fanu’s name. Yeah, okay, Carmilla influenced Dracula, and Dracula is The Vampire Story. Technically, according to my research, Cora Linn Daniels wrote the first lesbian vampire story, but as far as I can tell Daniels didn’t identify as queer, and Sardia isn’t a horror story, so it doesn’t count for the purposes of this quickly-becoming-nonexistent post. The Gilda Stories wasn’t published until 1991, and I will still argue it did more for the genre than Carmilla did.

People died during the Stonewall riots in 1969, and people are still dying today. Many of those people are women, and many of those women are women of color, and many of those WOC are trans. As I am writing this, news broke about a transgender woman found dead in her cell on Rikers Island, and a group of men verbally and physically assaulted a female couple on a London night bus the night before. I don’t even want to type the words “Straight Pride Month” because of the bullshit that phrase might bring to this website’s traffic.

Living–hell, surviving, for some of us, means keeping quiet. And don’t even get me started on what sort of message major publishers send to queer writers trying to sell stories about queer characters.

When I was growing up, we only had the words “gay” and “lesbian” to work with. I started calling myself a “dyke” in my early twenties because it made the word armor instead of ammunition. Hearing complete strangers question whether I was a boy or a girl didn’t bother me, because I figured well, if those are the only two options they can think of, their lives must be pretty dull. “Queer!” wasn’t something anyone else ever called me for any good reason, and I’ve been called way worse. It still makes folks of a certain age flinch, and I understand why. It chafed me for a while, too. There’s a plus symbol in the LGBT acronym for a reason. There’s always room for improvement, and marginalized folks have always known how to spin gold from horrible shit. There’s celebrating, and then there’s continued work for those who aren’t there yet.

Looking at the history of queer horror, or rather scouring library and Internet archives for academic discourse on the subject, I can’t help thinking about all the voices we are never going to hear. How, in writing a post celebrating female and non-binary queer horror authors, I would either forget someone because they did not choose to identify themselves, or I would drag someone into the discussion who would have rather not been there.

Older than The Gilda Stories is Anne Rice’s first novel, The Interview with the Vampire. We’re not talking about lesbian vampires anymore. (Sad, I know.) It wasn’t until forty years after its publication that Rice went on record as saying “I feel like I’m gay.” Octavia L. Butler never went on record as saying much of anything regarding her sexual orientation, and scholars argue whether she might have been asexual since there’s no evidence of her having been heterosexual either. Does Butler belong on a list of queer horror ladies when Fledgling, a definite horror novel about definite vampires, definitely contains bisexual characters? Do I exclude Rice because she doesn’t definitely identify as queer, even though she’s said both she and her writing transcend gender? Where do I put The Haunting of Hill House? Do I put it anywhere when its author wasn’t queer (as far as I know) but the queer horror community has adopted it thanks to Theo and her definite queerness? Can I fit the word ‘definite’ in this paragraph one more time before I return to my point?

My point: queer horror is difficult to qualify because of an ever-evolving political climate and society’s overall reluctance to admit people who are on the margins. We have always been there, hearing our work isn’t “marketable,” that it “won’t sell” unless we rewrite it and tone ourselves down to be less “political.” We have the right to write without identifying ourselves, or without having queerness coded as political. It’s easy to draw up a list of queer horror films because that medium allows for visual representation of taboo topics. Monsters and monstrous people were obvious stand-ins for queer people during an era when it was still illegal to be queer.

Simply being queer and writing queer characters isn’t a political statement.

We, as readers, have the power to seek out and read those who can identify themselves as queer, which sends a message to publishers that well, actually, there is a market for queer stories. And any list I might have written wouldn’t have been definitive because I cannot identify people for them. I can only identify myself, and I’m simultaneously pissed off about the present and hopeful for the future.


[1] UN Office of the HighCommissioner for Human Rights

[2] International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association

About J. Danielle Dorn

J. Danielle Dorn was born in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, while their father was serving in the Air Force. After moving around a few times during their formative years, they graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Rochester, and moved around some more during their twenties. Publishers Weekly referred to their debut novel, “Devil’s Call,” as “a fast-paced, beautifully written revenge tale.” They currently live in Rochester, NY, where they continue to write short stories. One day you will be able to read their second novel.

No comments:

Post a Comment