You're Gonna Die with Seven Gays??? The Horrors of Young Queerness.
There are some facets of my personality and my desires that if I invest too much energy in pondering why they exist, my psyche begins to unravel and my id starts to swallow me whole. Why does the smell of gasoline arouse me to the point where I more or less black out in a stimulus-fugue only to come to, sullied and alone in an Exxon parking lot, Enya softly playing in the background? How do I manage to bring up the fact that Sirhan Sirhan was dosed with psychotropic drugs by higher ups in the American government to facilitate wiping out a proto-populist ideology infiltrating the societal and political infrastructure in the United States at dinner parties and church luncheons? What makes zit-popping a transcendentally erotic experience for me?
But then there are some facets of my personality and desires that are undeniably “problematic,” particularly when you delve into the particulars of them, but bring me great delight and self-affirmation to explore. Specifically, endeavoring to comprehend why most of my nascent queerness was established around infatuations with women getting the shit scared out of them (and appropriately retaliating to said horrifying entities). To say there’s an abundance of research and criticism (some more scathingly critical than others) that explores the myriad reasons that people—mostly men, whose creepiness has been cleverly obfuscated as the years have inched on, but who still remain, unequivocally and steadfastly, creepy and lecherous—find women in horror films uniquely erotic or find intensely terrifying (and even intensely sadistic) films intensely arousing would be an understatement. From the much-maligned male gaze, coined and explained by my film theorist forever-wife Laura Mulvey, to the fetishizing of female purity (specifically teenage female purity) that is stoked by watching women get tormented and disemboweled (because what’s hotter than seeing someone’s intestines flopping around? Not much! That doesn’t convey an unhealthy resentment towards the people you’re presumably attracted to at all!), there is no paucity of literature and analyses of varying degrees of garbage psychology exploring why women in horror are such a ~~thing~~.
That inherent degradation and bodily abuse and usurpation of women (and let’s not even get started about the treatment or avoidance of queer and trans* bodies in horror! Because it’s despicable! Truly, truly despicable!) could be dissected endlessly. Even I have dissected it endlessly, which I won’t subject you to, because I’ve already traumatized too many professors in undergrad and grad school, but they have tenure so I don’t really feel that bad about it. But like most things that are problematized and made putrid by the pawing hands and invasive eyes of patriarchal intrusion, there is also preponderance of empowerment to be derived from horror and the women who drive the films of the genre; there is a tremendous amount of enjoyment to be had that isn’t steeped in grimy, untoward, torture-porn mentalities.
And, boy howdy, did little baby bisexual sapling me find A LOT of enjoyment in horror and the ladies of the genre. To say most of my fundamental attraction for women was based on characters and actresses in the horror movies I would spend hours (let’s be honest, more like days) watching and re-watching would be the most colossal understatement of the era. So, in honor of the denouement of Spooky Month, and in honor of my never-ending, unbridled and unrequited (because can fictional characters love me back? Ten-year-old me really thought there was a chance) love for women of horror, I want to give a little shout out to all the scary women who scared the straight right out of me. The films and characters are in mostly chronological order of release and gay-impact.
(NOTE: there is a conspicuous and glaring dearth of women of color, queer, and trans women on this list. The horror films I was reared on and had access to as a baby were upsettingly whitewashed. This is not an excuse, merely an explanation. There are countless films in the past 5-8 years that I ADORE that are outstanding for starring women of color, queer/trans women; featuring women of color, queer/trans characters; and having creative teams behind them comprised of women of color and queer trans women. The films that made me queer as a baby were unfortunately, predominately from a very hegemonic canon. The ones that have furthered my queerness to this day, thankfully, are rewriting that canon.)
Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly)- Rear Window (1954)
There were two particularly memorable nice things my mother did for, perhaps unwittingly, in the mélange of nice things my mother did for me on a regular basis that specifically pertained to my queerness. One, she allowed and encouraged an avid obsession with horror and suspense films (provided there wasn’t gratuitous violence, though obscenities she couldn’t give a fucking shit about). Two, my mother had this very uncomplicated, sweet discursive code for conveying how beautiful or elegant or compelling a certain actress or popular figure when she could tell I was, shall we say, showing a lot of interest in them. This was her way of letting me know “I get it and you get it but we don’t need to say we get it because we’re both very WASPy and uncomfortable all the time but we get it and it’s A OK.”
And Rear Window was really a confluence of these two mom-phenomenon (momenons?). Perhaps Hitchcock’s most astronomically well done film, Rear Window was a movie my mother eagerly made me watch at age 9 and would very excitedly say throughout and after viewing “isn’t Grace Kelly just stunning? Aren’t her clothes just unreal?” And yes! Both of these things are unequivocally true (and I fucking hope Grace Kelly, soon to be Princess of Monaco, was getting some fly as fuck Edith Head outfits)! But also like damn, mom, YES Grace Kelly is another level of what I like to call “don’t stand near me or I might bleed out of my ears” attractive, and my horror lady attraction was first stoked by the unconscionably stunning and well-dressed Lisa Fremont. Also, if you’ve never seen Rear Window, fix your fucking life.
Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster)-Silence of the Lambs (1990)
Do I have to say anything? It’s Jodie Foster with a fucking gun. She as a wild 90s bouffant hair situation. A crazy, sorta-Appalachian accent is involved. As are a lot of pants-suits. I didn’t stand a fucking chance.
Heather Donahue (Heather Donahue)-Blair Witch Project (1999)
There are really masochistic ways in which I attempt to regain the control I perpetually feel I do not have through horror films with which I feel most fans of the genre resonate. The Blair Witch Project was a fixation of mine not simply because as an 8/9-year-old, I was bizarrely obsessed with pop culture anomalies, but because it centered around my terror of the demonic unknown, and was filmed in woods THAT WERE FUCKING IDENTICAL TO MY BACKYARD THAT I WAS TOO PETRIFIED TO LOOK AT AFTER SUNSET.
Heather Donahue, the catastrophically directionally-not-inclined lead of the faux-documentary, was not explicitly gay, except in the way every alternative or tomboyishly working class chick in her mid-to-late 20s was that vague, Janeane Garofalo-esque ambiguously gay in the 90s. And I wasn’t actually attracted to her as a YA, per se. But Heather epitomized that unique kind of queer attraction pool—she was enthralled by the mysterious; she doggedly pursued the mysteries she loved; she gave a fuck about showing her emotions and gave even less of a fuck about the men around her; and she had a penchant for flannel. Heather was a non-platonic attraction for me, a formative icon that determined a lot of horror fandom and personality in general.
Moreover, my long-time babysitter’s/second mother’s daughter who I lowkey/highkey was in love with for most of my childhood was infatuated with Blair Witch, so that had a whole lot to do with it.
Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) and Brenda Meeks (Regina Hall)-Scary Movie (2000)
Okay, LOOK. I know. This franchise is that kind of early 00s raucousness that often transgresses raucous and is categorically OFFENSIVE. And I KNOW. The original film isn’t generically or definitively horror at all, but satire (well, really, spoof—satire should maybe be reserved for something more…intellectual and subtle?). But the OG Scary Movie, that a friend and I ADORABLY conned their mother into letting us rent for a sleepover by AGGRESSIVELY lying and bullying her, was not only important for informing me about a lot of the horror films I would watch and study at an older age, but for introducing me to these two women. Who really stole the show both in the film and in my pants. Am I proud of that? No. But it’s Scary Movie. Was I supposed to say something not tacky?
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman)-The Others (2001)
If Ginuwine had written a companion piece to his 2003 hit song “In Those Jeans” that featured the lyrics “is there anymore room for me in that dreary bodice-piece?” it for sure would’ve been the anthem for me as an 11-year-old watching The Others. Just to make the necessary preface, The Others is unquestionably one of the most amazing, slow-burn, achingly haunting films that is only ever remembered for that one bowel-vacating jump-scare scene (which, like, totally fair), and not for how stellar the whole piece is as a drama and horror film. Just watch it. It’s life-changing.
Exceptional caliber of the film aside, Nicole Kidman is a motherfucking SITUATION in this film. This was the first film and the first actress that I had a NOTICEABLE (interpret how you will!) response to as a tween. In a period of time where I was violently trying to abolish any hints of queerness from my mind, watching this movie and feeling my response to Kidman threw me for a radical fucking loop. But, ultimately, for the best. My attraction to Kidman has never waned because of this film. I even bought the Stepford Wives remake because of it (you shouldn’t). Additionally, Grace as a character really solidified my ideal “type” of “hot stoic mom with a cerebral sensitive side having a rough time with her kids.” Is that a problematic type? Almost certainly. What can I say, though?
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts)-The Ring (2002)
In my adolescent, there was one ring to rule them all. It wasn’t Lord of the Rings, because I was an edgy fucking nihilist at 12 years old and those hobbit nerds were lame (I would later aggressively backtrack on this—like six months later, but there was a time when I was 12 when I was HARD FUCKING CORE). It was THE The Ring—which kind of exists in memory as an overly-quotable and commercialized husk of what it truly is, which is a stupendous fucking movie.
And if Nicole Kidman was the straw that broke this camel’s queer back, Naomi Watts was the arthritis that furthered weakened that camel at the knees (wow, what a fucking stupid, protracted analogy). I don’t think I’ve collaged about anyone more than Naomi Watts (except maybe Rachel Weisz and Winona Ryder). And Rachel Keller, supreme “over your shit before she even knows what your shit is,” ruthless journalist who was HAVING A ROUGH TIME WITH HER KID was sort of my dream woman as a tween. If there’s a personality I’m drawn to, it’s Rachel Keller’s. I’m not going to say this fictional character determined my type for good, but.
(Also, hot take for anyone who remembers, Samara was super gay, right? Just asking for a friend.)
What really has been the defining facet in my love for horror and horror women both as a baby queer and into adulthood has been the unique safety enthrallment with the genre and attractions within the genre allow. Not only does horror stand as a multi-interpretational playground where I can exercise and exorcise my real or ludicrous fears and frustrations, but the world of horror is such a eccentric, multifaceted world that my explorations of queerness felt very at home, very protected within the confines of the genre.
And if it weren’t for horror, I might’ve never had a gay thought.
That’s not true.
But I do blame Jodie Foster for everything.