Back when I was a wee nerd (as opposed to an ye olde nerd) in high school, I used to read a lot of horror. I also read a lot of gay porn. This was a by-product of a little bit of terror and wide-eyed curiosity.
Even though I figured out that I was bi by sophomore year in high school, I was still extremely uncomfortable with sexuality in general. I have, at periodic points in my life, considered that perhaps I was actually asexual, though bi-romantic.
By my early 20s, sexuality had simmered down to something that was only vaguely uncomfortable, kind of boring, and mostly discomfiting. I didn’t react well to people touching me, and I thought many sexual encounters felt disingenuous. I didn’t understand the appeal of people secreting on each other.
Horror and sexuality have always met at a weird intersection, usually involving boobs and misogyny, which made it difficult for me to stomach. And yet, despite my misgivings about bodily fluids, I do love my decomposition and homoerotica. I don’t question it, though maybe I should?
One author whom I was a big fan of was Poppy Z. Brite.
(Aside: Brite identifies as a transgendered man, so I will be referring to him with a male pronoun.)
I don’t know if Brite’s writing has aged well; maybe if I went back to read his stories, I’d hate them now that I’m no longer 15. But at the time, they were a revelation. Zombies and gay romance? What’s there not to love? I do recall a bit of weird orientalism in one of his stories about a prostitute in Chinatown, but I could forgive it at the time.
Brite is big into New Orleans the way John Waters is big into Baltimore. I have a total soft spot for the South (though also a healthy dose of fear), so I appreciate his highlighting his own little eccentric corner of the U.S.
Though I generally prefer to read short fiction — and Brite does have some entertaining short fiction — Drawing Blood is what I think of when I think of Brite.
Set in the fictional town of Missing Mile, Drawing Blood is a gothic horror novel about comic book artist Trevor revisiting the site of a grisly murder-suicide that left him the sole survivor of his family. Part haunted house story, part murder-mystery, and part romance (featuring nerdy hacker Zachary), Drawing Blood was the perfect page-turner for mini-me who, at the time, was transitioning from the classics to Murakami and his obsession with sexy ears and women in pink suits.
Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, it seems to me, make the perfect backdrops for exploring LGBT characters (not themes; I’ll get to that in a moment). We have to be careful, of course, since those genres also tend to be exploitative — often featuring a Euro-centric view of the world with flairs of Orientalism and Magical Negroes running amok, not to mention a whole host of breathlessly unnamed cultural appropriations.
And yet, I think particularly in horror, despite all the super macho “this is my boomstick!” kind of attitude that some people have, there’s great opportunity to play with LGBT characters in a way that we don’t normally get to.
I feel that when writing about any kind of “Marginalized Topic” such as women’s rights, minorities’ rights, LGBT rights, we often get caught up and make it a Big Deal. When you’re writing about a lesbian character in the real world, you have to discuss the usual relevant topics: When did she come out? What about the trials and tribulations of dating? When she walks down the street with her girlfriend, what corner stores does she avoid?
There’s a time and place for literature exploring the real world issues we face, but sometimes you just want to read about a gay dude running from bloody ghosts. Sometimes you don’t want it to be a Big Deal — you just want a good ol’ fashioned horror movie, except that stereotypical shower scene isn’t between the blonde cheerleader and the quarterback; it’s between the quarterback and the tight end.
Anyway, if there’s a gay character in a horror novel, why would the reader take the time to question his/her sexuality when there are zombies and elder gods to pay attention to?
Eventually, Brite began turning his attention to more realistic fiction; his most recent series of novels followed two characters, Rickey and G-man, as they open and run a restaurant in New Orleans. I admit to not having read these books, partly out of forgetfulness, and partly because I never had the time to pick them up.
There’s also a part of me that just wants to think of monsters and romance when I think of Brite: a period of my life where the sultry air of Calcutta and the sound of zombies slowly shuffling at the bottom of a set of stairs are mingled with the love story of an angst-ridden artist and his gay lover as they deal with an inexplicably haunted house in a little town in North Carolina.