Monster Empathy

For Gay Pride Month:  How horror films helped me cope with being gay

I always pitied  monsters.  The Frankenstein Monster, shuffling about looking for acceptance; vampires, driven by an unquenchable thirst, never allowed to walk in the sunlight; werewolves, cursed to morph into savage beasts; even the lowly zombie, denied a final rest and made to just shamble about craving human flesh.

The empathy I felt towards these fantastic creatures, was that, through no fault of their own, they were scorned, hated and hunted.

Growing up gay, I related to that.

Through no fault of my own, I happened to be sexually attracted to members of my own sex.  Therefore, much like other monsters, I had to hide who I really was and put on a mask so that I could blend in with society .  I was made to question my self worth when I overheard kids in my high school make "fag" jokes.  I was lucky, in that my mask rarely slipped in those days, and most people were pretty clueless as to who I really was.

I searched for acceptance, I looked high and low for someone or something that would tell me that I was not a monster.  Unfortunately, I was a teenager in the mid 1970's - and since I was not living in San Francisco at the time, acceptance of anything out of the ordinary was not the norm - I don't think that younger generations realize what it really was like back then - they seem to have been sold a romanticized version of the disco decade.  Trust me, it was not one long party at Studio 54.

I found solace in two things back in those days.  The Village Voice ( a  New York City weekly newspaper that was sold at a local store), and horror films.  That might seem an odd combination to a burgeoning gay man, but trust me, those two things saved my sanity.

The Village Voice, covered a lot of gay and lesbian events and stories, and did it in a non-judgmental, even celebratory style - I would dream that someday I would be living a Care Free Gay Life in Greenwich Village, far from the shackles and expectations of suburban South Jersey.

Meanwhile, I'd spend a lot of time seeking out horror films; and since this was in the pre-cable, pre-vcr, pre-dvd, pre-internet days - you really had to seek out films, and then go to theaters or drive-ins to see them.  And I did!

While my gay Brethren might have been worshiping at the altar of Bette Midler or Liza Minnelli, I was taking communion at the Churches of George A Romero, Brian DePalma and David Cronenberg - my bibles consisted of the early works of Stephen King and a magazine called, Famous Monsters of Filmland.  

I'd always enjoyed horror movies, even as a kid, but when I got older I was addicted.  I can clearly recall seeing more than six or seven films in a given week some times.  Carrie really blew me away.  I must have seen it ten times when it first came out - and it was easy to understand the draw (a put upon high school student achieves bloody revenge on her tormentors).  In short, horror films and literature afforded me the escape (and the occasional cathartic experience) from the world I found myself trapped in.

As I grew older (and more comfortable in my skin), and started dating - I had one prerequisite: Must Love Horror Films.  Really, I mean if I was seeing someone and he could not understand the joy of being terrified at a mall full of shuffling zombies, or watching Jamie Lee Curtis fight off a masked mad man with a set of knitting needles, then what was the point? Everything else was just gravy.

These days, I still love horror films, but my partner of these past 13 years can't abide them (go figure), I guess that just proves that true love conquers all.  But imagine my surprise when I started this blog and found hundreds of other gay guys who love the horror genre - it's nice to know that there are so many of us out there; all of those beautiful monsters, no longer hiding in the dark, no longer lurking in the shadows...now if we could only had the right to marry - but that's another story.


Te* (Slasher Film Sanctuary) said...

Pax I really LOVE this entry. It really speaks to me, with the exception of being a teen in the mid 70's, I really connected to it. I also wore a mask, but the damn thing was clear. I suppose I didn't think people would look closely enough to see through it. ;)

satanslilsunbeam said...

What a great entry! Thank you for sharing this.

jennypower said...

Excellent post, Pax. While I can't say we share the same struggles, horror movies, monsters, and (for me, at least) scifi fandoms provided the community I couldn't find in my school, my family, or my hometown. They will always be there for me. And there's nothing quite like the thrill of bonding with a stranger just by talking about movies!

kindertrauma said...

Great post Pax! I'm right there with you on the Carrie love. It seems that most people tend to only see gender issues in horror films and I think that is very limiting. To me, the best stuff has always been and always will be about the plight of the outsider regardless of gender. I think I had a similar growing up experience as your own and I only wish I knew then what I know know, that being different is a great gift (especially if you happen to have the power to telekinetically blow up your prom!)-Unk

Chris Hallock said...

Excellent biographical post! I've always been really drawn to the tragic monster characters, especially Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, and Romero's living dead, and even Martin. Being able to liken one's own alienation, repression, oppression etc is a special thing and makes you realize there are others out there who feel the same.

Pax Romano said...

Thanks to everyone for your kind words...