My transition from scared kid to die-hard horror devotee was a lot like coming out of the closet. As it turns out, I’m not the only gay man who feels that way.
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"What kind of faggot runs around in a Christmas sweater?"
Those words weren't spoken to me, but they stung just the same. In Freddy vs. Jason, 2003's long-awaited Nightmare on Elm Street–Friday the 13th crossover, Kia (Kelly Rowland) taunts Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) by mocking his weapons, his outfit, and yes, his sexual identity. Long after she's macheted by Jason, her slur lingered in my head. Was Freddy queer?
That might explain some things. As a child, there was no movie monster more often on my mind than Freddy Krueger. I was repulsed by him — too terrified by the mere concept to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street or any of its sequels — but I was drawn to him all the same. I remember browsing the "Horror" section at Blockbuster, regarding the box art for the Nightmare films with a sort of breathless anxiety: Would I ever be ready to follow through and rent one?
By the time Freddy vs. Jason came out, I was almost 17. I wasn't entirely out, but I'd told friends and maintained a healthy number of crushes on straight classmates. I'd also been called a "faggot." There was something so abhorrent about Freddy Krueger being cut down with the same word, not because it's inherently offensive, but because it aligned us in a way I'd never let myself consider.
There was something different about Freddy, and it wasn't that he was a dead child murderer who returned to kill new victims in their dreams. What scared me more than his burned face and knife-fingers were his winks and sass. He was so out there — and it looked like he was having fun. It would be silly to say Freddy frightened me because I saw myself in him: As a teenager, I was nowhere near that snarky. But I felt a connection, however subtle, and it's something that took me years to articulate.
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"In many ways you could argue that Freddy is essentially a drag queen," filmmaker Joshua Grannell told me. "He had the bitchiest quips. He had the most fantastic accessories. His makeup was over-the-top. I'm not trying to reach too far here. For me, there's a big connection."
And Grannell knows drag: He's the man behind the drag persona Peaches Christ, San Francisco's queen of midnight movies — a sort of queerer Elvira, if such a thing is possible. Grannell is also the writer and director of the drag slasher film All About Evil, which is how we met. I was an extra for one very long weekend.
I contacted Grannell and other gay men I consider horror aficionados to get a better handle on a question I've mulled over for years: Why do gay men love horror? I remember my transition from a kid too fearful of boogeymen to sleep with the lights off to a gore fiend who gleefully looks for any excuse to bring up Halloween in casual conversation. And in many ways, I liken it to my experience coming out: Both involved first coming to terms with my identity, then abandoning fear, and finally sharing it with the world.
It turns out, I'm not alone. While investigating, I reached out to Jeffery Self, co-screenwriter and star of the upcoming queer horror film You're Killing Me . Like me, Self has always been attracted to horror but had kept himself from watching it because he was, in his words, "really anti–getting scared." And again, there was likely something deeper going on.
"We, as gay men, gravitate toward things that are over-the-top, I think because our conditions growing up are heightened, in that we're holding on to all these secrets a lot of times," he told me. "So the idea of something that's even more heightened in the world of a horror movie is exciting."
Exciting, yes — but also terrifying. There is a taboo to liking horror, to seeking out images of gore and violence, but perhaps more importantly, to finding something relatable about a psycho killer. And yet, for many gay men — myself included — there's a vague kinship felt with quiet loner Michael Myers, eccentric weirdo Freddy Krueger, and deranged mama's boys Jason Voorhees and Norman Bates.