The Origin Of Horror Is Gay
The origin of horror movies is known to be, well, extremely gay. And we love them for it. LGBTQ fans of yore saw themselves in the strange but often flamboyant outsiders that dominate the silver screen, in the form of exotic vampires. Modern LGBTQ+ viewers have embraced the likes of the Babadook, Pennywise, and even the video game series based on slasher flicks, Dead By Daylight.
But what of zombie movies? Should we root for more LGBTQ+ representation in zombie movies? Why is that important and what would that change? Here, I will break down the reasons why queering the most “realistic” genre of horror would do us a great deal of good. To accomplish this, I’ll look at some of the biggest names in the genre. I’ll also talk about Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built In Hell and how unison and solidarity often come naturally to people in the face of calamity, which allows for temporary utopias to form.
After all, zombie movies share a lot in common with disaster movies, another genre that tries to mirror the reality we live in as closely as possible.
The “Real-est” Genre Of Horror And LGBTQ+ Representation
Unlike other types of horror movies, zombie movies are typically rooted in reality. The reason why the dead walk may vary but they’re often attributed to unexplainable phenomena or a lab-grown virus, rather than say, an ancient evil that dwells in sewers and preys on one’s greatest fears.
The origin of today’s popular zombie movies can be credited to George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (1968).
Romero’s screenplay, which was written along with John Russo, famously never uses the Z-word. Still, Romero sought to differentiate his shamblers from the classic Haitian zombie. He states in a 2013 interview with The Telegraph that the main difference between voodoo zombies and his zombies is that his shambling hordes are very much dead.
Romero’s zombies do a lot of heavy lifting in his movies. They’re characters, plot devices, and shuffling, decaying mirrors of ourselves and our possible futures. As Romero remarked, “They’re us.”
Despite that, there’s been a huge dearth in zombie media when it comes to overt LGBTQ+ representation, with the notable exception of Naughty Dog’s hugely popular The Last Of Us sequel (2020). However, it’s worth noting that in a genre where unlikely partnerships between disparate bands of outcasts are key, where it is often these very bonds between strangers that enable humanity to survive, it is unthinkable that there is not one survivor that is queer.
The Zombie Movie As A Disaster Movie
In her book, A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit debunks the misconception that most people behave badly when a disaster strikes. She digs deep into history, to show us that whether in 1906 or 2005, people tend to react with remarkable poise and resourcefulness in the face of calamity. Her description of the ordinary person’s reaction to disaster would fit right in with any zombie movie, “…strangers become friends and collaborators, goods are shared freely, people improvise new roles for themselves.”
As people’s lives are streamlined by disaster, their sense of purpose crystallizes, and that causes them to stand together rather than focus on “old divides”, like class, social status, and religion. People find solace in their shared condition, forge new links and build a community where there is mutual aid instead of charity. As Solnit states, “…the fate that faces them, no matter how grim, is far less so for being shared.”
One can only imagine how powerful this solidarity is, for transforming communities where queer voices were previously not heard. What happens when we show up to hold up our half the sky when the end times come beckoning? What happens when we show up as medics, fighters, and community organizers – who are also grappling with the same losses and heartbreak?
Solidarity makes it possible for people who were until recently, total strangers, to come together in the face of chaos. We can see this most clearly in 28 Days Later (2003), Train To Busan (2016), and most especially, Cargo (2017). In all three movies, the main characters that drive the story help each other to thrive in a zombie apocalypse by leaning on each other and taking care of each other’s needs.
In Cargo, Andy exchanges his own life to save that of his daughter and that of Thoomi, a teenager he’s only just met. In doing so, he entrusts his infant daughter’s care to Thoomi’s community. Similarly, Sang-hwa in Train To Busan risks his life multiple times to help his fellow humans. He eventually gives up his life to protect his newfound friends. His wife later becomes a foster parent to Su-an, the protagonist’s daughter.
These characters understand that the apocalyptic circumstances they find themselves in and the collapse of their country’s institutions don’t have to signal the end of their responsibilities toward their fellow humans.
When It All Goes Wrong
“In a society in which participation, agency, purposefulness, and freedom are all adequately present, a disaster would be only a disaster.”Rebecca Solnit
Although it would be extremely challenging to paint a picture of utopia with zombies in them, this quote from Rebecca Solnit does at least give us some insight as to what not to do.
In Train To Busan, we witness how apathy and lack of participation unleashed a deadly chain of events that would eventually result in the death of the movie’s hedge fund manager protagonist.
I am, of course, describing the scene where Patient Zero, in the form of a dying teenage girl, stumbles into the train. People ignore her and instead focus their attention on an unkempt vagrant who had wandered in. In doing so, they have just secured their own destruction.
Conversely, when people work together, they can achieve great things, even in the midst of a zombie epidemic. Case in point: the secret oasis in a mall, that the team of four built-in Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead.
This is basically the lesson that zombie movies keep trying to teach us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a military man living in a Floridian bunker or an electronics salesman living in Crouch End. Your chance of survival hinges on far bigger things.
We can extrapolate and say that it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a cis straight male librarian or a genderqueer pansexual line cook.
What matters is that when the chips are down, you remember how to be human. What matters is that you use your skills to help your community in times of crisis.
Above all, what really matters is that if people can put aside their differences and focus on what really matters, we can all avoid becoming zombie food.