(part one here)
While I’m on the topic of monsters…if someone asked me if I’m a horror fan, I’d probably say ‘no’. Admittedly, I’ve made my way through a bunch of Stephen King’s work, stopping after Bag of Bones1 and I’m hardly into Happiness And Light from a tonal perspective in my reading. But generally I don’t seek out horror unless it’s recommended to me specifically, due to anxiety and overempathy, combined with a neuroatypical brain that has huge difficulty setting aside horrifying imagery.
I was therefore a little bit wary when I opened the Queers Destroy Horror (QDH) issue of Nightmare that I received for supporting Queers Destroy Science Fiction. I’d not been that keen on the Women Destroy Horror issue, if we’re being honest (I believe I googled the Joyce Carol Oates reprint to try and figure out what the fuck I was reading), so that didn’t help either.
Reader, I was mistaken, because QDH was a lightbulb moment–there’s a lot in the issue about what it is that resonates between horror and queerness, so I won’t go into detail here, or perhaps it was just that the story selection was more my thing. Either way, I’d like to flag a couple of stories that were particularly YES, THIS for me.
Alyssa Wong’s Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers (TW: references to rape and violence against women) has so very much to say and packs so much meaning into just under 7000 words: about disavowing your mother to find yourself, about diaspora; about violence against and among women; and about what we consume of each other as emotional labour and feelings and love. Among other things, really.
Jen is a vampire who feeds on souls, relishing the dark thoughts that we have in all of us. She loathes this in herself, hates that her mother passed it on to her, and hates that at the same time it makes her feel good. Her mother’s been trying to live among humans as quietly as possible, taking only what she needs while always remaining isolated and hungry.
It’s a tiring, frustrating life lived at arm’s length from others, and Jen’s fed up with it, fed up with not being able to love like a human, fed up with her mother’s nagging, fed up with being selfless. A couple of encounters (and here I’ve got to sketch very vaguely because otherwise the whole thing’s ruined) send her away from middling, from just getting by, spiraling into what her hunger demands. However, maybe that’s not what she, what Jen, wants.
I read this on the train, finishing it in a late autumn evening gone nighttime too soon, and while it’s disturbing as hell, I couldn’t help but resonate with a lot of what Wong says. Perhaps it’s disturbing of me that in the end, I found the story oddly hopeful. But it reassured me, to remember that some truths are shared, that sometimes we overcome what we are born with and overcome what we are taught throughout our lives. More than anything else, it was a damn good and incredibly clever reminder that sometimes it takes more than one try and a hell of a lot of mistakes to become who we really are.
On the surface, Sunny Moraine’s Dispatches from a Hole in the World (TW: suicide) is even bleaker than Wong’s story. Moraine gives us the narrative of an unnamed academic, who’s doing research for their dissertation at an isolated archive containing the records of hundreds of thousands of young people’s suicides, each one calmly actioned and impossibly posted on the internet, all triggered by a plague that remains unclear even years later.
Our protagonist lived through this, and while they’re very self-aware about what happens to those who go through trauma and their survivor’s guilt, they don’t remain unaffected by what they see. They’re processing, but a bit unhealthily–alone in the only remaining archive of the suicides, trying to make meaning for something that is appalling and inexplicable. Above all, Dispatches is a descent into hell of mythical proportions, in the trappings of the age of social media. There may be something supernatural at hand, it may be a zeitgeist, it may even be partially the protagonist’s loosening grip on reality.
Defining tragedy, giving it logic, isn’t the point, even as necessary as it may be to maintaining our sanity. What got to me were the descriptions of how the rest of the young people made networks and checked up on each other, they didn’t just let things slide. They had to, because authority was unable (or perhaps, in some way, unwilling) to make the right decisions to save lives.
This is a love letter to the works of survival that was/is done by so many marginalised communities online. It’s not a pretty love letter, though it’s certainly lyric, but it’s entirely truth. Someday, perhaps the importance of this work will be appreciated: We are saving ourselves, though certainly sometimes we fail.
The protagonist knows this, even at the end, in a maelstrom of despair. That gives me hope, too, because it’s something that can’t be taken away. It sounds trite, perhaps, to boil it down to ‘all that actually matters in the face of horrors and evils is that we don’t give up on each other’, but it’s not about sticking together without any thought, or not questioning each other.
Instead, we need to remember not to disappear others’ humanity, even when we bleed, even when shit gets really, really real, even when people are terrible. These days, on the internet, it’s a damn important thing to remember, and Moraine’s success lies in communicating this not via moral tale but visceral feeling.
Both Wong and Moraine, and Rose Lemberg in Geometries of Belonging get to the crux of the well-written monster trope: the monster is more human than those it’s set against. For marginalised folks, this something that cuts particularly close to home–and it’s heartening to see these ideas more and more across genre.
Incidentally, there’s a good essay by Sigrid Ellis in the print/ebook edition of QDH on problematic stuff in King. ↩