To celebrate horror pride, I’ve revised several of my posts about my life in gay horror, which originally appeared on my former publisher’s website, and I am reposting them on Boys, Bears & Scares so they’ll have a permanent home. No better way to start things off than with my “Calling all gay horror whores” post…
As a gay guy who has been obsessed with horror since I was a little kid, I never searched for any correlation between the genre and the orientation. I just thought horror fans were horror fans. But because horror over the decades has been so heterosexual male-oriented, when I began writing my own horror fiction, I decided it made sense to do it from the all-male perspective while modeling it after the tried and true traits of the genre: scares and sex.
My first erotic horror collection Closet Monsters included five erotic horror stories and the novella Zombied Out, which had some sexual situations but was not erotica. I used the same formula with my second collection, Horny Devils. This time the novella, entitled Scream, Queen!, was a gay slasher—which has been reprinted as part of a Halloween double feature in Wet Screams, the fourth installment of my Comfort Cove gay horror series. It was easy to sex up Scream, Queen!, because the slasher genre lends itself to “gratuitous” sex. That was when I realized I would never write a sex-less horror novel. For me, just like humor, injections of sex into horror help to awaken the senses and totally screw with your mental state. It’s part of the ride: I’m scared. Now I’m horny. I just peed a little from laughing. I almost shit my pants from fear.
Sex in my writing is not necessarily always an “integral part of the plot.” Just like in real life (and straight horror), when the opportunity seems right, in it goes. If a given moment guarantees the characters would be having sex, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to go into explicit detail rather than cut away! But I don’t consider my writing erotica. It’s not written solely to get readers off, so it’s not like you’re reading a sex story labeled “erotic horror” simply because the guys are having sex on Halloween night. These are actual horror stories, albeit loaded with naughty sex.
Unfortunately, gay horror often targets the “erotica” market rather than the horror market, which does it a great disservice. There’s a good chance when an erotica reader sees a sexy guy on the cover of a gay horror book, he’s in for something he didn’t bargain for: gratuitous horror along with the sex. When the cover also captures the horror elements (something I strive for on the covers of my own novels when I come up with the concepts myself–see the Closet Monsters cover above), the erotica reader may be repelled by the horror. However, the horror fan—the true market for the genre—will be intrigued. And unless he’s a horror reader who finds that sex gets in the way of the story and wasn’t tipped off about its inclusion in the book by the half-naked guy on the cover, he’ll be right at home with every gory gay, horny homo detail.
Two great tastes…but do they really go great together?
Hey! You got sex in my horror! No! You got horror in my sex!
What’s all the bickering about? Isn’t that a delicious combo? Does the inclusion of sex in horror fiction automatically make it “erotic” horror? It seems in the world of publishing, heavy sexual content scores you an “erotica” label, just like we expect a penis in a movie to get slapped…with an NC-17 rating, that is. But isn’t there a distinct difference between sex and erotica depending on its purpose within the context of a story and its effect on the reader?
Either way, you would think that in the world of LGBTQ fiction, expressing our sexuality openly in our stories would be embraced. Hell, it should be encouraged! Instead, we need the prudish “erotic” warning label to protect our virgin minds from unsavory adult content!
It often seems that the inclusion of sex in a book has readers holding crossed fingers up to it as if they’re warding off a vampire with a crucifix or stamping an X rating on the book. And so fiction that features sexual situations gets the old “erotic” subgenre attached to the true genre: erotic horror; erotic romance; erotic mystery; erotic fantasy (that last one sounds the dirtiest of all).
I don’t know how it works with the other genres, but I personally cringe every time I see the word “erotic” attached to the “horror” classification on my fiction. Just the fact that “erotic” leads the classification creates an assumption about a book; before even getting to the “horror” part, the mind has already sent the wrong signal of terror loud and clear: “EEK! This is a sex book!”
I would prefer to call my fiction grindhouse horror comedy or exploitation horror. As in those types of movies, the sex in my books is most often presented as over-the-top, absurd, and funny. For instance, a man’s expulsions taste just like dairy when he’s “milked” in my first Comfort Cove gay horror novel Combustion, and a young man who practices the black arts pleasures a big red bear with a dildo using only his mind in the second installment, No Place for Little Ones.
Occasionally, there’s a “romantic” sex scene (because my characters do have hearts!), but generally, the sex is there as a prelude to the horror, to place characters at their most vulnerable when the horror shows itself, or even to just go for the good old gross out.
These are all purposes that go hand-in-hand with horror. Sex isn’t meant to arouse; it is intended as foreplay to awaken the senses and emotions and to enhance the intensity of the climactic moment of fear. And, hey. If sex in horror does turn some readers on, that’s a result of their warped ids. Some people are that sick and twisted—my readers, for instance. I’m fine with them calling my stuff erotic horror. For the rest of you, it’s simply horror. Just have an adult cover your eyes during the dirty parts.
When I started my writing journey, I just assumed horror and eroticism a logical fusion for gay horror fans. Imagine my surprise when some reviews expressed appreciation for the…um…meat of my stories but then made comments about the sex being a distraction. As someone who grew up at a time when sex was mandatory in horror, I’m going to guess these readers weren’t properly raised on sex and violence.
I’ve even seen the equating of the sex in my horror fiction to “sexual assault.” That’s far from the same thing as doing something sexual with a man because you want to be forced into doing it with him, as is usually the case in my stories. Sexual situations involving an unwilling participant are a complete turn off for me—I’ve read that kind of erotic fiction with no enjoyment and watched it go on to win literary awards. Which means I won’t be winning any awards any time soon, because you won’t often find a Deliverance moment in my writing. When you do, the point is absolutely not to arouse; it is to horrify—as when a bunch of crazed dockworkers shove a little man up the ass of a 15-foot man in The Rise of the Thing Down Below, the third novel in my Comfort Cove gay horror series. I can’t be responsible for where the mind wants to go, but isn’t it possible that what might be making readers uncomfortable is that they are left questioning whether or not a scene is supposed to be turning them on?
Perhaps it’s easier for a gay reader to assume such scenes in my books are intended to be sexual because, unlike a heterosexual male, who is most likely repulsed by the idea of butt fucking (as depicted in Deliverance), gay men generally expect it to be a positive experience. Look at it from the reverse perspective. A gay man watching I Spit on Your Grave is not likely to see the rape scene as sexual at all, but the protective anonymity of internet message boards shows time and again that there are heterosexual men who do find it stimulating. Does that mean they are sick individuals, or does it mean that horror is succeeding in making them uncomfortable about the darkness within themselves? Maybe that’s why the sex in my books unnerves gay readers; it makes them contemplate what they never had to when female T&A was being splashed needlessly across the screen through twelve Jason movies.
Either way, whether sex is in place to arouse or to disturb, of all people to express distaste in its presence I never imagined it would be gay men. Could it be true? Straight male horror fans are more in touch with their sexual selves than gay horror fans? Was I going about writing gay horror all wrong?
Thankfully, for every comment about the supposed unnecessary sex in my writing, there is appreciation of it. It was nice to have someone tell me that my story “Woof!” proved to be the first time werewolves made him hot. I often get nods for writing horror stories that feature piggish, hairy, burly bears instead of vanilla, smooth, pretty boys. Not all gay men want sex in their horror, but there are definitely those who aren’t complaining. Still, it’s hard to find the community of gay sex and horror lovers. General horror message boards aren’t bringing them out of the closet. I began to wonder just how niche the market was for my writing.
Then a friend turned me on to a Greenwich Village bear establishment called Rockbar NYC, where a couple of horror-loving gay guys hold a horror trivia night a few times a year. Before I know it, I’m co-hosting the trivia night and doing a reading/signing of my books. I had a blast. Here was a bar full of gay men who could answer the question: How many people did Cujo kill? That night, my erotic horror anthologies were bought and given away as prizes. But did that mean gay horror lovers would actually like them? I didn’t know.
With the release of Combustion the first in my Comfort Cove gay horror series, I returned to Rockbar NYC and something wonderful happened. What was clearly a regular crowd at horror trivia night remembered me as much as I remembered them. And they had actually delved into my books. I witnessed one friend tell a couple that when he read my novella Zombied Out, he pictured them as the bear couple in the book. Another reader told me that whenever anyone peruses his bookshelves, their eyes are drawn immediately to my books. Yet another horror fan told me that he won my book in the trivia contest the first time I was there, loved it, and read it out loud to his adora-bear hubby. He specifically referenced my story “Monstrosity” about a man suffering from a case of “gargantuanism.” He said the ending was horrific—but readily admitted that he also thought it was so hot he took care of business to it more than once. Good news for him. That huge man becomes a main character in the novels in my Comfort Cove series.
And there it was. Evidence that my kind of gay erotic horror fan is out there. I’d been in contact with one occasionally over the internet, but to be in a bar full of them was not only an honor…it was hot as hell. And so I created Boys, Bears & Scares, dedicated to everything gay horror, from movies and books to art and graphic novels. Doing so has connected me to lovers of gay horror, from the men who create it to fans who devour it. It’s a place where gay horror fans can find an exhaustive and ever-growing list of what’s out there. And in the years since I launched the site, it’s a thrill to see how many other sites, social media accounts, and podcasts have popped up focusing on horror from an LGBTQ perspective.