Rebecca Salazar (she/they) is a writer, editor, and community organizer living on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik. Salazar is the author of two chapbooks, and her first full-length collection sulphurtongue (McClelland & Stewart) was a finalist for the 2021 Governor General’s Award for Poetry.
7 Horrors for Traumatized Queers
The scariest thing I have done in the last few years is to write poems on illness, trauma, and horror during a global pandemic that fully animated these fears. Writing these poems has been a deeply personal exorcism, of sorts.
Mainstream horror cinema and literature have been rightly criticized for being exploitative of the traumatized (see: the bulk of the torture porn and rape revenge subgenres). In all its gory glory, though, horror is powerful because it refuses to prettify, the ugly, repulsive, and frightening aspects of fear and trauma. Since being diagnosed with PTSD in my early twenties, though I have found myself drawn to the oddballs of horror: the queer, feminist, and survivor-centred art that makes fear into something liberatory, without erasing the real horrors of gendered, sexual, racial, and ableist oppression.
Below is a list of horror media I keep returning to as I write my own nightmarish poems. Expect blood, guts, ghosts, monsters, and graphic violence, but no direct depictions of sexual or anti-queer violence. Expect the survivors of violence to wreak their own horrific justice, and to do more than just survive.
Scream, Queen! by Tommy Pico and Drea Washington
Proclaiming itself “a podcast about scary movies by people not typically depicted in scary movies,” Scream, Queen! is hosted by two queer writers of colour with wits sharper than Freddy Kreuger’s claws. Pico and Washington have a raunchy, memeable chemistry that brings comedy to their discussions of everything from low-budget 80s B-movies to horror serials like Lovecraft Country, itself a speculative resistance to racism in the horror genre. I have taken more film recommendations from this podcast than I have from anywhere else.
Another Final Girl: Horror Poems by Claire Kelly
Disclaimer: I was able to read this collection a year or two before its publication by Rahila’s Ghost press, since Claire is a long-time writing friend. It was her choice of subtitle for this chapbook that spurred me to seriously consider horror as a genre in poetry. This chapbook is both an homage to classic horror films and a reckoning with what—and who—they have left out or harmed. “Survival is not enough,” begins the title poem, in which the archetypal final girl demands recognition; “I am more than just / getting out of this alive.”
The Magnus Archives by Jonathan Simms
If there is a single piece of media that has gotten me through the pandemic, it is this UK-produced cosmic horror podcast. After fans began crowd-sourcing content warnings for each episode in the early seasons, production company Rusty Quill began officially incorporating these into episode descriptions; additionally, writer and creator Jonathan Simms has stated his refusal to use sexual violence as a plot point. Magnus begins with a monster-of-the-week format, as a newly hired archivist sifts through disorganized paranormal research, but the series soon becomes a sprawling web (pun intended; if you know, you know) of interrelated narratives driven by characters who become inextricably tied to the horrors they investigate. The Magnus Archives is a rare case that proves horror can be both trauma-informed—actively responding to and offering care for conversations about trauma—while also producing legitimately chilling storytelling.
The Low Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and Dani
What can I say about Carmen Maria Machado’s writing that will not rip me open and put my entire being on display? The Low Low Woods is the third of her books I have experienced as a chilling déjà vu that confirms and animates all the thoughts I never dare to write or speak. This graphic novel in particular feels like Machado reached into my nightmares and splayed them on a page: a mining town haunted by damaged land; the constant, buzzing threat of male violence; the tricky kinships between queer survivors. This story literalizes how trauma feels like your body transforming into a monstrous thing—an uncanny, hypervigilant animal ready to lash out, or a fracture in the very earth. While The Low Low Woods is in part a rape revenge, it is also a dream for a future that heals without covering the ugliness—it that makes room for the rage and rough magic of survival to carry into healing.
Parkdale Haunt by Alex Nursall and Emily Kellogg
The best scares in this Toronto-based horror serial come from the audio format itself. When long-time friends Judith and Claire start recording their renovation of an inherited house in Parkdale to make their own podcast, this attempt derails: their recordings begin to change, warped by the influence of something lurking in the house. What hits me hardest in this series is its handling of traumatic memory gaps: when Claire and others are unable to recall conversations they hear themselves having on tape, the series becomes an examination of gaslighting and spiritual abuse on the supernatural scale, without ever trivializing the harm the characters suffer on the way. Side note: Parkdale Haunt also contains the funniest satire of new-age white wellness culture I have heard anywhere.
Salt is for Curing by Sonya Vatomsky
A grimoire in poetic form, Salt is for Curing draws together ancestral spell craft recipes with new abjurations against sexual violence. What physically presents as a tiny, unassuming book is a powerful collection that establishes a kind of “ethical grotesque,” a way of surviving that embraces the witchy, wild, and subversive as a form of care.
The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula
How could I talk about weird, queer horror without mentioning Dragula? A reality competition in which contestants vie for the title of Drag Supermonster, the show features the blood-soaked, kinky, alternative, and genderfucked drag styles excluded from mainstream drag circuits, and includes drag kings and creatures as well as queens of many genders. Each episode opens with the Boulet’s’ cheeky re-enactments of classic horror tropes (killer clowns! exorcisms! 1960s vampire surfers!), but what hooks me beyond these tributes to a genre I love is in the performers themselves. Between the silly, reality-tv staples of dramas and rivalries, this is a world where queerness is the default. There is so much joy here, watching weirdos of all ilk reveal why horror feels like home to them, before creating politically subversive performance art that shocks, disgusts, arouses, and celebrates queer resistance all at once.
Rebecca Salazar visits Brockton Writers Series via our YouTube channel on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 starting at 6:30pm alongside Grace Lau, Brad Fraser, and James Lee Lord Parker. Our guest speaker emmy will give us pointers on, “Finding the Right Literary Agent for You.”