I recently finished reading “Queer Fear” by Michael Rowe, and it left me in my feelings quite a bit. This book was originally published in 2000: a mere 30 or so years after the stonewall riots, and 20ish from the start of the AIDS epidemic. Being gay 20 years ago was nothing like it was today, just like it wasn’t 20 years before that…and before that…and before that…and so on. Although a lot of advances had been made since the Stonewall Riots, not all that much had changed by the early 2000s. Sure, LGBTQ rights sounded great on paper, but they were not being reflected in the streets and daily life. Hate crimes were still rising. AIDS/HIV patients received backlash and medical bias. The large majority of the public turned a blind eye to homophobic content and threats. Most media portrayals of LGTBQ characters were used as comedic relief. There were no rights in place for workplace discrimination. LGBTQ marriages were not legalized anywhere. And forget it if you were a person of colour in the community; you had even less of a chance to live an out and proud life in the public eye. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Reading this collection, I was reminded of how far we’ve come through the years, but also just how much work we still have left to do, especially right now. While many of us now live in a much more open, accepting society than 10, 15, even 20 years ago, Queer folks today are still fighting for equality on many fronts. We still have to dismantle systemic injustice, fight for inclusive sex ed, legalize marriages and partnerships everywhere, fight for gender inclusion, and educate ourselves on positive Queer Rep in media among other related issues such as racism disability, misogyny, classism, etc. These issues are all inherently linked and cannot be addressed without one another; a fight in support of one of them is a fight for all!
Stonewall was only 50 years ago, and there’s still so much global work to be done before we can fully celebrate. The Black and Brown women who spearheaded the Stonewall Riots all sacrificed so much for the community, and we cannot stop fighting until their dreams are realized. None of us are free until all of us are free: free to be who we are; free to love who we love; free to live our truths openly and fearlessly; free to move through this world without fear of violence and hatred just because we don’t fit the “status quo” flavor of the week.
The stories in “Queer Fear” reflect all of this uncertainty, discomfort, and trauma within the community and lay it out in the open. Fiction is a safe place in which we can explore the anxieties and terrors that haunt us, and allows us a controlled environment in which we can process our trauma. Murderers, dark spirits, otherworldly beasts, lonely haunted houses, ghosts of our past, terrifying winged creatures…none are so scary as the reality of a world in which you are “othered” and marginalized. Many of these stories are violent, graphic, and very uncomfortable to read, but despite that jarring nature, they truly felt extremely relevant and wholly necessary. Others show fictional worlds where people just are and exist as themselves, where their Queerness does not equate to a character trait, but instead is as average and normal as breathing.
Sensitive readers should be forewarned; these tales often contain graphic depictions of sexual violence, homophobia, abusive situations, bigotry, and other unsettling scenarios. That being said, I didn’t find any of it gratuitous or unjustifiable, and each violent or hateful act had relevance in a collective experience of the LGBTQ community. All of the atrocities these characters face, be they antagonist or protagonist, have real-world relatability.
Sexual orientation, gender identity, and our own personal definitions of queerness all affect how we move through the world, and how the world shapes us on our journey through it. Each of the stories in “Queer Fear” offers an equally unique perspective and prismatic reflection of those identities; no two stories in this collection are alike. Some of the pieces have a poetic and lyrical quality of them, while others pack a punch with a brazen energy and no-nonsense intensity. I appreciated the wide variety in storytelling and narrative styles by each author, and there is undoubtedly a narrative in this collection for every reader. Genre wise, you’ll find plenty of body horror, some mystery/thriller, man versus monster, nightmares and dreamscapes, and more. There really is something in this collection to satisfy any fan in the Horror Community.
I enjoyed most of the content in this book, but a few favourite stories within this collection included:
- “The Nightguard” by C. Mark Umland
- “Bear Shirt” by Gemma Files
- “Hey Fairy!” by Edo Van Belkam
- “Spindleshanks” by Caitlin Kiernan
- “Genius Loci” by Becky N. Southwall
- “The Bird Feeders” by David Nickle
“Queer Fear” is filled with longing and sorrow, but also with love and passion, and imbued with a hope that through these words we will also find the power to heal. The stories unfold like secrets, like passwords whispered in the dark that we may gain access to back rooms where we can be unapologetically ourselves. Each of them offers a new perspective into the lives of Queer people, and not only in the things we fear but also what we have to celebrate. Through each of these tales the reader is able to try on new identities, learn to empathize and relate to others; we are able to gain a little insight into the people who came before us.
To the younger generations who may pick up this book today, let it serve as a testament to the older generations who lost so much, felt so much pain, and fought for our rights we enjoy today. Honor those who came before by reveling in the beauty of what we now have, by living boldly and diving headfirst into joy because we can, then use that boundless energy, that immense passion, to create even more progress for future generations still. Remember all that they gave so we could exist openly as we do today, and make sure we fight hard so that eventually everyone can enjoy the bliss of pure freedom.
By Ellen Avigliano
Instagram: @imaginariumarts @thejackalopes.warren