I’ve been asked once, why do I write horror with main queer characters since queer people suffer a lot in the real life, so why put them through terrors of the horror story variety? I was surprised by that question, because of multiple reasons, mostly because I’m not the only one doing it, and this is the sort of horror I like to read and watch; always actively searching for more. And not just a story where a gay character exists to die a horrible death as a lesson to straight people, or a token gay character to die a horrible death first, but to read a story about that gay character, who is in the lead, who’s having these horrors revolve around them. Regardless if it’s a happy ending or not, just to have a story be about them.
And really, I’m an anxious person constantly living in fear, so the better question would be, why even write horror or why be a fan of horror, isn’t there enough fear in my life?
But there is something deeply exhilarating in me consuming horror and even more in me creating horror, especially when I write what I fear, and that’s most of the time (cough geese cough). I could write something deeply profound about it, like if I tried to answer something very smart when asked that question, but really, the answer is very simple. It all comes back to: I’m a fan of horror, morbid, bizarre, macabre, and whatnot, always have been, ever since I was a child, and we could try to do the egg and the chicken question, but there’s no need. And since I am who I am, what I do is queer horror. So in the honor of this question I once got, I wanted to make a recommendation list of queer horror reads* for this spooky October month, because I will always be surprised that there are still people that don’t know that these type of stories exists and that yes, they can be the final girl even if they’re queer. The list will be in no particular order.
*I’m using the queer horror, as in, every horror that has a queer main character—yes, some of these titles have horror rooted in queer themes, but some will be simply a horror story with a character that’s not straight as the protagonist.
1. Exquisite Corpse, Poppy Z. Brite
Let’s start with the classics. This is one of the books you’ll see recommended on extreme horror lists, or so I heard. In short, this is a story about predators. Two serial killers—a necrophiliac and a cannibal—their twisted lives and even more twisted romance. It’s about their prey—a young gay Vietnamese man, and his sorrows. It’s about his abusive relationship, and his dying ex-boyfriend. And on top of it all, this is a story about AIDS—a terrifying monster preying on the gay community, killing slowly and painfully. Exquisite Corpse is, at its core, about an inescapable death.
This is a hard novel to read, but it’s also beautiful in its macabre atmosphere. It’s like the author wanted to show he could write the most disgusting things in the most poetic ways. The descriptions of anatomy are so rich—bodies of the victims put on a pedestal, worshipped by their killers. I expected this to be a gore-fest, and for most of the time it is, but the story is so much more than that, and if you have a stomach for books like this, I definitely recommend reading this.
Now for something more fun, Transmuted is a grotesque body horror novella in which we follow a trans woman who, in a moment of desperation, got mixed up with a questionable doctor. At first, everything seemed fine, even perfect, but then escalated fastly into a deliciously weird story. The main themes of this book are definitely trans-related—gender dysmorphia, transphobia and medical transition. There are a lot of emotionally packed scenes, but the novella is also just a lot of fun weirdness and absurdity with unexpected twists and turns. It’s a short wild ride, a perfect read for a gloomy afternoon.
3. The Other Side of The Closet: A Queer Horror Collection, by Patrick J. Kane
This is a collection of queer stories by Patrick J. Kane, exploring different sexualities and queer experiences in dark, gory and morbid ways. I enjoyed this book a lot; there were some stories that made me laugh out loud, and there were some remarkably atmospheric, eerie and discomforting stories. Some of the stories base their horror in homophobia, some are just dark comedy, and some are even rooted in intercommunity problems. Really makes for an interesting read.
You know that meme “Are you tired of being nice? Don’t you just want to go ape shit?” This novel is that meme, sort of. When a young pregnant black woman runs away from the religious cult she was living in, she only plans to live with her babies in the woods, away from the cult but also societal expectations and rules. Raising her children to be completely wild and feral like herself, shedding the unnecessary constraints of society. But her resolve is soon going to be challenged by a creepy hunter and unexpected body changes—an explanation of which is closely held by the same cult she ran away from.
This story is just so profound and powerful. It’s about blackness, womanhood and a complicated relationship to gender, motherhood, queerness, anger and hunger. Everything regarding the cult is appropriately unnerving and creepy, and the body horror is just superb. I loved it, the mystery kept me on the edge, and I loved the characters, their anger and sorrows. There’s also a lot of hope in this book, hurt and comfort and healing coming from a loving community put in contrast to the horrors of the cult.
Saltblood is a unique novel in the way it combines the technological dystopia of a near future, the theory of Panopticon, thriller and folk horror. It’s about a group of prisoners who’ve all committed the grave crime of enticing online rage in others. Simply put, saying or doing something that a lot of someones online would deem morally wrong, resulting in massive outrage. If you’re on social media, especially Twitter, you know what that looks like. All of these “criminals” are put on an isolated Scottish island, completely cut off from the Internet and the rest of the world. Which is a great setup when, of course, they learn that there’s an ancient horror roaming freely on the island. The characters are great, it’s very fun learning what each of them did to end up on the island, and on top of it all, the main character is a lesbian and has a romantic subplot growing in the midst of this gloom. The story also has a lot of interesting topics to talk about, like the digital Panopticon, behavior on social media, late capitalism and ethics (or the lack thereof) of megacorporations.
6. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, Eric LaRocca
What have you done today to deserve your eyes?
This novella is short even for the form and explosive—it escalates very quickly, which helps with the unnerving atmosphere it builds. It’s a story about two lonely lesbian women meeting online and developing a very disturbing relationship that spirals out of control. The novella is about death, but also about possession and obsession in a relationship. It’s told in the format of email and chat messages, and the way they talk and interact with each other builds this feeling of wrongness, that something is terribly off, sanity balancing on a knife-edge. It’s a short read but it stayed in my head and won’t get out. It also has an amazing cover—what you see is what you get.
Also, a bonus recommendation—from the same author—a short story collection The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales. Absolutely worth reading, this collection is obsessed with death, disease and twisted relationships.
7. Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, Hailey Piper
This collection of short stories is hauntingly beautiful—like a delicious meal you eat too much of, and then spend time with your stomach hurting but still happy. There are a lot of topics covered in the stories, but this book is mostly very queer and feminist, covering stuff like: misogyny, violence on women, homophobia and transphobia. Some of the stories have a dreamy quality, some are very bizarre and vividly grotesque. I loved almost all the stories and Recitation of the First Feeding is one of the best stories I’ve ever read.
8. Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
Another beautiful collection of stories, very dreamlike in the way that an unnerving dream could easily turn into a nightmare. Carmen Maria Machado’s prose is fantastic, and her stories are also all very queer and feminist. In the center of each story is a woman’s body—in relation to the self and the society. Very profound, a lot of it disturbing and even a bit gothic, this collection is perfect for a gloomy, atmospheric October.
9. The Route of Ice and Salt, José Luis Zárate
This novella is a Mexican cult classic, originally published in 1998 (alongside Exquisite Corpse, two of the oldest books on this rec list, and both are still a bit younger than me), with the first translation in English published this year. This is a very gay retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, giving us a tale of a closeted ship captain, whose ship delivered the infamous count to the UK. The story is about those days during the sea voyage, missing from the original novel, only hinting at what happened to the crew.
This novella is unapologetically gay, and with reason (reading the preface and afterword are also recommended, to better understand the context of living and writing as a gay man in Mexico, especially in the nineties). The first part is very graphically erotic, dealing with the hungry desire of the captain, while the second part deals with the destructive hunger of the vampire. It’s profound, deep, emotional and, while tragic, it has a hopeful note.
10. Beneath a Bethel, April-Jane Rowan
Beneath a Bethel is a unique tale that’s after your teeth, rather than your heart. It’s a dark fantasy with interesting worldbuilding, where we follow a society focused on what I call magical dentures. The story starts in medias res, with a brutal event, after which we slowly learn about this new world. The main character has to live as a social outcast until getting an opportunity he didn’t even dream of.
Throughout the story, there’s the unsettling, off feeling about well, everything. Even when everything looks fine, you can feel the tension just waiting to unravel. It makes for a suspenseful read, not to mention disturbing.
11. Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant
Of all the other titles, this one has the biggest cast of characters and is quite diverse in that sense. One of the reasons you’ll find it on almost all sapphic horror list recommendations is that two of these characters are sapphic (an autistic lesbian reporter and a bi marine biologist—they are also the main cast) with a romantic subplot.
This is also the second title on this list that’s set on a ship. This one is a special cruiser filled with scientists—marine biologists and everything oceanic related—tasked with learning whether mermaids are real or not. Everyone on the ship has their own reasons to be there—a lot of them clashing. Fun, interesting, and wholly spooky, this book has an amazing atmosphere filling you with dread. It helps that the characters are so different, layered and complex.
12. The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan
And since we’re on the topic of mermaids, here’s another, albeit completely different mermaid tale, The Drowning Girl. Where Into the Drowning Deep is a very sciency science fiction horror, The Drowning Girl is a fantastical tale of obsession, seduction, death and ghosts. It’s a depressing story told from the perspective of the schizophrenic lesbian protagonist, India, who’s trying to understand some troubling events, shed some light on her relationships, and learn the truth behind her haunting. This is just a very sad, very weird story, with meta narration, an unreliable narrator, full of symbolism and stories within stories. It’s a hard read with suffocating melancholia, but with beautiful prose, some light humor and hopeful moments.
13. Catherine House, Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House is a gothic, Dark Academia tale of a young girl running from her troubles to the super exclusive, mysterious, cult-like college. There are some disturbing things happening inside the Catherine House, and with time, they gradually trickle out. This novel is so weird, very slow in pacing, dreamlike in its prose. I loved being in the head of a “difficult” protagonist, one whose life is shrouded in depression, who practically haunts the place with her hazy state of almost non-existence. I loved how it all felt like some uneasy dream. It was a hard-to-put-down book for me, even though it’s light on the plot.
14. The Monster of Elendhaven, Jennifer Giesbrecht
I already recommended this novella last year, for a Halloween read, so I’m going to keep it short (you can read what I wrote about it here). It’s a gothic tale of a destructive relationship between two men, a story of revenge, a story about the nature of humans and monsters—of the thin line between the two. With a toxic setting of a slowly dying town with hideous nature, this is a perfect spooky title.
15. Ninety-Nine Righteous Men, K. M. Claude
I’m not big on the exorcist horror, but it turns out, if you make it gay, it’s going to hit a particular interest I didn’t know I had.
Ninety-Nine Righteous Men is an erotic horror comic book about gay priests with personal history trying to exorcise a demon from an innocent young man. Their drama makes it hard to concentrate on the task, and the demon, of course, doesn’t help. It’s very dark with themes of morality, sexuality and consent, and also quite disturbing. The art is also just jaw-droppingly amazing, bizarre and unsettling.
If you haven’t yet read Nightmare Magazine 37: Queers Destroy Horror! Special Issue, do yourself a favor and read it. Not only does it have some truly amazing short horror stories (by some of the authors also mentioned here, like Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlín R. Kiernan) and poetry (can’t comment on that because I’m not a poetry person), but it also has interesting non-fiction pieces discussing the horror genre from the perspective of queer writers and fans.