An article by Mark Allen Gunnells

When I was growing up, I realized two things about myself. I was a huge horror hound, and I was gay. The latter I kept hidden for a while, but I came out of the closet regarding the first bit early on. I watched every horror movie I could find, started reading all the popular horror books.

I enjoyed the thrills and suspense and, yes, the empathetic responses these stories drew out of me, but there was something lacking. I didn’t see myself anywhere in these movies. Everyone I think has a need to see themselves reflected in the stories they enjoy, and growing up in the 80s I simply didn’t see gay characters in the horror genre.

As I got older, I became more comfortable with my sexual orientation and began the process of coming out of the closet. And yet when I started to seriously write horror fiction myself, I didn’t include gay characters either, not in any substantive way.

Seems odd, but I was mimicking what I saw in the genre, and it simply did not seem there was a place at the table for openly gay storytellers writing gay characters in the horror field. Obviously I eventually got over that, but only after some storytellers started opening that door and making me see that it was possible.

The first person through that door for me was Clive Barker. When he publicly came out in the mid-90s, it was a game changer for me. Many would later say that everyone in the industry already knew, but I wasn’t in the industry. I was a young gay man living in a small southern town, and when Barker came out in an Advocate article, it was a big deal for me. And then he followed it up with the novel Sacrament, a major release from a Big New York publisher that featured a gay main character dealing with issues surrounding being gay in the 90s. It felt like a revelation, and I could hear the scrape as Barker pulled up a chair to the table.

Shortly after that I discovered the Dell/Abyss line of horror novels, which under the editorial direction of Jeanne Cavelos offered a widely diverse roster of authors. Rick R. Reed, an openly gay writer, produced some subversive fiction that featured characters of all sexualities, but perhaps the most influential for me was the work of trans author Poppy Z. Brite. He provided characters who were gay, bi, pansexual, and didn’t shy away from the sexuality. These LGBT characters actually got to have full and active sex lives. The impact on me was huge.

These things made me feel like gay characters were coming out of the closet, and that straight authors were scooting over to make room for their LGBT brothers and sisters at the table. I began to believe there could be a place for everyone, including myself.

It was at this point in the mid-to-late 90s that I finally started centering my stories around gay characters and incorporating sexual components. I felt free, and I think my writing really improved because of it. My stories became richer and deeper, more personal which in an odd way helped make them more universal. Even within the lie of fiction, a foundation of honesty is needed, and the more honest I could be, the better stories I could tell.

This helped bolster me when I first started publishing and met some publishers whose thinking had not evolved and warned me being openly gay and using gay characters would “alienate the heterosexual male fan base of horror.” I just kept Barker and Reed and Brite in my mind, and I knew that while some might have issues with us being at the table, we still belonged there. There was still a place for us.

Author

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all, he loves telling stories. Follow Mark on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Amazon.
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