glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Ghost and Horror Fiction  
page: 1  2  3  

In the first third of the twentieth century, several novels were published with transsexual characters. These works include Barry Pain's Exchange of Souls (1911), Isador Schneider's Dr. Transit (1925), and Thorne Smith's Turnabout (1931).

Since transsexuality is a subject that falls beyond the scope of the average reader and evokes a wide range of responses, some similar to but others quite different from those evoked by homosexuality, it is not surprising that it too became a thematic element in many horror and science-fiction works.


Both early and recent ghost tales include homosexual elements. Henry James's Turn of the Screw (1898) presents both male and female ghosts and contains both male homosexual and lesbian overtones. The story hinges on a young governess's belief that her deceased predecessor and the dead valet Peter Quint have returned to possess the children--a boy and girl--in her charge.

Several critics have commented on the homosexual elements in the plot, especially relative to the former governess's relations with the young girl and the valet's possible corruption of the boy.

Another of James's ghost stories, "The Jolly Corner" (1908), is susceptible to a gay reading as an allegory in which the ghost represents the narrator's (and author's) repressed homosexuality.

Two of E. F. Benson's supernatural tales include homosexual elements: The Inheritor (1930) is a story about a supernatural curse, and Raven's Brood (1934), the account of a family in Cornwall and their experiences with evil rituals and demons, features a son who is involved in a homosexual relationship.

Shirley Jackson's celebrated Haunting of Hill House (1959) is strongly woman identified, as the character of Eleanor struggles with her feelings toward Theodora and her dead mother.

A Ghost Story by Ada Trevanian (1858) is a romantic ghost tale of a teacher and a young girl, while the more recent "Ghost of Champ McQuest" (1988) by Ethan Mordden has gay men being harassed by a ghost on Fire Island.

Maureen Duffy's The Microcosm (1966) is a lesbian novel involving the ghosts of many women who visited the same bar.

Stephen King, the prolific modern horror writer, links ghosts and homosexuality in his novel The Shining (1977).

Vincent Varga's Gaywick (1980), a gothic romance set in Long Island at the turn of the twentieth century, is an entertaining adaptation of the genre. Featuring many gay characters, including a hero who is as attractive as he is wealthy, Gaywick self-consciously attempts to reclaim for gay readers a genre in which gay men and lesbians are often portrayed as villainous.

Homosexuals as Victims and Villains

Even without ghosts, vampires, and demons, nasty things can happen to homosexual people in fiction. Numerous short stories and novels depict homosexual or bisexual people as victims of evil-doers.

Clive Barker, for example, includes many positive homosexual images in his writing, and some gay villains as well. Gay characters can be found in In the Hills, the Cities (1984), where a vacationing gay couple becomes involved in gory rituals; in Age of Desire (1986), where gays are the victims of sexual assault; and in Human Remains (1984), which involves evil bisexuals and a young male prostitute.

A particularly nasty villain is the evil lesbian Tascela of Robert Howard's Red Nails (1936), who kidnaps and tortures another woman.

A gay man bent on revenge is the main character in Jeffrey McMahan's short story, "Dark Red Day" (1989), where the villain tries to wreak revenge on his first lover back in their hometown.

Although some openly gay contemporary horror writers such as Vincent Varga, Felice Picano, and Michael McDowell have pioneered by targeting a gay audience for their work and employing homosexuality as a central element of their fiction, they have done so by building on a long tradition rather than creating a new one.

Specialized Horror Magazines

In addition to the classic titles mentioned in this essay, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula or Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, tales published in specialized horror magazines also contributed to the linkage of and horror. These magazines, which flourished during the 1920s and 1930s and bore such titles as Weird Tales and Strange Tales, were aimed at adolescent boys and often contained subtle homosexual elements.

Catherine Geddis

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Romanticism

Since homosexuality was severely persecuted during the Romantic period, writers who treated the subject more or less positively were forced to encode it or leave it unpublished and were themselves frequently forced into exile.

literature >> Overview:  Gothicism

The Gothic has always offered writers and readers the chance to experience the excitement of transgressive sexuality of various kinds, including male and female homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Horror Films

The monsters of horror films may frequently be read as mirrors of societal views of homosexuals as predatory, amoral, perverse, possessed of secret supernatural powers, and threatening to "normal life."

literature >> Overview:  Science Fiction and Fantasy

Beginning with the "new wave" in the 1960s, science fiction and fantasy writers have explored openly and seriously issues of gender and sexual orientation.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Vampires

From its inception in the nineteenth century, the artistic vampire has been linked with homosexuality, a connection that has been explored in a number of films.

arts >> Barker, Clive

Writer, director, and producer Clive Barker is best known for his horror fiction and movies, but is also a prolific painter and illustrator, as well as a developer of comic books and computer games.

literature >> Barney, Natalie Clifford

In addition to being the muse and inspiration of other writers, American expatriate Natalie Barney, known as the Amazon, was a poet, memoirist, and epigrammatist in her own right.

literature >> Beckford, William

Extremely wealthy and connected to the aristocracy, British author and connoisseur William Beckford was ostracized by English society for the last sixty years of his life because of his homosexuality.

literature >> Benson, E. F.

Born of an elite Victorian family, E. F. Benson was a prolific, often campy, writer of biographies, autobiographies, and novels, many of which were informed by homoeroticism.

literature >> Byron, George Gordon, Lord

The bisexual Lord Byron treated many of his homosexual love affairs in his poetry, encoding them by the use of classical references or by purporting that they were affairs with women.

literature >> Duffy, Maureen

Maureen Duffy has published novels that present both lesbian and gay male characters within a broad social and political panorama.

literature >> Gomez, Jewelle

In her poetry, fiction, and essays, Jewelle Gomez seeks to merge her black, feminist, and lesbian identities into an indivisible whole.

literature >> James, Henry

Though closeted, Henry James had a number of intimate relations with young men, and his sexual orientation imbued his fiction.

literature >> Mordden, Ethan

Best known for his four volumes of short fiction comprising a series of interconnected stories about gay life in New York City, Ethan Mordden is also the author of novels and over twenty works of nonfiction on opera, film, and musical theater.

literature >> Palahniuk, Chuck

Chuck Palahniuk is known for a series of popular and provocative novels; although he has acknowledged his homosexuality, he resists being labeled as a "gay author."

literature >> Rossetti, Christina

Her sexuality repressed by religion, Christina Rossetti wrote poetry that included highly-charged erotic female-to-female affection.

literature >> Vivien, Renée

Renée Vivien, who had many affairs with women, openly celebrated lesboerotic love in her poetry and dreamed of women-controlled spaces in an era when most women were still domestically confined.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Barron, Neil, ed. Horror Literature: A Reader's Guide. New York: Garland, 1990.

Carpenter, Lynette, and Wendy Kolmar. Haunting the House of Fiction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Carter, Margaret. The Vampire in Literature, A Critical Bibliography. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1989.

Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Garber, Eric, and Palio, Lynn. Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990.


    Citation Information
    Author: Geddis, Catherine  
    Entry Title: Ghost and Horror Fiction  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 13, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.