Friday, June 7, 2019

Pride Month: Queer Shadows


It can be very hard to talk about the queerness of Dark Shadows, especially that of the actors involved. It was a different era, full of fear, and few rights. So many went to their grave without saying anything about their personal truth because of the society they were raised and grew up in, it was even scarier coming out then compared to now. Even still now, it’s not great, we’ve still got a long way to go for human rights. It’s important that people know that Dark Shadows is a part of LGBTQIA+ history. By not acknowledging that, it’s as good as erasing the actors who brought many wonderful and not so wonderful characters to life. If you don’t listen to the previous lessons that history has taught, you’re doomed to repeat it. No one should live in fear of their career being ruined, or be ostracised just because of how they’ve been born.

I’ve been in the Dark Shadows fandom for a good 22 years now. One thing I’ve noticed is the preponderance of LGBTQIA+ fans. I’ve been to meetups where we outweigh the straight people, however on the internet it’s a different story. The straight fans seem to have a bigger voice regarding the series. I’ve seen flame wars started because people brought up Jonathan Frid being a gay man. How does this affect your life in any way? Did you not see the show? All that camp, the melodrama, lest we forget the HUGE metaphor of being in the vampire closet, and then there’s even an entire bit lifted from The Picture of Dorian Gray BY OSCAR WILDE. The show is very queer in and of itself standing on its own without me needing to talk about it. All the signs are there, all the subtext. Even though the 60s were considered a pretty progressive time, gay rights were still in their infancy. Being out could destroy your career, even today it’ll hurt it, but not as much as it did then. Unfortunately LGBTQIA+ rights are a case of you don’t ever win, the generation after you will do just a little bit better than the last. A good comparison is the saying, “Two steps forward, one step back.” It’s still progress, but it’s slower than what could be. So those of the cast who were gay tended to keep it hidden from the public. There was no reason to risk it. When you have to stay in the closet, it’s nerve-wracking, yet easier to stay in than to come out and face the public scorn. So many of the actors stayed in throughout their entire lives. One of the very few to mention it explicitly was Louis Edmonds in his biography. We’ve also lost a few Dark Shadows actors during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Even though Jonathan Frid never explicitly mentioned it throughout his life, he was known to frequent a few gay bars in New York and was even photographed with Louis Edmonds at a beach well known to be a place for homosexual men to meet up. He may not have said it out loud, but his actions speak volumes.

I’ve heard Dark Shadows described as the perfect show for theater kids and it’s so true. The sets falling down around the actors, having it accidentally set on fire, and all the general mayhem that comes with a one-take show really speaks to those with a love of live theater. The show must go on as they say. The actors kept going no matter what, consummate professionals. You know where a lot of queer kids hide? The theater. I was a theater kid. I didn’t do too much acting, but I did a lot of set building and sound work. The entire theater department was some form of the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q, the I, the A, or some other permutation that’s not in the acronym. It’s like everyone instinctively knew that was the place to go for safety, or at least some modicum of acceptance. It seems the actors of Dark Shadows took this to heart. Just look at the list of those over the years that have had stories come out about them or have actively said that they were some form of LGBTQIA+: Jonathan Frid (allegedly had some of his partners were hired on the show), Louis Edmonds (classic dandy!), Don Briscoe, Humbert Allen Astredo (allegedly bisexual), Christopher Bernau (one of the first openly gay soap stars), Joel Crothers, Anthony George, Gene Lindsey, Keith Prentice, Craig Slocum, Brian Sturdivant. I’m sure there’s many more I’m missing. It gets to a point where you have to wonder, who on Dark Shadows wasn’t gay?

Maybe their combined gay energy plus all the trappings of theater and camp drew me to it? My first plot arc with the series was Quentin’s Haunting of Collinwood. However, I didn’t connect with it on the level of a little queer kid until I found a place that rented out Dark Shadows tapes. It was then that I was introduced to the Barnabas Unchained storyline. I felt oddly drawn to it immediately. I had this feeling of understanding at Barnabas’s predicament. The only Barnabas I’d seen before this point was cured, human Barnabas. He was just the guy hanging out with Julia Hoffman. Watching him struggle with his vampirism as I struggled with my sexuality, hiding it from his family as I did, and trying to find love in all the wrong ways which I SO DID, spoke to me on a deep level. I related to it. I had this great secret. I can guarantee you it spoke to many others on that same level. You have that knowledge that if you reveal yourself you will experience a level of ostracization from society. It would change how people would perceive you before they meet you. It could even reveal their possible fear of you, and many who have the weirdly unfounded fear of you turning others. Vampires are the best beasties to use as a vehicle for queerness.

Dark Shadows helped me get through a lot of my questioning and early coming out years (Unfortunate truth: You never stop coming out, you come out to each new person you meet.) It’s been my solace, my safe place to be scared because the outside world is even scarier. It helped prepare me for what was coming, what society would do to an outsider. The use of metaphor was loud and clear. I was used to being an outsider already being a sci-fi and horror fan, but my innate queerness made it even more complicated. Dark Shadows softened that blow a bit. I appreciate those LGBTQIA+ actors and crew that helped bring this show to life by injecting just a bit of themselves into this show.

Alice is first and foremost a horror fanatic but overall a fan of the "lesser" genres. Please give her your trash, your b-movies, your low budet/nobudget weird/kung fu/sci-fi/fantasty stuff. She's also a writer, musician, Your Horror Tran, and an all around general weirdo.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...