'Unbury Your Gays': Queer Zombies, Assimilation Anxieties and Mental Illness



Elliott-Smith D (2019) 'Unbury Your Gays': Queer Zombies, Assimilation Anxieties and Mental Illness. Queer Fears: A Symposium on Queer Horror Film and TV @ University of Hertfordshire/The Odyssey Cinema, Herts., Hertfordshire, UK, 28.06.2019-28.06.2019.

This paper extends on my previous publications on Queer Zombies (Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016); Screening the Undead (IB Tauris, 2014); Zombies and Sexuality (MacFarland, 2014) where I argue that recent incarnations of the queer undead (alongside other monsters) have represented sub-cultural anxieties within the gay male community that have risen as a result of cultural acceptance and normative assimilation. Jeffrey Sconce (2013) states that, in a ‘post-Uncanny’ age, the zombie is perhaps the most obvious among Western culture’s dead metaphors and undead allegories. I argue that the queer zombie is a visibly ‘out’, yet sympathetic, monster who has difference performed or writ out upon his skin and flesh which works, paradoxically, both to marginalise and to assimilate them into the horde. This paper will consider Bruce LaBruces’s foray into queer zombie art-pornography (Otto; or Up With Dead People (2008) and LA Zombie (2010)) which references a fashionable trend in ‘zombie drag’ within popular culture. LaBruce’s films feature central protagonist zombies who, by their own admission, suffer from ‘an identity crisis’. LaBruce satirises the homogenous, promiscuous, ‘dead’ clubbing culture within gay male community (populated with ‘fake zombies’) as our undead anti-heroes fail to conform to stereotype. More seriously, these films and more recent depictions of the queer undead focus on the mental health implications of isolation and alienation both from within and without certain queer sub-cultures and communities. The presentation will consider the recent Irish zombie-drama The Cured (Freyne, 2018) and the cult BBC Three serial drama In the Flesh (2013-2015) both of which configure a post-zombie world in which the undead have been rehabilitated and relocated back into their domestic community alongside their ‘living’ friends and families. In particular the BBC drama follows Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) as a young bisexual man whom, having committed suicide, rises from the dead only to be rehabilitated as a ‘partially deceased syndrome’ sufferer by the government and confined/closeted back home with his family. Like LaBruce’s works, In the Flesh also reimagines zombie-ism (queerness) as a disorder that can be treated and ‘fixed’ with medication. I want to suggest that these performative queer zombie texts work to depict queer masculinity as particularly fragile and susceptible to mental anguish. Keiren, the eponymous Otto (Jey Crisfar) and LA Zombie’s unnamed alien revenant and Senan in The Cured (all of whom have (un)successfully attempted suicide) all suffer a very real emotional turmoil that resounds strongly within the gay community. The performative elements of these undead queer figures present themselves in the corporeal reality of their experience from panic attacks, ‘passing’, group therapy and the marginalisation of the zombie/queer community. These humorous, yet elegiac texts suggest that death does not provide an easy way out from cultural persecution and mental distress, as Otto himself asks: ‘how do you kill yourself when you’re already dead?’.

Queer Horror; LGBTQ Studies; Queer Film; Queer Studies; Television Studies; Horror Film; Horror TV; Mental Health

FundersUniversity of Hertfordshire
Place of publicationQueer Fears: A Symposium on Queer Horror Film and TV @ University of Hertfordshire/The Odyssey Cinema, Herts.
ConferenceQueer Fears: A Symposium on Queer Horror Film and TV @ University of Hertfordshire/The Odyssey Cinema, Herts.
Conference locationHertfordshire, UK

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Dr Darren Elliott-Smith
Dr Darren Elliott-Smith

Senior Lecturer in Film & Gender Studies, Communications, Media and Culture

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