Wednesday 24 June 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #5: The Question in Bodies

Recently, I decided that I should seek a diagnosis of adult ADHD. As I've gotten older, my weird neurological tics have gotten more entrenched, and I thought, You know what? Either I'm weird or there's something here that needs support. Well, it turns out I do in fact have ADHD, in spades, but what I wasn't expecting was to be told that I'm autistic too.

A lot of people, when they find out late in life that they're neurodivergent, find it a hugely positive experience, a sudden revelation that makes their lives make perfect sense. I am sorry to say that any gaining of sense was subsumed by intense anger, and crushing grief, and, most of all, the terrifying, vertiginous feeling that I had spent so many years masking who I really was that I had no idea of who I was. I suppose at this point, given how it wasn't all that long ago I finally came out as genderfluid (“they”/“them”, please. Thank you) that you might think it's starting to get to the point where I'm pretty much playing Labels Bingo, but the fact is, this is going to take some processing.

And, well, I process through horror.
The point of that, I guess, is that it makes a sort of sense that I'd be so interested in the idea of identity horror. “Identity horror” is a genre label that I made up myself a few years ago, but which I am more or less 150% certain I was not the first to come up with. I suppose that Identity Horror admits body horror, and overlaps with some (but not all) of the body horror classics. But it's more than that.

It's about the fluidity of the self, and, because it's horror, about how trauma changes that, and, also because it's horror, it allows a frank assessment of that fluidity, and the terrors it might hold. Sometimes we need to be allowed to be monsters.

Identity horror is often queer, and sometimes trans (and hence admits queer and trans discourse). Often it approaches in metaphor the experience of women and minorities in a world not constructed for them. Sometimes it's about new sorts of personhood, new orders of being. Sometimes it's about parenthood and the way we create new lives in bodies and minds. Sometimes about how relationships change us (for the horrific). Sometimes it's seductive; it approaches kinks, and taboos. Sex in identity horror is often transgressive and perverse. In identity horror, the horror of personal annihilation

David Cronenberg and David Lynch are the genre's patron saints, but it goes way back. Think about Tod Browning's unsung masterpiece Freaks (1932), or Georges Franju's wincetastic face-swap horror Eyes Without a Face (1960). Andrzej ZuĊ‚awski gave us Possession (1981), which is surely my favourite horror film, period, and which is all about sex and death and fractured selves. Shane Carruth's Upstream Color (2013) deals with what might happen people who do not know who they are; Almodovar's queasy and distressing The Skin I Live In (2013) turns a cisperson into a transperson; and Jordan Peele's diptych of Get Out and Us (2017, 2019) approach black identities in Trump's America.

But let's talk about books too. Sure, we can bring in Clive Barker and Poppy Z Brite, but what about Carmen Maria Machado and Gwendolyn Kiste?
On Monday, I'll be talking about identity horror. I'll be staking my claim to it being a real genre and talking about what it can illuminate when we think about ourselves.

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