Academic journal article Gender Forum

"Come out, Come out, Wherever You Are" Queering American Horror Story

Academic journal article Gender Forum

"Come out, Come out, Wherever You Are" Queering American Horror Story

Article excerpt

Scared Straight


As television becomes an increasingly more inclusive space for marginalized communities, many queer characters are still sequestered to supporting roles, storylines dealing with queer themes are subordinate within the greater diegeses, and shows emphatically committed to foregrounding queer experiences are predominantly compartmentalized to the peripheries of television. Identity-specific or niche cable networks like Logo, PrideVision, and - for a time - Bravo specifically catered to queer sensibilities, even branding themselves with the tagline, "Gay Television; No Apologies". [1] Subscribers of gay-themed channels are called to identify with the preset niche categories. These niche networks' pigeonholed identities along with limited accessibility for audiences reinforce the notion that queer spectators are indeed marginal.


Concurrently, in the 1990s and early 2000s, sitcoms and dramas on major networks began featuring gay supporting characters thereby establishing a platform for periodically gay-themed episodes. Even on mainstream television today, heterosexuality is framed in conjunction with normalcy, and queer characters are positioned as foils to leading players. When shows aim to appeal to wide heterosexual audiences, there are usually implicit disclaimers when confronting queer issues, and shows draw attention to their efforts to integrate gay characters or subplots into the narratives as a display of commonality. In order for these shows to remain commercially lucrative, gay and lesbian characterizations and narratives are often negotiated; queer images and storylines can exist only if they lend themselves to commodification. Hence, stereotypes and attractive queer hyperboles permeate into the shows, usually taking the form of flamboyant comrades to the main players. Spectators pining for non-stereotypical queer representations have become accustomed to constructing secondary or alternative texts within predominant ones in the interest of deriving pleasure from and solidarity with televisual narratives.


Exploiting the freedoms of cable television, FX's adult-oriented horror anthology series American Horror Story (2011 - present) is divorced from specific gender and sexual binaries and persuasions. Employing melodramatic traditions and paying homage to horror conventions, the show's general commercial lure is its grotesque transgressive tenets, sensory and emotional provocation, and sadomasochistic nuances. Yet as queer persons are discriminated against, violated, and coded with fear and contempt in society and on television, American Horror Story is a unique and challenging text that confronts issues of queer visibility, and gives queer performers and creators a vehicle to contribute to cultural conversations.


Each season of American Horror Story features different narratives, settings, time periods, and characters. Engaging with preexisting queer theories and discourses, my paper positions each of the four seasons as case studies in order to interrogate the show's formal and textual approaches and handling of queer subjectivities. First, I examine the horror genre and ghost story traditions within Season One: Murder House. These components perpetually destabilize the image of the nuclear heteronormative family as queer characters infiltrate the haunted environment. Next, through an analysis of Season Two: Asylum, I put the show's unique anthology form in conversation with the ontology of performance to claim that queer actors are not only afforded queer roles - and vice versa - but are equally unbound from any singular identity. This approach suggests that the fluidity of performance mirrors that of sexuality and gender. After, Season Three: Coven's excessive and subversive Camp aesthetics are posited in order to understand the show's appeal for queer audiences. Finally, I read Season Four: Freak Show - chronicling freak show performers in South Florida during the 1950s - as an allegory of the more recent alienation, exploitation, and televisual commodification of 'othered' queer individuals. …

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