Monday, October 22, 2012

Sexuality: The New Fear Inducer

It was the picture that initially attracted my attention; a demented looking clown sitting in a chair staring directly at me through the camera’s lens. He’s in the photo to your left. See him? I now know that’s an imperssonation of John Wayne Gacy, Jr. He was dubbed the “Killer Clown” due to his clown persona “Pogo the Clown.” He was beloved at charity events and children’s parties. Who would have suspected that he abducted, raped, and murdered young men? Nice phallic touch with the balloon don’t you think? 

I hate clowns. Always have. They freak me out. I do not see a colorful, cartoony birthday party performer when I look at a clown; I see evil - a distorted personality whose sinister smile and dead eyes are hidden behind outlandish makeup designed to be broad and funny. John Wayne Gacy, Jr., does not make it easy to refute my feelings. Even so, the creepy clown was the first thing that caught my attention. Then I saw the headline: “Want to Know How to Really Scare a Straight Guy This Halloween? Try Gay Sex.” Forget about the creepy clown, I was totally intrigued. I wondered what interesting, funny or down right off-the-wall story this article was going to tell. 

The article with the above-mentioned title was written by Benjamin Solomon and appeared in The Huffington Post on October 15, 2012. Solomon opened my eyes to and enlightened me on a disturbing trend in New York City haunted houses.

Solomon began his article with the quote, “Do you want to run away -- or stay and play?” He described his predicament thus: he’s pinned down at the shoulders by an unseen man. Along with the aforementioned question the man also whispered “little piggy.” Solomon says he was being pretend raped. That happened in Blackout Haunted House according to the article. It was supposed to happen. The manhandling was agreed upon before entry.

To quote Dorothy Parker, “What fresh hell is this?” I wrinkled my forehead and looked at my computer screen with contempt and confusion. The new black in horror this season seems to be pushing the limits of a straight man’s sexual fears by using his fear of gay sex against him. That’s right. Gay sexual advances within the confines of a haunted house seem to be the new horror for scaring what the article tells me is the “typically harder to scare” straight man. 

Solomon’s article quotes Blackout founder Josh Randall saying, “No matter how afraid of monsters or vampires you may be, chances are you can always rationalize that fear away because vampires and monsters don’t exist. So when you’re faced with something that is intensely real and could potentially happen to you, it strikes a different nerve in people and triggers a more realistic response.” How charming.

Since when is sexual orientation the basis for scaring someone? My sexual orientation is not the same as choosing to rape someone or choosing to commit murder. My sexual orientation is not the same as being an axe wielding, chainsaw slashing, machete slicing horror fantasy. It should not be on par with any of those scenarios yet the impresario’s of two of New York City’s haunted houses have put it in just that place. The aforementioned Blackout Haunted House is one and KILLERS: A Nightmare Haunted House is the other.

In a video on the KILLERS website, John Harlacher, a Producer and Co-Director of the attraction in NYC says of 2012s serial killer theme, “I’m most fascinated by serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy, the ones who seemed to be completely sexually motivated. They’re just born desiring to harm other people in the same way another person desires to get the affection from another person. They’re monsters. They’re not human in a deep way. In a way that we recognize as human they really are not human on a psychological level.” 

There’s not one part of me that enjoys my sexual identity being mixed in with the fear and images of some of the most violent murderers in our country’s history. Let’s be honest, what John Wayne Gacy, Jr., and Jeffrey Dahmer did to real people is terrifying enough. We don’t necessarily need to know exactly what those men did to their victims to be scared of them when the room is occupied by a representation of one of them, their bloody victim , and us. Let him walk toward me and I will make an impression in the wall as I try to back as far away from him as I can. Even in a controlled environment the psychology of the situation takes over and the scene in the room becomes real even if for just a moment. Result = Freak out!

When I was a child, my father had only to put on his Tor Johnson mask and walk slowly down the hall, turning out each light as he approached, to send me screaming and running away in fear. I’m no fool. I realize I was a child, but that was terrifying to me. 

The “Halloween Theme” by John Carpenter creeps me out to this day. I all but hold my breath upon hearing Michael Myers breath from behind the mask, his body hidden in the shadows. Where is he? Where is he? When that white mask begins to emerge from the shadows into light as he moves toward a victim, my heart begins to race. A man in a dark green jumpsuit, white distorted William Shatner mask, and large kitchen knife need only stand staring at me to make my heart beat wildly. I still have a fear of being in water too far from shore or too murky to see the bottom because of Jaws. The name Jason conjures terrifying images of an indestructible man -- unkillable -- with a machete readily at hand for dispatching those who might have decided tonight is the night for sex. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers never run. They walk at a regular pace and yet somehow always manage to catch up to their victim. Imagine the characters of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees following behind you as you make your way through a haunted house. Terrifying. Throw in the sound of a chainsaw and I’m hugging the wall, screaming, praying for a way out. Hell, throw in a clown and I’ll run toward the way out. These are just a few of the images and sounds that terrify me, that define horror to me.  That is terrifying to me.

As if there wasn’t already enough fear and hate in the world, the brilliant minds who came up with forcing one man onto another man sexually as a way to generate fear should win the Razzie equivalent for haunted house production.This type of scare tactic feeds into the assumption made by many straight men that gay men are attracted to all men. That assumption breeds on oozing, misinformed, blob of paranoia.

This is just the kind of ammunition the uneducated straight man needs to bash in the head of a gay man who looked at him in a way that he deemed threatening. God forbid a gay man smile at a straight man out of pure friendliness. I have enough agita as a real, live, breathing gay man just smiling at guys on the street or at the gym who might take it the wrong way. The last thing I need is for some dumb fuck horror attraction to use gay sexual identity as a horror scare tactic.

I couldn’t help but wonder (in fact, I had to wonder) if this scenario put a single girl on her own in a room with an imposing black man would we stand for it? Isn’t it the same thing? That female might be terrified of a black man raping her, but even with her permission would we play out the scenario from the beginning of this blog? Would we let him hold her down by her shoulders whispering dirty sexual phrases in her ear? To play out the scenario in that way to me seems offensive and stereotypical beyond belief. Is it not the same situation to put a straight man into a scenario alone to be sexually threatened by a gay or “gay” man?

So play the Jaws theme or the Halloween theme. Set their nerves on edge. But instead of terrifying the haunted house patron with horror devices and images that are tried and true, just send a gay man into the room to solicit sex. That’s all we have to do, right? I mean it’s all in good fun. No one should be offended by this tactic. Least of all the gay man who might fear walking down the street at night in his neighborhood because real homophobic people exist in the world. Without the safety of a haunted attraction the joke might be on the gay man. It’s all theatricality and illusion until some straight man retaliates and some gay man finds himself on the other side of a fear fist or fear gun.

At a time when our country is divided on the idea of gay marriage and the fight for equality is being fought every day, I find it offensive and obnoxious that anyone would use the threat of gay sex, gay rape, gay anything as a means for scaring anyone. 

Maybe I’m taking the whole thing too personally. I don’t know. I don’t enjoy feeling like the joke is at the expense of gay men. What I do know is that I found the idea offensive the moment I read it and I’m not the only person who found it so. 

Maybe the creators of this gimmick don’t intend for it to be homophobic, but it certainly allows the latent homophobia living inside the haunted house “victim” to surface. Who knows what happens to it after that. No matter how desperate the desire is to access that hard to reach place where fear lies, threatening gay sex on a straight man’s psyche is an insult to those of us who actually desire gay sex. Gay sex is not scary and the last thing we need is for straight men to feel we gay people are a threat.