I love sex. Er... that is, I love *studying* sex. Sexuality, really. Leaving my own feelings and fantasies aside, suffice it to say I am extremely interested in teasing out and exploring the ways in which sex/uality figures into everything from environmentalism to architecture, hard sciences (and scientists) to horror movies. I am particularly interested in the ways in which notions of purity and perversion, "good" and "bad," the sacred and profane, normalcy and the abject, inform how we think about and represent sex and sexuality. Within the immensely vast constellation of sexual couplings and configurations possible, the white ("vanilla"), monogamous, reproductively-oriented, heterosexual model is and has for sometime been the privileged and valorized norm according to which all variations (sex between persons neither male nor female, sex between two men or two women, sex across the color line, BDSM, to give a few examples) are seen as in some sense "deviant," "other," "abnormal," "perverse." I would use the term "queer," though I should point out from the outset that this can be a highly contested and misunderstood term both within and outside of LGBTQ communities. For me, queerness reflects the status of something in relation to a norm. In reality, the concept is much more complicated than this; however, for the sake of this post I will say that the term "queer" as I use it here can be seen as pertaining to a certain element linking all of those and that which fall outside or at odds with the always-contested (and thus highly policed) periphery of that which gets counted within the space designated as "normal." In this sense, queerness is something that exceeds sexuality and finds relevance in other categories such as race, gender, and ability as well. While there is a great deal more that could be said here on the subject of "queer," in the interest of focus and brevity I am going to leave further explication of the term aside and continue on to the question of sex/uality (specifically queer sexualities) in relation to zombie narratives. What the hell do zombies have to do with sex and sexuality anyway?

One of my favorite things about horror films is that they frequently concern themselves precisely with such boundaries as those outlined above, boundaries separating the rational-known-normal from the irrational-unknown-abject, often with a particular slant toward issues of gender and sexual difference when read closely. All semester I have been trying to consider the ways in which zombie-filled stories transmit messages about sexuality. Are they complicit in recapitulating the dominant narratives of sexuality as implicitly coded white, hetero, monogamous, etc? Or do they take up something a bit more... "perverse"? Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly), in those texts that do place something other than the norm on display, how are these configurations represented? Certainly we cannot speak of a singular representation of sexuality in all of the zombie universe; different texts articulate different messages concerning sexuality. What I do notice, however, in looking back on some of my favorite zombie texts, is that a good deal of them can be seen as flirting with (though not always condoning or delving full-on into) something along the lines of the queer. My purpose in this post, then, will be to examine a few of these texts in an attempt to tease out some of the messages about sex and sexuality these zombie-laden narratives get across. So, with all this in mind, let's get it on.

White Zombie (1932) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) both express major anxieties of their respective time periods around sex across the color line. In the case of the former, the film's title along with its tagline ("She was not alive...nor dead...just a WHITE ZOMBIE -- Performing his every desire!" [sic]) make this quite apparent. Putting aside our knowledge gained in class concerning the Afro-Caribbean origins of the zombie, the very fact that the film's title includes, indeed seems to require, the racial descriptor implies that the fact that the film's central zombie is white is itself an anomaly. The tagline fairly reeks of the perverse implications of the transformation, of zombification as mind control with the (at least partial) aim of sexual exploitation, echoing Suzanne Lea's article in ZAU about "modern zombie makers." While it is true that the individual soliciting the zombification is a white, wealthy plantation owner with an eye for his guest's soon-to-be wife, we are still dealing with a kind of cross-racial mixing of sorts, the "contamination" of a white woman at the hands of an agent of the dark art of voodoo (Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre). Nearly 40 years later, Night of the Living Dead would take this theme up again, arguably taking it to another level. If in White Zombie the temporary traversal of the sex and color lines along which black men and white women were separated is the result of supernatural forces, of witchcraft, voodoo, and mind control, the blurring of the same boundaries in Night of the Living Dead occurs for somewhat different reasons -- namely, survival. In Romero's film, it is still the zombie (or rather, the zombie horde) qua abject, supernatural force that drives the interracial couple together; however, in Night of the Living Dead the zombies function as a force against which the racially "queer" couple must unite, rather than an invasive force possessing one of them so as to perform the other's every desire.

What is interesting about this shift is that by introducing the the logic of survival, the film seems to suggest that such a transgression of norms in the form of the queer coupling of Ben and Barbara is necessary if humanity is to survive such a threat as the one posed by the dead rising from their graves. Although the relationship between Ben and Barbara is never rendered in explicitly romantic or sexualized terms, the fact that they are the "last couple standing," so to speak, seems to support this notion that the queer politics of Night of the Living Dead's advocates, or at least toys with, rather than condemns, a rethinking of the racial and sexual (among other) boundaries along which society organizes itself. Yet whatever progress Ben and Barbara are able to realize symbolically in the space of the farm house (which, to be sure, is still limited despite my queer reading of the film and their relationship), both characters are effectively punished for their symbolic transgressions when outside forces penetrate the tenuous safety of the walls in the forms of the zombie horde and the gun-toting, Pennsylvania rednecks. To the rednecks, Ben, by virtue of his skin color, will always be just another zombie. Barbara, on the other hand, is united in death (and reanimation) with the hungry, *white*, uncritical zombie horde that her skin color, her undead brother, and her catatonia have aligned her with all along. It is in this sense that I say that films such as Night of the Living Dead *flirt* with queerness or perversity -- the queer couple does not flourish or even survive; rather, they are punished by the film's conclusion and the "right," "natural," "normal" order concerning race and sex/uality is restored or preserved (though there may indeed be a few living corpses roaming the countryside).

Both of these films and the themes of "queerness"they take up illustrate the extent to which interracial relationships between men and women in the 1930s and late 1960s was the subject of much anxiety and found expression in two of the most classic and quintessential films of the zombie genre. But these are merely the beginning. A number of the texts we have examined this semester use the zombie scenario as a back drop for displaying and exploring similar cases of queer, forbidden, or impossible love. "The Wind Cries Mary," for example, provides us with an interesting instance of a hoped-for romance between a ghost and a zombie, a romance between two different kinds of undead. The choicest example here, however, in discussing texts taken from class is, I think, Warm Bodies, which presents us with a story of love and desire across the line of mortality, delving rather sweetly into the  every adolescent's favorite PG-13 filmic subject, necrophilia.

Seldom do we see relationships between the living and the undead in zombie fiction. Out of consideration for survival alone that would seem to be a very necessary prohibition, or at the very least a commonsense piece of advice: do NOT hook up with anything that tries to actually EAT YOU (and not in the way that Clio means when she tells Okie she'll understand Mom eating Dad when she's older). While we have seen instances of individuals being turned into zombies and the ensuing trauma it induces in their former lovers, the interesting thing about Warm Bodies is that Julie falls in love with R as a zombie -- she never knows him in his original human capacity. One would think that if we were to project the same paradigm of "good" (i.e. vanilla, monogamous, reproductively-oriented, hetero) sex that predominates in our own society into the zombie-laden universe, we would almost certainly have to add living to the list of valorized and acceptable criterion for socially sanctioned sex. Thus it is that we might read R and Julie's relationship as a kind of "queer" pairing (albeit an exceptionally strange one, to be sure). Yet similar to the way in which Night of the Living Dead simply flirts with the queerness it portrays, so too does Warm Bodies effect a similar neutralization of the threat embodied in the queer couple by its conclusion, as the issue of necrophilia is resolved via R's (re)humanization.

I do apologize to my fellow zombies as this post has little to do with us specifically, but it is something that I have been thinking about and wanted to put out there for discussion. I would love to get a dialogue going around this topic if anyone has anything to say!


One Response so far.

  1. Really enjoyable post that views the zombie narrative in a different perspective than most of what we’ve been discussing so far. I too enjoy sex studies, mostly in relation to the politics of sexuality. I think that the horror genre has always been able to express the sexual anxiety that you describe here better than most. It serves as the perfect outlet for what is unknown or feared, because horror itself spurns from our deepest anxieties over the depraved “other.” I think the zombie narrative provides a great setup for an exploration into queerness. The very essence of the zombie is one of corruption for the living and something that violates the “natural” order of things. Based on its release date of Night of the Living Dead (1968) it makes sense that it would “express major anxieties” about interracial relationships because it was in the previous year that SCOTUS declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Your analysis of the film itself in relation to queer sexuality is quite interesting. Your last paragraph also raises a valid point. No one seems to be too fazed by the implications of necrophilia in Twilight or Warm Bodies, but based on your conclusions concerning the ending of Warm Bodies, and I could argue something similar in Twilight, the issue seems to be resolved. But considering the supernatural aspect of each, the problem is not as applicable to a real world exploration of sexual norms as the others you address. You really peaked my interest with this post and I want to keep typing but I feel as if I’ve said too much already..

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