Interview with Waylon Jordan, Founder of Horror Pride Month
edited by Sam Kolesnik
In early 2018, Waylon Jordan, an Associate Editor for the popular horror publication, iHorror, saw a need in the horror community to designate a month to celebrate the LGBTQ community’s many contributions to classical and modern horror. The series, which takes place in June to coincide with Pride Month in the United States, shines a bright light on underrepresented voices in genre art.
Screen Fervor asks Jordan about his career, his inspiration, and his thoughts on horror.
Let’s talk about what inspired you to create Horror Pride Month. You’re a lifelong horror fan. You’ve been covering the horror scene as a journalist since 2014. What prompted you in 2018 to take on this endeavor?
There were a lot of things actually that led up to it. Really, the first incident where it really just hit me in the face - some of the very real homophobia that is alive and well in the genre, as far as the fandom goes, was at a convention.
Anyway, so I was there and my husband, Bill, and I had stepped outside. I was taking a smoke break. We were just sitting there and minding our own business. This guy was just standing nearby. I had no clue who he was. There were a lot of people out smoking. This was a huge convention. We’re all outside and all the sudden this guy turns and looks at us and says, "Is that a dude?"
And I was like, "What? What are you talking about?"
I turned and I looked. There was a guy there who was in drag. Pretty much pretty standard sort of goth vampire type drag. I turned back around and I said, "Well, yeah, that's a guy."
He said, "These goddamn freaks are taking over this thing. I nearly didn't come this year, because every time I come up here, these fucking freaks are here."
I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned. The guy had no clue that Bill and I were there together. He just saw us as two dudes standing there and he decided to come over and share his opinion.
Now there were, out in the same area, there were ten to twelve girls all dressed in various gender-bending cosplay (Freddy Krueger, etc) with sexy little outfits on in place of the normal outfit of the character they were playing, and he didn't bat an eyelash at that. It was just the guy in drag that he centered in on and thought was wrong. Before I could say anything — before I could collect my thoughts, he had turned around and walked away.
That really opened my eyes and for the rest of the weekend, I started paying attention to who we were seeing and what we were seeing and the way people were reacting to various cosplay and other things while we were at the convention. There was a real low-key kind of homophobia going on, as far as the patrons. It wasn't the people running the event, but it was the people there for the convention.
When was this convention? Was this your first convention?
This was, I believe, in 2016. It was my first convention. So, I went to the hotel that night and I was talking to a couple of people from the site who weren't there. They live in other parts of the country, so they weren't there. I was telling them about what I observed and that it really didn't sit well with me. And they said, "Well you should write about it."
I kicked it back and forth, and I thought about it. I couldn't figure out the right way to approach it.
So the following year, Pride Month came around. I wrote an article. I believe the title was, "It's 2017. Where are the Queer Characters in Horror?" It talked about the lack of representation in the genre and the objectification of especially lesbians in genre film. It met a wall of push-back from readers.
I attended Nightmares Film Festival in 2017 for the first time, and I saw a panel on social progress. I found out about the Women in Horror Film Festival and I got to thinking about that. When Women in Horror Month came around in 2018, I did a couple pieces, one specifically, because February is also Black History Month, where I talk about black actresses in the genre. I kept thinking about it. Sometime during that month, it occurred to me that I should run a series of articles during Pride Month that talks about queer contribution to the genre, LGBTQ people who are making genre films or acting in genre films, or just whatever. Do a spotlight for one month.
I started reaching out. I had people who could get me in contact with Christopher Landon, who directed Happy Death Day and who is an out gay man and has been for his entire career. And I had interviewed Jeffrey Reddick and Don Mancini before, both of whom are gay and make horror films. I just started reaching out to people who I knew. I reached out to independent filmmakers, and got some help from people who pointed me toward people who I could talk to about it. Horror Pride Month took shape.
That's how it was born. It started a couple of years ago with that one particular incident and everything snowballed from there. It was a very slow roll on that snowball, but it eventually got there.
How has the reception to Horror Pride Month been from the horror community?
It was really a double-edged sword. I have never in my life received so many hateful comments and nasty direct messages on Facebook, with people suggesting that I kill myself and worse, in all my life. It was really funny, because I found out about halfway through the month that if I just put Horror Pride Month in the title, not as many people latched onto it. If I put Horror Pride Month, but out next to it I put "gay," "lesbian," or "trans," then they would all come. It was like they were sitting around searching for keywords - that's all I could think of - that there are these trolls out there looking for things to bitch about.
When I put the first article out that just announced that we were doing it, it was suggested by I don't know how many people, that it was a political stunt and that we were on some kind of political agenda and pushing the "gay agenda". If we go on the record about anything, then let it be this: We don't have regular meetings. We don't have a published agenda. There's no such thing except that we want equal rights with everyone else so let's just put that little thing to rest.
It's just really funny because so many people, that was their automatic reaction. I went back and I read that first article after I published it because so many people said this is all political and everything. It suddenly occurred to me that early in the article, I said, "June is pride month regardless of what the current administration says," and because of that one little line in there, it was assumed that this was all politically motivated.
Like I said, this is a double edged sword. On the other side of this, I was getting messages from people who had no idea that James Whale, who directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, was an openly gay man when he did it. They didn't know that so many of these filmmakers, so many filmmakers that I was talking about, or authors, they had no idea that they were gay or lesbian or bi or trans. They really had no clue. And they were grateful that this series was being written.
So it was an emotionally draining and exhausting month, because basically what would happen is I would publish an article and sit there for the next at least 3 to 4 hours just watching our Facebook page where it got posted and monitoring the comments. I spent hours and hours that month not just writing the articles but then also monitoring the responses, getting rid of people who were being hateful and nasty. It was an exhausting month but at the same time it ultimately turned out to be a very rewarding month because there were people who were touched by it, moved by it — that we were spotlighting the queer community in horror.
Do you hope to see Horror Pride Month grow, perhaps along the lines of Women in Horror Month?
I would love to see that, personally. I mean, I'm not sure myself how to make that all happen, but I would love to see that happening. And you know, after Pride Month was over last year, I started noticing new podcasts popping up about queer horror and I saw - I was very tuned into new people who were writing about the subject or talking about the subject and it seemed to be more open. My editor tells me all the time that I'm the one who started this. I don't know. I can't say that I’m the one who started this. All I know is that after that month was over, I started to notice that it was popping up in other places. I don't know where it came from, I don't know what inspired them to do this, but I think the more people talking about this is a good thing. I think the more voices we have involved in this, it just makes it more powerful and important. I would love to see, ultimately, a big film festival or something like that. There are film festivals like that already - you know, there are queer festivals all over the world. There is a small film festival in Dallas called Fears for Queers that's a one-day festival. I would love to see all of that grow. I would love to see this become a topic that everybody on all the major sites and everything are talking about. Again, I want to see it done right. I want these people to approach the subject in the right way.
In October of 2018, you spoke on two panels focused on diversity and inclusion in the horror community. What is it like for you to go from behind-the-scenes as a journalist to being front and center on stage as an advocate for social change?
I honestly still don't know how that all happened. Like, it's all a little unreal to me still that somehow I ended up on these fantastic panels with all these fantastic people talking about this. I was blown away to be asked and just so proud to be a part of it. At the same time, when you step up on a panel like that, there are so many people who look at you and think you're talking for your entire community when you're doing something like that, so there's a lot of pressure to say just the right thing. When I'm writing, I have all the time in the world to work on a piece and to sit down and edit and re-word, 'how do I want to say this,' that kind of thing. On a panel, everything is happening in the moment. You can have your little talking points prepared in your head ahead of time, but something is always going to happen. Someone's always going to ask a question that's going to throw you for a loop. And it happened on both of these panels. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I'm so happy that I got to do it and I would love to do more of those. I would love to be out and be able to talk - not only because it allows me to speak to people directly, but I also meet so many people that way. I have such great experiences networking that come out of that because people come up and talk to you after the panel and they want to talk about what you said, or they want to further clarify something you said. They pick up on a talking point and they want to go sit down and have a drink and talk about it. So there's this immediate, face-to-face reaction you get while on these panels. I really enjoy that open communication.
Shifting gears to talk about horror films today -- do you think that horror films are changing? Is there an ‘old guard’ and a ‘new guard’ in horror cinema?
I think there's an old guard and new guard in every type of situation that we're in. It feels very much like we are on sort of a precipice of that in-between time between the new guard and old guard. Unfortunately, that means that there's a lot of head-butting that goes on between both sides of the line. But I definitely think that we're at a time where both of those are very present. The old guard is, to an extent, facing the decision of adapting or no longer being relevant. And the new guard is just trying to find their way. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things but you're charting new territory and everything that you're doing is being documented in one way or another, so the slightest little mistake can come back to haunt you. So there's problems on both sides and definitely both are very present at the moment.
After covering the scene for so long as a journalist, is there temptation to begin creating your own films?
Absolutely. I have written fiction my entire life. Short stories and things like that. I started a couple of novels that never came together. I have one now that I really believe in that I'm really working on and working through, trying to flesh the story out and everything. But yeah, absolutely. There’s a part of me that has always loved telling stories. I have channeled over the last four years so much of my writing efforts into writing non-fiction that I find now that I have sudden bursts where I have to write something more creative. I have turned that into the idea of making short films possibly. I have a couple of scripts that I've written that I've fleshed out. I'd like to film both of them. One of them is going to be a lot more expensive than the other to make. I have sort of used the contacts that I have made through covering horror, and especially indie horror, to have people to whom I can reach out and say, “Hey! I've got this little script. Can you read these six pages and tell me what you think?” There's definitely something that drives me on the creative side to make horror films, but at the same time, and because of who I am, the scripts that I write do have LGBTQ themes to them. I think it comes down to writing what you want to see and that's the way my creativity has been working when I have sat down to try my hand at screenwriting.
Lastly, we’ll end on a fun note. Seen any good horror movies lately? What are three right now you’d recommend to our readers?
This is one of those questions that always gets everyone into trouble because everyone's going to hate whatever you say. This morning, actually, I watched the new Suspiria finally because I didn't get to see it at the theater. I was just really knocked out by the visual aspect of the storytelling in the new Suspiria. Just the use of — of color and the use of dance to tell the story. It's a very different film from the original but I think that's a good thing. Why make an exact remake? I really, really enjoyed that.
I'm trying to think of what I've watched lately. I have been revisiting a lot of older stuff for a series that I'm writing. A lot of the things I've been concentrating on lately have been old black and white films, you know: The Cat and the Canary, The Haunting, and The Bad Seed. Those are all oldies but goodies that I always recommend to people who want to get into horror and want to see a different side of horror.
I'm definitely in love with Halloween (2018). I saw Escape Room the first of the month and that's one I'd really recommend to people. It's different. It's not a typical horror movie. It's sort of a thriller with action overtones, but there's horror elements in it. And it was a really fun ride of a movie. I was sitting in a movie theater in a small town in East Texas and while I was sitting there, there were audience members who were actively trying to figure out the puzzles seen on the screen. So it was really fun to be a part of an audience who was really into what they were seeing that way. Those are the ones that come to mind for things that I've watched lately.