Today’s guest blog is by Leigh M. Lane. Leigh’s dark fiction ranges from dystopian tales of corporate overlords to urban fantasy and everything in between. With more than 10 novels and many short stories to her credit, she’s definitely a Mistress of the Scary that you should be reading.
Identity and Women in Horror
by Leigh M. Lane
My story comes in two parts: the woman who’s been writing horror since adolescence and the person whose personal sense of identity was stunted for decades. Each contributes greatly to who I am today, and coming to that person—unapologetically—was a slow and painful journey.
I remember when I was a little girl writing my King- and Koontz-inspired short stories, I asked my dad if he’d like to read a piece I’d been particularly proud of. His answer, face stern with concern, would forever etch itself into my mind: “Can’t you ever write anything that’s … happy?” Back then, the possibility had never occurred to me that writing horror was a man’s game. I wrote what I liked; my gender never once fell into the equation. However, my personal identity did. All the time.
I grew up in a middle-class home, in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. My parents’ attitude was simple: Appearances are everything; don’t embarrass us; you’ll make a fool of yourself if you try expressing yourself in any way that’s unusual or different. I was a good kid with an eccentric spirit. I liked dark things. I wanted to dress goth. I wanted to dye my dark brown hair black and let it go wild. I wanted to express myself—both through my writing and my outward appearance. And, while my parents couldn’t control what I wrote, they could control how I looked, how I behaved, and how I felt about myself. That, coupled with being the submissive to an identical twin (there is always a dominant and a submissive twin) left me with a shell of an identity.
I shambled through my teen and young adult years, merely existing, struggling for the conventional perfection my parents expected—an ideal that took me far too long to understand didn’t actually exist.
Fast forward several years…. Still writing horror, just barely breaking free of my place in the twin identity complex, and ashamed of every aspect of myself because I feared any and all forms of outward self-expression. I hid myself in baggy clothes, lived a reclusive life with very few friends, and still had no idea who I was—beyond the fact that I was a geek who had a thing for dark fiction. I didn’t identify myself as a woman, nor did I identify as a man. I didn’t identify, period. I was just this … scared, fragile, self-loathing person who liked to write on the darker spectrum of things.
When I met my husband twelve years ago, we fell into an intense and passionate relationship despite me. Unlike every other person who’d been an active part of my life, he loved all my quirks. He loved the geek, the goth hidden beneath the frumpy sweater, and the creative person screaming for a larger outlet. With my husband’s encouragement, I began to explore what it meant to be me. I wrote with abandon. I began to experiment with different clothing styles, even if I did still limit my expression for fear of “making a fool” of myself. Still, I did all the things I should’ve felt free to do back as a teenager. For the first time in my life, I felt sexy. I felt strong. I felt confident in the creative person I’d always been, in the writer who’d decades ago been inspired by King and Koontz. I started submitting my work. I began to take an active role in social media. I’d taken those baby steps toward finding myself.
Then I started reading all over social media about how women horror writers aren’t taken as seriously as their male counterparts.
Women horror writers can’t express the same degrees of darkness as men because of genetic differences—men are tough; women are nurturing.
Women horror writers who dress provocatively are shameful, using their bodies to sell their work.
Women horror writers are this … women horror writers are that. Somewhere along the line between Mary Shelley and Joyce Carol Oates, someone had deemed that women could only be defined as scary in so far as their capacity to be crazy cat ladies or Stephen King’s “#1 fan.”
I’d never considered the role gender might play in a person’s ability to write one genre or another. I began to dial myself back, fearful that no one would respect me as a horror author if I was too pretty, too sexy, too confident in my femininity. It was like falling right back into my childhood, the judgmental eye ever glaring: No one will accept you for you. Appearances are everything.
I continued to write, but I kept my nose down.
Then, a most unexpected event had an even more unexpected reaction. My mother died. For the first time in my life, I dyed my hair—black. I was thirty-nine years old. Family members asked me, “Why did you dye your hair black?” like I’d done something wrong. It wasn’t enough that I’d always wanted to do it, so I put my secondary reason into the forefront: “It’s my way of expressing my grief.” Then, when forty hit, so did the beginning of my mid-life crisis. Along with it came the big question I should’ve asked myself years earlier: “Why have I allowed my fear of others’ opinions hold me back for so long?”
“To hell with it,” I thought. “Let people think what they will. I’m done letting everyone but me dictate who I am, who I should be, what value I hold as a horror writer.”
I once again began to show off my body, filling my wardrobe with tight pants, corsets, and pretty dresses, not to gain attention or to try to attract sales, but because I’m sexy and damn proud of it. I dye my hair black because I like it that way. I share pictures of myself made up, my hair flying wild, because that’s who I am—and, hell, I’m not getting any younger. I am me, and I will not be judged by appearances or shamed back into submission. I am a woman, and I am proud of my femininity.
Oh, and I write horror fiction right alongside the best of ’em.
Leigh M. Lane has been writing dark speculative fiction for over twenty-five years. She has numerous published novels and short stories, her most notable works being her Gothic horror novel, Finding Poe, and the World-Mart trilogy. She is married to editor and educator Thomas B. Lane Jr. and currently resides in the hot and dusty outskirts of Sin City.
Her most recent release is The Private Sector, a dark dystopian tale that will be available in late February.
For more information, visit her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.
To purchase books, visit her Amazon Page.