By Daniela “Dani” Capistrano for TransLash Media
Trans people are an undeniable part of the horror genre: the universe of films, television shows, books, graphic novels, and more that feature a thrilling, spooky, and/or gory tale. The horror genre onscreen has historically featured cisgender actors playing trans characters as dehumanizing tropes that normalize anti-trans violence in the real world; the trans panic defense is fueled in part by these harmful depictions.
Fortunately for TGNC and ally horror lovers, trans representation has slightly improved over the last decade.
What Is Trans Horror?
According to aninjusticemag.com, for a film to be considered part of trans horror canon, it must meet three criteria:
- The film has to feature a transgender character, or a character that is heavily trans-coded, as the antagonist of the film.
- The film has to be considered within the horror genre, or at the very least a thriller (as there is considerable overlap between the two).
- The film has to be available to watch, either through purchase, streaming, or other methods.
Gender representation onscreen has always been controversial, even for cisgender people. As logan ashley kisner explains, gender in a Hollywood film has historically been portrayed in three ways:
- “Gender as something to be overcome”: the films that try and tackle societal and cultural sexism (of which are not all inherently bad). These #girlpower-style movies can be very affirming for cisgender girls and women but typically do not include trans representation.
- “Gender as the punchline”: the Tootsies, Mrs. Doubtfires. It’s not that gender itself is a punchline, but that a (typically cisgender male) character must live briefly as the “other gender”, which audiences find funny in a way that is problematic and rooted in transphobia.
- “Gender as tragedy”: this typically includes films like Boys Don’t Cry and Dallas Buyers Club, where gender “transgressions” are punished through violence and acts of dehumanization, also rooted in transphobia.
Trans Representation In Horror
Cisgender people get to be villains in horror films and those portrayals aren’t weaponized by society as proof that cisgender people are evil or unworthy of equal rights. Unfortunately, trans representation in media has historically reinforced problematic tropes about trans people that lawmakers have attempted to use to criminalize our existence.
But over the last decade, we have seen more trans-affirming and trans-led horror narratives that feature iconic roles for trans people, such as Jamie Clayton as a terrifying Pinhead in the new Hellraiser, available now on Hulu. Clayton is breaking new ground for trans villains in this remake of a queer horror classic. Wendell & Wild, the new Netflix film from The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, features a transgender character. Sarah Ligatich, an assistant editor on the movie, is also trans, and was able to give some notes directly to Selick.
While there is still room for improvement, TGNC representation in horror has definitely evolved since films such as 1930’s Murder, Psycho, Homicidal, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, A Reflection of Fear, and 1983’s Sleepaway Camp. Despite continued anti-trans representation onscreen—and anti-trans bills & rhetoric offscreen—we wanted to highlight some of the many talented TGNC professionals who have shared complex horror narratives with nuance, creativity, and heart.
Actor in FX TV Series American Horror Story | @angelicaross
Actor in The Cured (2018), Flatliners (2017), Hard Candy (2005) | @elliotpage
Trans Horror Author of Lost Souls and Exquisite Corpse | @docbrite
Actor in the Horror Film They/Them | @theogermaine
Actor in Hellraiser (2022) | @msjamieclayton
Trans Actor-Activist in Bit (2019) | @nicoleamaines
Transgender Horror Historian | loganashley.contently.com
SEPAND (SEPI) MASHIAHOF
Trans-femme Filmmaker, Love You Forever (2021) | @mothsprotectme
Actor in American Horror Stories (2022) | @dominiquet.a.r.jackson
Non-binary Actor in Querent (2021) | www.vreibel.com
More Trans Horror Resources
- How Body Horror Movies Elucidate the Trans Experience and Gender Dysphoria, movieweb.com
- Trans Horror Stories and Society’s Fear of the Transmasculine Body, them.us
- How Animation Is Changing a History of Trans Marginalization in Horror, time.com
- “MONSTROUS TRANSGRESSIONS”: VICTIMHOOD AND VILLAINY IN TRANS HORROR NARRATIVES, broadsatyale.com
- [Pride 2021] Transmasculinity in Horror, Gayly Dreadful
- Blood, Bodies and Binaries: Trans Women in Horror, fourteeneastmag.com
- How I realized I was trans by making terrible horror movies, cbc.ca
- Midsommar has a deeply trans narrative hiding in plain sight, Vox.com
- New queer horror essay anthology: It Came From the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror
- Jamie Lee Curtis, an ally, is iconic for both her scream queen status in the Halloween franchise and for all the ways she supports her trans daughter Ruby in public and behind the scenes. We hope more cis actors take notice and follow her lead.
Horror should be inclusive for everyone. Support TGNC folks in horror and watch the documentary DISCLOSURE, an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television.
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