Halloween Horror Nights has been a part of my life — and a core part of my personality — for years. I obsess over what each year’s houses are going to be, I come up with cool outfit ideas that I chicken out of wearing and develop complex stories of what my dream HHN houses would be. I fell in love with Halloween Horror Nights as a teenager, around the same time I accepted my queer identity. This genre resonates so much with me and my LGBTQ+ friends possibly because there’s something liberating and uniting about a pure, fun, spooky scare. Existing as an LGBTQ+ person, even when you’re comfortable and can embrace who you are, can be terrifying at times.
Going to Halloween Horror Nights for the first time in 2017 as a newly-out member of the queer community felt safe. Scary, yes, but safe. I went with one of my best friends at the time, who had just recently come out as transgender a few weeks before. I was nervous and scared out of my mind, and they told me that if we could just laugh through it and hold onto each other, it’d be all right. They were right. To this day, this is still how I get through Halloween Horror Nights. This is also how I approach coming out to people: with humor and support from my friends. Plus, going through an HHN house is — in a lot of ways — like coming out. You don’t know what to expect going in, but most of the time you leave feeling relieved and proud of yourself for facing your fears, even laughing, looking back wondering why you were so scared in the first place.
From the sense of community I feel bonding with friends from similar backgrounds and experiences as me to the overall supportive culture of HHN fans, the event is inclusive in nature. Yes, you’re scared, but so is everyone else! Being scared is such a universally human emotion, and it’s fantastic to have found a place where I can scream and be myself in a way that’s fun and real, but without the stakes of the real-life fears that haunt us.
What makes many pieces of horror so phenomenal is how relatable and personal they can be. As for the 2023 lineup for Halloween Horror Nights, many sources are embracing that tradition while also telling important stories about the LGBTQ+ experience. These stories amplify the characters in candid, respectful, and meaningful ways. Even when the character’s lives get tough, even when their stories are about losses, even when they have no choice but to be vulnerable — the characters at the heart of these stories rise to the occasion.
“The Last of Us’” story focuses on Ellie and Joel, who are unexpectedly paired together when Joel is reluctantly hired to smuggle Ellie out of a military quarantine zone in a ravaged civilization where some of the population has become infected. As part of playing “The Last of Us’” journey, we learn Ellie is lesbian, and in Left Behind, a story set before the game, we see Ellie as she develops feelings for her closest friend and has those feelings reciprocated. It’s obviously a huge moment for anyone who’s ever been in love to know someone cares for you as much as you do for them, but happiness can be fleeting in such a harsh world. Ellie ends up losing her friend while attempting to escape the infected.
The absolutely heartbreaking loss that Ellie endures — yes, even within the confines of a post-pandemic video game — resonates with so many within the LGBTQ+ community, including me. Because of the world around her, Ellie doesn’t have the time or permission to grieve her heartache in order to survive. As a queer person, that’s a difficulty that can be all too common to face — wondering if our heartache matters as much as the break-ups more often portrayed in traditional media. Ellie’s struggle reflects the struggle of so many people, she has to pick herself up and keep going as if nothing happened. How many LGBTQ+ people have had to do the same because their experiences may not be seen as valid?
Uncovering Ellie’s backstory is emotional, relatable, and hits on the raw humanity that comes with recognizing yourself while going through challenging times. It might not seem like much, but seeing that character be represented in the haunted house is extremely validating. It’s empowering to see people portrayed in media who are just like you and who experience the same struggles as you do, and yet still get to be the hero in their own story.
“The Last of Us” is not the only story this year that explores the LGBTQ+ experience. The writer and creator of the “Chucky” films and television series, Don Macini, has not shied away from telling stories that relate to his own experience in the LGBTQ+ community. This openness and refusal to shy away from storylines about gay characters (like Jake, the lead protagonist in the “Chucky” TV series) and nonbinary characters (like Glen/Glenda, Chucky’s child in “Seed of Chucky” and season 2 of the series) is a fantastic example of LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media and why it matters so much. Even Chucky — a doll who literally kills people — is an ally to Jake, accepting of his flooid child, and wholly supportive of the LGBQT+ community. After all, as he says, only a true monster would discriminate.
To have a show that focuses so much on the joy and pain of the LGBTQ+ experience is not something I take for granted. The level of happiness and love Jake experiences from his boyfriend and his friends is wholesome, complex, heartfelt, and relatable. His friends feel like my friends from when I was a teenager; they’re awkward but sweet and unsure of their place in the world and are just trying to figure it out — even if it’s via a killer doll. Chucky as a franchise has become largely about the queer experience, and it’s fantastic to see this type of representation being shared with horror fans at HHN this year.
Joy, pride, and pain are huge elements of the human experience, but seeing them told so honestly via LGBTQ+ characters is incredibly validating. Halloween Horror Nights has always been — in and of itself — an inclusive event. It’s my safe space. And being seen is a huge part of why many relate to certain stories, and it’s everything to me that I can recognize my world through the incredible entertainment featured in this event.
What are you most excited about this year’s HHN lineup? Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media!