The impact of these simple acts of closeness and intimacy between the two women is not something all audiences can appreciate, but one that the queer audience will never forget.
At first, it didn’t make sense to me why I became so attached to The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House. Having a horror series be your comfort show is not the kind of thing you want to necessarily confess. Delving deeper into it, while the horror of the series is phenomenal, it is the queerness that keeps me coming back for second and third rewatches.
It’s a show that was able to show a positive portrayal of queer women and also address serious topics like dealing with internalized homophobia and compulsory heterosexuality. All too often, the “final girl” in a horror movie is a white woman and any character outside of that box ends up dead or a villain. The Haunting of.. anthology series surpassed expectations and provided queer audiences with positive representation and depth to its queer characters.
The Haunting of Hill House was released to Netflix in 2018 and immediately received high praises from horror fans. Due to the combination of dreary lighting, suspense and its haunting soundtrack, it ended up being one of the most terrifying and profound pieces of horror I had seen in years, and it felt unique amid all the money-hungry sequels coming out near its release. Hill House wasn’t full of cheap jump scares or bad CGI monsters. Instead, there was a frightening atmosphere within every scene that I hadn’t found in other horror.
Due to season one’s success, when waiting for the new season, both fans and myself expected something bigger and scarier (if possible). In a pleasant turn of events, what we received instead from the second season, The Haunting of Bly Manor, was a love story. The ghost story is still there, of course, but beyond that, themes of acceptance and love ran throughout the nine episodes of the series. The sapphic relationship portrayed was something much stronger than the actual fear within the show.
The show is composed of flashbacks to childhood and also the modern day. In the present, we are introduced to the queer character Theo Crane. She is shown as being hardheaded and non-committal. The character’s cold exterior soon breaks when you realize she is a children’s psychologist and is tormented by her supernatural ability to see others’ pasts and feel their emotions through the touch of her hand.
She frequents gay bars and isn’t afraid to have her one-night stands leave in front of her sister. Her coming-out story is even very casual. As shown in a flashback, on the night of her sister’s wedding, she is caught hooking up with a bridesmaid. When her siblings confront her, they are very unsure what to say and begin with the phrase, “We didn’t know you were into…” which Theo finishes with “bridesmaids?” A very nonchalant coming out is refreshing to see after all the past traumatic ones queer TV show viewers have had to endure.
Two of the most well-known TV coming-out scenes that come to mind are Emily Fields from Pretty Little Liars and Santana Lopez from Glee. The characters are a landmark in gay television and both characters had a tumultuous experience when coming out.
Just as she began accepting her identity as a lesbian, Santana was outed by her friend, then felt forced to come out to her family. When she came out to her abuela, the person she was closest to, she was faced with immediate rejection and had to leave her house. Her abuela did not come around for another couple of seasons and even then, the acceptance felt out of character.
Emily similarly came out to her parents and was faced with disgust. Emily was met with very stereotypical backlash from her parents of wanting her to be “normal.”
Haunting of Hill House did a spectacular job with having a lead have a good coming-out experience that felt realistic to the character.
Of course, every person doesn’t experience this same acceptance that Theo did, but her coming out is a step in the right direction towards making coming out casual and not something to make queer people feel even more out of place.
In the second season, we are following Dani, an American recently moved to London, who finds a job as an au pair for two orphan children, Flora and Miles. The children have a group of caretakers hired by their Uncle Henry. One of them includes Jamie, a gardener who immediately catches Dani’s eye.
Unfortunately, when you’re a queer person, you tend to turn small moments between same-sex characters into an imaginary relationship, because all too often TV show creators are scared to do so themselves. With every small glance between Dani and Jamie I tried to imagine the possibility of a romance.
I thought it was wishful thinking, but as the series progressed they bonded further and it became obvious that the chemistry between them was romantic. Jamie and Dani’s relationship was given the space and time to naturally progress. Despite only being a nine-episode series, the romance was not rushed and instead naturally evolved.
Such a healthy and realistic women-loving-women relationship can be rare. TV shows usually introduce unnecessary conflict in queer relationships like cheating or betrayal. For example, in The L Word, every main character was involved in some sort of affair that left their queer relationship in shambles and themselves heartbroken. Many of the gay love stories I have seen on television feel awkward and like they lack chemistry, but Dani’s and Jamie’s story is quite the opposite.
Bly Manor is a show that portrays a lesbian relationship in a positive and natural way that I have never seen before. Even Brittany and Santana from Glee, one of the most popular lesbian relationships on TV, was oversexualized and full of stereotypes. In Bly Manor, there’s no fetishization and no performative acts for male viewers. The relationship between Dani and Jamie instead brought me and other queer women comfort.
While Bly Manor focuses more on the blossoming relationship than individual characters, Dani’s past is explored. Dani is not always accepting of her queer identity. She is constantly haunted by flashes of her ex-fiance, whom she broke up with because she realized she couldn’t marry him.
The ghosts of her past that she sees are a metaphor for the compulsory heterosexuality forced upon her her whole life. There is so much queerness throughout the show in small moments like Dani getting her dress tailored and blushing while the woman measures her or the plants upon plants (a symbol commonly used to allude to queerness) that scream sapphism. Small symbols and moments like these are what make the story so special. They make it so warm and genuine.
A lot of gay characters in TV shows are seen just as that. The characters have little to no development to them, and to queer viewers feel written in for diversity’s sake. It is not only that the characters have no depth, they also are full of every stereotype imaginable. A character that comes to mind is Stanford from Sex and the City.
The show focused on the relationship between the four main women and Stanford was seen as Carrie’s gay best friend. The way characters treated him in the show made him even more of an outcast as they forgot to invite him to events and did not listen to his problems but expected him to hear their ranting. Due to the actor Willie Garson’s death, the show had to figure out how to write around this. In the spin-off series And Just Like That…, the way his character was written off felt borderline criminal.
After being in the first couple episodes of the series, suddenly Carrie is faced with a note from Stanford saying he moved to Tokyo with his client with no warning. Having his character be dismissed so easily with poor writing and low effort is not a standard you want to set for queer television. His character was on television in the ‘90s and I can’t help but think that TV writers seeing such a hollow and disposable character as positive representation caused a long line of devastatingly empty queer characters.
Having Dani and Theo be lesbian main characters with so much depth and personality was something unexpected, especially in a horror series. Viewing I was able to identify with the characters not only because of their queerness, but the ways they navigate their sexuality. Theo’s queerness is not seen as the main aspect of her identity. What is most important to her is her family and taking care of others, but her compassion is buried deep under a wall she has put up to hide her vulnerability. It reminded me of other lesbian characters like Santana from Glee or Cheryl from Riverdale who have a mean-girl exterior because they are afraid to truly be themselves. Dani is more outwardly uncomfortable with her sexuality: for the longest time she couldn’t accept it and tried forcing herself to be straight.
By the end of the series she is seen kissing her partner Jamie in their shared flower shop or holding her waist at dinner. The last episode features a montage of Dani’s and Jamie’s relationship throughout the years. It is moving to see Dani be confident in her identity; not just in a relationship, but independently as well. Their long-term queer relationship was so refreshing to see. The impact of these simple acts of closeness and intimacy between the two women is not something all audiences can appreciate, but one that the queer audience will never forget. This normalcy and domesticity that is shown between the pair is heartwarming.
Both seasons of The Haunting of were able to individually share original takes on queer stories that feel like some of the most relatable characters on television within recent years. That being said, these series are horror and death can be expected. With queer death comes the tropes that originated from series like The 100, The L Word and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The “Bury Your Gays Trope” has been around for a while and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The only way I see the trope going away is the normalization of queer characters on television to a point where a queer character can die within a series and it make sense and not seem like another gay character being unnecessarily killed off.
While it may seem odd at first, it doesn’t come as a surprise the gravitation that queer people tend to have toward the horror genre. For many, being queer can be so isolating that it feels like you are the victim in your own horror film. What I didn’t expect from a horror show is to find comfort within it, especially comfort from queer characters. Dani and Theo are characters who feel so realistic because their stories are ones that queer people have been dealing with for ages.
I have been practically begging for representation like this my whole life. Wanting some sense of normalcy in a queer TV relationship that doesn’t feel performative. Both Hill House and Bly Manor successfully found a way to bring together horror and queerness in their storylines without exploiting tropes or stereotypes.
Header image by Audrey Dwyer