A Point of Pride: Interview with Larissa Glasser
Larissa Glasser is a librarian-archivist from New England. She writes dark fiction centered on the lives of trans women, library science, and heavy metal. Her work is available in Transcendent 3: The Year’s Best Transgender Themed Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press) and Tragedy Queens: stories inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath (Clash Books). Her debut novella F4 is available from Eraserhead Press. She is on Twitter @larissaeglasser
What inspired you to start writing?
I was more of a TV baby than a reader when I was little. The year after my dad died, I saw the original cartoon version of The Hobbit (1977) and it was the first time I’d seen the portrayal of an invented world—well, like mine it had darkness and evil but also hope and magic, and that was a great place to start from. I was so hooked in to the idea the something could be different in my own world of grief and losing my dad, so I sought out Tolkien and there was no turning back after that. The idea of having an experienced wizard and guardian helping you through trauma and hardship, and yet taught you to self-rely on your own cunning and imagination really appealed to me. In its own way, Tolkien’s novel surpassed the film adaptation. It expanded a world that I needed to see. So, I sought out other fantasy literature. Not long after, I discovered Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and I was astonished not only by its visceral brutality but also by its variety and diversity of setting and plotlines. As a trans kid, I needed different worlds, and to have even the most vague impression that I could create one or many from dreams and imagination drew me in to the creative process. All uphill from there.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
If you look up Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” you’ll find one of the best explanations of horror. Starting from ETA Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman”, Freud boiled the concept down of horror to “hemilich” (homely) and “unheimlich” (not-homely). At our innermost core we don’t like to leave home or the unfamiliar. But I had an added complication of hating and being terrified of my home life. On top of the complication of not identifying with the gender I’d been coercively assigned at birth, the person my mother married after my dad died turned out to be an abusive cockroach right out of the gate. So when we had the home video horror Renaissance, I identified with so many of those stories, with The Evil Dead in particular. Although those Sam Raimi films denigrated into cheeky slapstick, the concept of having your own family turn against you really clicked with me. I wanted to try and channel my trauma and confusion into stories of my own, and things took off from there.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I admit that I used to eschew trans or queer narratives when I started out, not so much out of shame but more out of fear of being tokenized or pigeonholed, “oh it’s ‘that’ writer.” I didn’t have any community growing up and there hadn’t been much progress toward equal rights in the geopolitical landscape. I may have felt more fear than shame—fear of being shut out of housing, a job, a bakery, anything. We’re still seeing this even with queer visibility.
Things changed really suddenly when Topside Press in New York began publishing trans writers, and when they had a workshop of all trans women writers in 2016 I finally got to find some community—many of those attendees I’m still friends with. So after taking a few more writing classes and workshops I made a more concerted effort to try and channel my own trans/queer experience into stories. Fictionalizing is one of my best, more therapeutic ways to work out a problem or personal issue I’m having. Or even something unresolved from my past (there’s plenty left to address, so plenty left to write). The shame and awkwardness are gone, and that may be why my debut novella (F4) is so extreme—I had a lot of dark, unresolved **** to purge. I hope I can keep up that momentum.
What do I try to portray? Well as a white, middle class trans lady I want to stay in my lane, but I strive to convey the daily struggle of navigating a hostile world as a trans woman, in addition to the warmth and hope of finding community and learning from other writers. I actually feel pretty blessed that some of my writing resonates with non-trans readers. That’s really rewarding and validating for me, and it helps trans visibility. There are so many amazing trans writers now, many of whom are international bestsellers. I’m just a little bummed out that it took so long to get here. I was hiding for too long and now I see writing as a total salvage mission—I’m try to make up for that lost time when I was hiding from the world.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Well I stated a little bit above what writing horror avails me before, during, and after making a story. A huge breakthrough for me that didn’t really have much to do with the trans experience was reading the work of Jack Ketchum. He’s got this level of human understanding, very little if anything to do with old Gothic horror tropes. I saw in much of his work the horrors that people inflict on one another, physically, emotionally, spiritually. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I saw what he was doing, making horror centered right in the human heart, the duality of malignity and love. I’ve plenty left to learn now, because now there are a ton of trans women writing horror, and that is really encouraging.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Diversity. Social justice principles coming to the forefront where they belong. Like I said before, it seems to have taken a very long time but I’ll badly paraphrase what Henry Rollins said about the election of Trump: “It matters now.” I remember being on a panel at Necronomicon and we spoke of where the genre may be heading in the 21st century. The bottom line is that diversity in horror is advancement and strength. It’s how we’ll survive. This is evolution and integrity. The popularity of the horror genre works in fits and starts, I mean we saw a dip after the huge Renaissance of the 1980s. Now horror is back like ****, and I think at least part of that is attributable to openness to more diverse voices. Writers and fans in the genre are open and kind: I was afraid that I would be excluded when I came out as trans, and the exact opposite happened. Opportunities arose, and people encouraged trans writers in the genre. It’s getting better, finally.
How do you feel the LGBTQ community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
Well I do need to address the bad old days a little bit, with the caveat that these are classics that have longevity in the genre: Angela from Sleepaway Camp. Buffalo Bill. Norman Bates. Michael Caine as Dr. Robert Elliott/Bobbi in Dressed to Kill. Trans woman as unhinged and murderous psychopath. Cringe, so much cringe and othering. But that’s the thing, these stories were so goddamn well-written but they have that malignant and innate flaw. That said, trans writer Imogen Binnie (Nevada) has an excellent take on Sleepaway Camp , she asserts in her podcast that Angela is a total folk hero to whom trans girls may look up to from an anti-bullying perspective. Anyone who ****s with her gets violently iced. That is punk rock as ****. So maybe some of these bad eggs (which were written from a non-trans perspective, of course) can inform trans and queer writing going forward. This is genre, after all and if there’s anything I still love it’s the grindhouse aesthetic. Poor taste. If trans writers can dissect and dismantle transphobia and bigotry, perhaps even through splatterpunk-level poor taste and/or satire, whatever form we can navigate, I see possibilities of social justice advancement there. But it’s quite a tightrope to walk and I can also see that approach backfiring. This week on Twitter, I saw a lot of discussion about trigger warnings in the genre. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I would prefer to be on the side of being accommodating rather than not. I know I never received such courtesies when I was younger, so I’d rather think forward rather than hold on to self-defeating intractability.
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I’m going to start right out of the gate in that I don’t consider Torrey Peters a genre writer, but one of her novellas Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones is a post-apocalyptic trans narrative that hit us all at just the right time—there had been a shortage of injectable estrogen almost the day of the book’s release which seemed poignant to me, considering the storyline about a gender plague. Also, not only does her story shift timelines Tarantino-style, but it’s like The Stand only with vengeful and flawed trans women and tells a better story in about thousand-less pages than King’s opus (I’m funning, I love The Stand, but Torrey checkmates it). Everyone should buy every book she’s ever written, she’s a huge influence on me. Additionally, there are a ton of trans women writing horror now and I couldn’t be more pleased: Nicole Cushing, Eve Harms, Gretchen Felker-Martin and Hailey Piper have shown me what is possible, and I want to reach what they have achieved. They keep me going. I felt so alone before.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
It would be to find community, attend conferences to the degree that you can financially, and build your brand. Social media can be a minefield but it is navigable—try not to let anger loose even though that can be really tough. To paraphrase Jello Biafra, tell people about what you do like rather than what you don’t like. Signal boost writers in your community when they have a new release, and do unto others.