Queer Little Nightmares reveals the humanity in monstrosity

SFU alums David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli’s anthology of monstrous fiction and poetry

Queer Little Nightmares purple book cover that includes the hand of a monster with long painted nails
PHOTO: Arsenal Pulp Press

By: Tianne Jensen-DesJardins, SFU Student

My first encounter with the monstrous was Frankenstein. In my first read, I appreciated Frankenstein for Shelley’s writing skill — the novel is a Russian nesting doll of stories within stories. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth time interacting with this story that I came face-to-face with the monstrous.

Frankenstein’s monster is monstrous in its very being, but I didn’t fully understand how monstrosity could be claimed, or reclaimed, until I read Susan Stryker’s article on Frankenstein and “Performing Transgender Rage.” In her critical speech-turned-article, Stryker reclaims terms such as “creature” and “monster” — words that have historically been used to vilify trans people. This act of reclamation is carried on in Queer Little Nightmares, an Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry edited by SFU alums David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli

The vision behind Queer Little Nightmares was not to dissect the bodies of well-known monsters like Frankenstein’s creature, rather it was, in the words of Zomparelli, to find out “what beasts lie ahead in the hands of queer creators.” Featuring short stories and poems from well-known queer writers such as Amber Dawn, Cicely Belle Blaine, and Eddy Boudel Tan, Queer Little Nightmares explores, in the words of Ly, “the experience of coming into queerness, finding belonging when the world wants only to see us as monstrously other.” 

A memorable story in the anthology is Amber Dawn’s “Wooly Bully” which tells the tale of two girls growing up in a small farm town. Over the course of a summer camp (which is — hilariously — called “Corn Camp”), Gigi, the protagonist, begins to accept two facts about herself: that she is a lesbian and a werewolf. Both of these are brought to her attention by fellow lesbian werewolf, Brenda Hendrick, with whom she is in love. 

What I love most about this story is how joyful it is; a story about a girl coming into her lesbian-werewolf-ness could be filled with violence and shame. While those themes do make an appearance, the overarching feeling is of joy. After Gigi and Brenda strip away all the doubt, uncertainty, and fear, the kiss they share asserts their belonging: “In this moment, we remake ourselves. / We are becoming.” 

Another highlight is Kai Cheng Thom’s “Floral Arrangement I.” In her poem, Thom rakes her claws across the concept of “femme,” and blood-red lipstick oozes from the cuts. For a relatively short poem, Thom’s piece invokes the trope of the “conniving femme,” the femme who “gets what she wants,” while emphasizing the drive for survival: “i am the femme who stays alive.” 

It is no surprise that Thom’s poetry appears in this anthology twice, as monstrosity is a theme she has explored in much of her published work. Thom’s other poem in Queer Little Nightmares is “On the Origin of Trans Femmes” that features haunting lines such as: “we are the daughters of witches / that they are still burning.” 

From lesbian werewolves to femmes who eat their lovers and more, the stories in Queer Little Nightmares “push back on the idea of monsters as fearsome and give tender and truthful glimpses into human desires and dreams,” to borrow Ly’s words. The anthology echoes the message of Susan Stryker all those years ago: “Monsters, like angels, functioned as messengers and heralds of the extraordinary. They served to announce impending revelation, saying, in effect, ‘Pay attention; something of profound importance is happening.’”

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