The Return of Pop Optics is Proudly Goth and Queer

Hi everyone. 

Been awhile. 

Let’s do this right.

Way back in middle school, my summer breaks felt like a preview of life to come when I could call myself a teenager properly. Until then, I was just a pre-teen/tweener/early adolescent, whatever terminology you apply to insecure twelve year olds who were let loose to roam without adult supervision and wreak havoc on unsuspecting convenience stores. Look out White Hen Pantry!

Though not quite a real Dangerous Nights Crew, rocking slicked back hair and eating sloppy steaks, we were a bunch of disaffected suburban youth who had lived through Y2K hysteria just a year or two prior. We had nothing better to do than eat chicken and feel blue, but also we had nowhere better to go than the local roller rink.

Far from being a teeny-bopper joint where you can roller disco the night away, the roller rink was the go-to hangout for my friends at that time to chill, score drugs, and/or grind. Friday nights were the night to meet at the rink. We didn’t really do much more than waste our time bombarding the rink’s DJ with gratuitous requests for the nu-metal flavors of the month. We wanted some bombastic summer jams because this was the summer of 2001! Our big blow off to middle school drudgeries and looking forward to the nearing freshman year and all the joy high school would bring!

Ah, sweet blissful ignorance. How I don’t miss you.

No, this isn’t about how 9/11 changed everything. I’ve covered that already.

This is about a specific feeling tied to that time and how I feel it still sits with me today.

See, back then, if we were too bored with the roller rink or we didn’t feel like paying the non-skater fee to get in, we’d opt to just loiter and wander aimlessly into the summer night, hoping to god no one called the cops on us (that happened once but is a story for another time).

This was a burgeoning time for me. I felt like I was starting to break away from whatever sense of identity I could have reasonably had and deeper into something else that began to develop around sixth grade. By eighth grade, I was leaning more into that early-2000s goth-tinged persona that was all too common thanks to the proliferation and popularity of Hot Topic. My friends at the time were in the same camp. Just a bunch of suburban kids thinking their problems were more complicated than anyone else could comprehend. Even if there’s always a slight wink from me when I “joke” about the typical “problems” one experiences growing up in the suburbs, I can more easily rationalize what I was indeed experiencing with greater appreciation as an adult now.

I couldn’t tell you then that depression was beginning to take root. Some might dismiss things merely as boredom or some sort of malaise. I get that. Not everything is immediately some sort of mental illness, yet, I’d caution against telling someone that what they’re feeling isn’t real. I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling because I didn’t understand why and I couldn’t identify what it was that was going on in my heart and my brain.

Aside from that, I wanted to embrace this part of myself that was part rebellious spur and part identity sampling.

This was the summer I wanted to break out from myself, if that makes sense. I wanted to develop a true version of myself, even if I had no idea what I was doing.

This was also the summer that I spent a lot of time watching The Lost Boys.

If pressed to identify my favorite horror film, The Lost Boys is always in rotation for the number one slot (between the original Halloween and Return of the Living Dead). There’s probably no other horror film that had me so enamored with the characters, wrapped up in their struggles and latching onto their personas, wanting to emulate or adopt as part of my own.

I distinctly recall one Friday night when my brood ventured out into the night. Sultry and steamy, the humidity was at the tipping point. Lightning would flint across the skies, lacing the darkness with gleams of purple and orange hues. Soon, the clouds would burst and rain would fall with force. Immediately, we were drenched and running for shelter. We watched in splendor as the storm raged. It felt like the single most incredible moment in time and could never be topped (hey, the arrogance of youth). Once curfew was reached and I returned home, the rain still tapping at the window, I reached for the rented VHS tape of The Lost Boys and popped it in for what was maybe the fifth time that week.

I can reminisce about how much horror has been a part of my life and trying to pinpoint when I really became a fan is impossible. At this point, I feel like I grew into it in waves and the origin of my fandom is constantly being rebooted. All I know is that for this one particular summer, I was obsessed with The Lost Boys. Its primary characters were young teens, so it was fairly easy for me to connect to them. The setting, if not exactly the same (oceanside West coast boardwalk), was a decent proxy. The point was that it was about wild youth trying to find their place in the world, struggling with new found feelings developing within them, and exploring the secrets of their new environment. Seeking the unseen. Discovering the terrible truth lurking below.

It was also pretty gay.

I had no idea then but obviously now I can recognize that The Lost Boys is clearly a queer horror film, presenting an obvious metaphor for bisexuality through vampirism. Vampires historically have served as analogous to the libertine lifestyle, the mysterious highly sexual appeal of strangers with strange desires. To me, that is really attractive and I somewhat joke about myself as being a vampire (oh how I would have killed once to have the appeal of Peter Murphy). Though, there’s the underlying tragedy of being a vampire that isn’t just an allergy to daylight.

The persecution factor. Running throughout the film regarding the transformation of older brother Michael (Jason Patric) is that he’s not himself. He’s developing an attitude. His behaviors, a shade darker, more temperamental. His actions, more predatory. He tried to attack his own brother Sam (Corey Haim) for crying out loud! He’s becoming a monster!

Of course, that’s part and parcel for those of us in the queer community. That we’re predatory monsters who are just on the prowl for our next victims. This is more prevalent nowadays than I’d care to admit and it is heartbreaking. Progress might just be an illusion at this point, but now is not the time to waver nor buckle. Those on the other side who would rather fuel the hate within than extinguish it will continue to label us groomers. It’s a persistent issue and it’s present in the film as well.

The relationship that develops between Michael and David (Kiefer Sutherland), the leader of the stupid sexy vampire gang, features grooming even if that’s not the intended depiction. It really is more about the allure of who David is to Michael and what that represents. He’s not really interested in David in as much as he is Star (Jamie Gertz), the lone woman in the brood and the bait that lures Micahel. It’s only once Michael has met David’s challenges that he is welcomed into their inner circle and Michael is moved from “prey” to “predator.”

The seduction of the vampire is one that can easily be read as either desirable or detestable. It just depends on your perspective and how well you relate to the characters. For me, I think I was definitely drawn to the vampires, even if I did cheer their demise. There was a morality in me that saw that David and his crew crossed some sort of line in corrupting Michael. Subsequent rewatches of the film have led me to believe that in reality, Michael was really just unwilling to admit his true desires, or at least the truth about himself.

While there’s a lethal attraction between Michael and David, Michael was always chasing Star. He wanted to be closer to Star, but to do that, he had to allow himself to be closer to David. Yet, David’s charisma was “messing” with Michael’s emotions and he was beginning to feel what David felt.

Classic “I like girls, I’m not gay, but why does this boy turn me on?”

And thus, bisexuality.

For me, my journey to understanding my bisexuality (yes, I know that’s been a loaded term these days as sexuality and attraction is a spectrum, as is gender, but it has been accepted that bisexuality can be used as a broad catch-all for anything that isn’t definitively hetero or homosexual) was a long one and full of semi-self-loathing. Definitely a lot of denial and enough mental gymnastics to make Simone Biles look like a drunk toddler. “Oh, I can’t be gay if I’m definitely into women. That means I’m still straight. But you know what? Sometimes I like looking at a good penis. A hard penis. I wouldn’t mind touching that penis. Hmm… maybe I am kinda gay?”

Granted, reducing sexuality purely to attraction to genitalia is counterproductive to any argument that seeks to dismiss not only bis but all queer folk in general. Attraction is more than the desire to touch sexual organs – it’s the desire to touch souls.

David wants to touch Michael’s soul and hold it tightly within his fist. To hold his soul will mean to hold his fate. Once Michael took that first sip of blood, he made a silent pledge. Even though Star tried to warn him, by that point the seduction had taken hold and he was willing to prove himself. Blood? “Yeah, right.”

I’ve never dated anyone of the same gender, nor have I had sexual experiences, yet I don’t minimize my feelings or attractions. They exist, they’re as valid as anyone else’s. My dating habits lean more hetero, but that should not disqualify me from identifying as queer, also given that I identify as non-binary. There’s still that lingering self-doubt that I haven’t proven myself.

When Michael is brought to a meathead function in the woods, where muscled hunks are jamming to “Walk This Way” while their jacked bods glisten in the fire, he can’t make a kill. David and the rest feast but Michael fights the urge. The feelings are there, but he doesn’t want to act on them. He wants to hold back. He’s fighting for control of his desires. He’s repulsed in who David is and who he’s trying to make himself become.

The denial of who you are.

Ultimately, The Lost Boys is a work of fiction and the characters are just templates. Avatars of reality that exist in a simulated world. Vampires don’t exist except for people who practice magick and drink blood. But my bisexuality is real. That I look to this film as the catalyst for me to understand myself is real. That I’m starting to feel more confident in expressing myself and identifying as non-binary, having a desire, an urge, a need to highlight my femme features, that vampires and goth subculture can offer the perfect means for me to express that part of myself is real and comforting.

The Lost Boys will always be my true summer jam and I am hopeful that this is the summer I can embark on the next wave of my transformation. To reveal more of myself and live more of my truth.

Be well this Pride Month and don’t let the bastards win.