Nem Rowan: Horror & Own Voices

Nem Rowan’s debut novel Witcheskin (Horror/Urban Fantasy/Romance) was re-released on August 7th. To celebrate we wanted to spotlight the book here on B Proud, by having him write a post about his thoughts on the novel, why writing horror is important to him and on writing own voices trans representaion.

My debut novel, Witcheskin, was recently re-released through JMS Books following the closing down of LT3 Press. It’s been almost two years since I completed the original manuscript, and perhaps if I had written it now, I might have changed some things, but I think that goes for everyone who looks back on their older work. One thing I would never change are the Horror aspects of the story.

Ever since I was little, Horror has felt like a part of me, and in bygone decades, it has been a place for outcasts and oddballs to find somewhere they could belong. I feel that the Horror genre, perhaps because of the expectations for it to be shocking, different and subversive, has always been more open to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, especially at times in the past, like the 70s and 80s, when being gay was not okay. Horror welcomed me when I was a child, and I never left.

Being transgender meant I always felt like I identified more with the monsters in the movies I saw, especially as I got older and began to change physically. Werewolves and shape-shifters, humans that could change into something else, seemed like people who would understand what I was going through. The reactions of the movie heroes towards these creatures somehow mirrored the way people reacted to me when they couldn’t figure out what gender I was. The fear in their eyes, the silence or the full blown revulsion. So it was true then, the feelings I had experienced as a kid of being somehow different to the other children. I was a monster, after all. Despite how negative that might seem, I’m happy with that.

The beasts and freaks of Horror, from the Phantom of the Opera to the Wolfman, all have stories about how they came to be and why they are as they are, just like I have. In my own stories, I don’t like to write about good versus evil, because no one is ever 100% good or 100% evil, even if it might seem that way sometimes. The ‘villains’ I write about sometimes turn out not to be villains after all, just people who have been damaged by their own past, suffered through hardships or lost control of their lives. I like writing with characters that have been shaped by their experiences and bear battle scars like trophies; they’re not pure or virtuous by any stretch of the imagination, and sometimes they are selfish, ignorant or immoral. You see, monsters that seem frightening from the outside can have the softest hearts on the inside.

Having said that, there are ways in which the Horror genre has been cruel to LGBTQ+ people, old stereotypes perpetuated by heterosexual writers and directors who want to use our differences as a tactic to scare and alarm their audiences. In particular, the unfair and inaccurate portrayal of trans women as psychopaths and murders, for instance, in Wire In The Blood, La Mante, plus more. Movies and series that use being transgender as a plot point to explain why a character is the villain are damaging not just to the way transgender people are perceived by others but also to the way transgender people view themselves. I was fortunate when I was younger that I wasn’t exposed to story lines like this.

Am I happy that transgender men are relatively excluded from the scope of Horror villains? Yes, and no. I’m happy that trans men are largely ignored in that respect, but it is disappointing to feel as though I don’t exist in the eyes of most movie makers. I still long for a dark crime drama where a transgender person is the lead investigator, not the criminal.

My stories, particularly from Owen’s point of view in Witcheskin, are heavily based on my own experiences, and that is why I think Own Voices are especially important. There’s no single way to be LGBTQ+. Everyone is different, and everyone deserves to discover a book or a movie that they can connect with and that reaches into their own experiences.

When I write, I hope that someone else out there will read my words and be able to empathise with the main characters, even if they aren’t of the same demographic. If they are and finally they feel like they aren’t alone because they read my book, then I’ve succeeded. That’s why it’s doubly important for me to write characters that aren’t perfect angels, because there’s not a person on this earth who is. I want someone to read my stories and connect with characters who are damaged, who had difficult childhoods or who are struggling with their mental health, and to realise that these aren’t villains at all. The real villains are those who perpetuate the idea that people, of any demographic, are evil.

Witcheskin is a story that follows a young trans man, and so some of the scenes featured can be upsetting if, like me, you are trans too and have experienced the same kind of ignorance or prejudice from people. The reason I felt it was important to include them, particularly the dead-naming Owen experiences, is that I wanted to show how these things are bad. They’re portrayed in a negative way and Owen’s reactions to them are ones of hurt; I wanted those things to be seen as things that are unacceptable.

I feel that to remove these kinds of experiences from the writings of own voice transgender authors does us a disservice, because glossing over them and never writing about them won’t teach people that it’s not okay to treat trans people in that way. Never writing about dead-naming won’t teach people not to dead-name. Writing about bad things in the correct way can turn a hurtful experience into a lesson. Someone could read a book by a transgender author, empathise with the characters, and realise they had been unwittingly hurting people they have interacted with. Good books change people, and it’s important, more so than ever, to humanise transgender characters by giving them compelling lead roles and letting the audience hear the pain we often keep to ourselves.

~ Nem Rowan

Re-released through JMS.

Following the disappearance of his father, keen photographer Owen returns to the Welsh village where his parents grew up to live with his mother and her boyfriend. Despite being born in Wales and having been raised in England, Owen feels like an outcast, and the villagers are unfriendly. He soon discovers an epidemic of cattle mutilations that have been spreading through the countryside like a rash and, determined to discover the cause, he takes up his camera and starts snapping pictures.

While pursuing the mystery, he meets Maredudd, an old friend of his parents of whom they had never spoken, and Owen can’t help but feel drawn to him. Maredudd seems to know more about the mutilations than the other villagers are willing to admit, and even more about the supposed death of Owen’s father than his own mother does. Maredudd shows Owen things he never thought possible, and Owen soon finds himself at the centre of the kind of folk tale only his father could dream of.

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