HAYLEY IS A GHOST

'When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.'

Queer Ghost Researchers Are Scary

During the first half of the 1900’s the Spiritualist movement that came to define paranormal research and ghost hunting of the modern world was often considered a feminine thing. Male mediums, for example, were in the minority and were often described as “sissyish” or unmasculine (Hazelgrove, 2000).

Early spiritualists considered themselves as part of the Christian religion but without the judgemental parts (because being judgemental goes against their highest virtue of love), and yet many people involved in modern ghost hunting will know that when it comes to “love and light” things are not always as they seem.

In my experience, most people who label themselves as ghost hunters are either practising spiritualists and Wiccans, or they take inspiration from Spiritualism, Wicca and Christianity in an odd spiritual blend. For example, in my time as a ghost hunter, it wasn’t unusual to find someone saying a prayer to St Michael at the beginning of a ghost hunt, conducting a seance or glass divination during, and then using smudge sticks to cleanse the location afterwards – all practices with very different origins.

As I grew older surrounded by the ghost hunting community, I came to realise that many people who are involved in ghost hunting seem to believe in some of the most controversial parts of religious teachings, such as possession. I can remember being a naive teenager who wanted to look for ghosts and being taught many protective measures to ensure I didn’t get possessed or take a demonic entity home with me. Even a fellow ghost hunter who was Wiccan once stopped a ghost hunt because “something demonic” was “with us”.

I was reminded of this recently after writing a piece on the absurd claim that gay people might be possessed. In response to this, there seemed to be a lot of foot shuffling in paranormal-related Facebook groups because “you never know”. One person even explained to me that people who are Schizophrenic might actually be possessed, too. Or they might be experiencing alternative dimensions that others aren’t, which makes them act as they do. I also received a number of comments and messages on this blog from people within the paranormal community that were deeply homophobic. One read:

‘Male homosexuality is extremely unhygienic and promiscuous, so spreads all sorts of infectious diseases’

In 2013, a poll conducted by YouGov found that roughly half of people from the US believe in possession and in the power of exorcism. In the UK, only 18% of people believe in possession and about 35% of those people believe in the power of exorcism. Interestingly, in 2012 a poll discovered that just over 40% of people in the UK would support gay marriage, but almost half of people questioned thought the Church of England had the right to defend the “institution” of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

That the ideas of possession and exorcism are still so widely believed is worrying given the implication. Many people who live lifestyles that are frowned upon by the deeply religious in their community will sometimes be considered as possessed and undergo dangerous exorcism practices. In reality, there’s either an underlying physical or mental health condition that has gone untreated (the problems with this are obvious and exorcism can lead to death), or there’s nothing wrong with them and they’re being discriminated against. The latter is often the case with LGBTQ teenagers who are still under the care of their religious families who try to “pray the gay away” which can be extremely damaging.

Elsewhere, the Facebook page for The Society for Psychical Research shared a post about an LGBTQ ghost hunting group who put their sexuality at the centre of what they do and comments on the post included:

‘All demons are [gay] by default’ and, ‘Why is sexual preference even an issue? What’s next? Trans-gender ghost hunters…Cage aux Fantomes!! Gimmicks on parade’ and ‘Hetero hunters unite!’ 

Utterly, utterly appalling.

It should be no surprise that many people involved in ghost hunting are, in fact, massive homophobes when you consider where most people in the field take inspiration from when looking to answer their paranormal questions. I think anyone who is LGBTQ in this community knows this. It’s a truth that exists under the surface – nobody acknowledges it, and when they do they’re subject to the most abhorrent responses. You’re expected to exist in the community as a person void of any personal traits. If you’re queer you shouldn’t talk about it – why is is even an issue? Gimmicks on parade!

This is unacceptable.

Homophobic attitudes have no place in this community. So many people who actively ghost hunt, or who hold an interest in such subjects are stuck 100 years in the past where male mediums who openly displayed their spiritualist beliefs were called “sissies”. Their prejudice comments and claims should be challenged at every opportunity, not only because they’re intolerant, but because when such hateful statements go unchallenged our silence makes them acceptable. I live in a country where homophobic hate crimes rose 147% in the months following the recent EU Referendum and I don’t want to see similar attitudes echoed in an area society in which sexuality makes no difference.

On the SPR page, in response to the comments quote above, I pointed out that it’d actually be really cool to see a trans* ghost hunting group and I mean it. An inclusive community where people can exist as themselves promotes diversity and that can only be a positive thing. But this won’t just happen by itself…

There’s always a lot of talk in the paranormal community about “para-unity” where everyone unites because of our shared interest in ghosts. I’ve written about the problems with para-unity before because people try to use it to avoid criticism of their claims, but wouldn’t it be incredible to see people who promote para-unity also promote inclusiveness within the community? They may already do so, but to verbalise it and to celebrate it would be fantastic to see.

I may not agree with their methodology and conclusions, but I love, love, love that the Stonewall Columbus Ghost Hunting Group display their sexuality at the forefront of what they do. Rainbow flags abound, sending a message that queer ghost hunters exist and there’s no ignoring it. And why should you ignore it? After all, love is the highest virtue…

References

Hazelgrove, J. (2000) Spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars, Manchester University Press

1 Comment

  1. As Deborah Blum pointed out in her 2007 book ‘Ghost Hunters’, Spiritualism also offered a hiding place for LGBTQ people. As a medium, men could channel “female spirits” and openly behave in that manner, even in a flirtatious sense, as several noted mediums did. While not the most open atmosphere, it was very conducive to those hiding their identities from an unwelcoming public. (This isn’t to exclude women, though instances of mediums suspected to be lesbians were quite scarce in comparison.)

    I’ve always wondered how some members of a community so driven on the ideas of unity and the need for skeptical individuals to be more open-minded could at times be so blind at their own closed-mindedness. In my involvement with numerous paranormal groups over the years, I’ve witnessed plenty of homophobic behavior around those unaware of my sexuality, and it was often rooted in deeply-held religious convictions. While this backlash from social media commenters isn’t surprising, it’s disheartening at the same time. The “homosexuality is caused by demons” belief isn’t just something shared among some hyper-religious African countries; it’s a global phenomena that has bubbled to the surface quite loudly in the wake of several social and political events in recent times (though it’s hardly a new idea). Be it exorcism or conversion therapy, people have hunted for simplistic belief-based solutions to treating what they see as “unnatural” differences.

    I share your attitude toward Stonewall Columbus’ ghost hunting group. I had the pleasure of giving them a tour of local legends and tales of LGBT ghosts a few years ago and found them to be a fun-loving, caring, inquisitive bunch. And while there are certainly points in their methodology and research which I question and disagree with, I applaud their efforts and success in avenues where I failed numerous times in the past. (There was an attempt at a network program focused on LGBT ghost hunters seeking LGBT ghosts years ago which I was approached for, but it never made if off the planning room table.) Yet with the advances made in recent years toward LGBTQ acceptance, it’s the growing hostile climate of opposition that has me worried about maintaining this forward momentum of diversity.

    Back in the late 90s, the LGBTQ activist group I belonged to at university had members who left papers reading “Do you fear that a queer sat here?” on classroom chairs. I wonder just what an uproar such actions might have today.

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