Some Peace and Community for Queer Ghosts: Queer Ghost Hunters Series

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I’ve been charmed by a Youtube docu-series: Queer Ghost Hunters. It is unlike anything else in the genre of ghost hunting reality series.

Yes, it’s remarkably well-produced and edited.  It’s funny, and it’s poignant, deeply moving at times.

The Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters accomplishes these things because it’s doing everything so differently than other ghost hunter shows.

  1.  They aren’t reacting to a disturbance or a sighting.  The ghost hunters don’t (so far) go to a place because they’ve been called by folks disturbed by ghost activity.  They are seeking out where they believe queers would have gone in cities and rural areas.  Theatres, prisons, convents.
  2.   The goal is not to get the ghost on tape, or to prove that ghosts exist.  The show takes as a premise that ghosts exist.  Their goal: to provide a safe space for queer ghosts to talk about what it was like living queer in different moments of history.
  3. They’re looking for QUEER ghosts specifically.  Their focus drives their narrative.  They are looking to bring a safe community to a group of queers who can’t move out of their places to find other queers. ( It’s not like ghosts can pack up and go to San Francisco or Greenwich Village.)  The show’s aim is to chat amiably with queer ghosts who may not have had anyone to talk to in their lives about being queer.
  4. All of the ghost hunters fall on the Queer spectrum: genderfluid, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, pansexual, even a bear. 🙂   This is about diversity in the cast as well as diversity in the ghosts, but they are talking about LGBT issues.
  5. This is MORE than just ghost hunting: it is an examination of the history of LGBT people and, in some ways, how people lived, hid, coped with being queer in different places.  In that, it is a reflection–and a chance–for people to talk about what it is to live as queer in any time.

The fascination I have watching this series (and the YouTube series is done in nine minute segments, which we have only two right now) is watching this friendly group of inclusive people sit in a circle and talk to queer ghosts.  What they are talking about is what it is to be queer in any society.  Whereas other ghost hunters talk about things that are of little relevance to the ghost hunters themselves, little relevance to the viewing audience, except for salacious murder intrigue, this group is talking about what it is to live Queer lives.  VERY relevant to us, as we experience some of what they’ve been through.

They are, in a way, respecting and interviewing their elders too.  This is a ghost hunting group that benefits from the information given to them by the ghosts.  And we do too. This is a therapy session filled with laughter and welcome for us, the viewers, as well as for the ghost hunters and the ghosts.  It’s almost palliative care—where you know you can’t fix the death, but you can make the dying comfortable and loved.  Many of our ancestors never got the love, comfort or even the recognition that they were in pain from being lonely or unloved or having a queer life unexpressed.

This show is oddly moving.  As the ghosts reveal themselves, you are happy for them, and are thrilled for the ghost hunters.

* * *

The Ghosts and the Methods:  Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the show can survive just on the history and discussion of queer lives. But it does have ghosts.

Unlike other ghost hunters shows, this one isn’t afraid to show failure on screen–but they can turn it into success.  I watched episode two as they are struggling to get a ghost to talk to them, any ghost.  The ghost turns out not just to be unresponsive, but to actually want to talk to a specific member of the group.

They use dowsing rods, and explain that in episode two, and sometimes those dowsing rods do not “work,” as in no ghost is ready to move them around to speak–but I learned that sometimes the ghosts want to talk to specific people.

Talking to ghosts is done in a myriad of ways as you can learn from other ghost hunting shows—making recordings (to see if ghosts speak up), taking pictures, recording on video, using EMF readers…. and none of them are 100% reliable.  However, the dowsing rods are the least manipulative from a viewer standpoint.  In an age when video can be altered, photos photoshopped, recordings dubbed, even electrically equipment manipulated–dowsing rods, a very old method, are something that the viewer can see work in front of them and has a hair-raising effect, as they turn….  Can they be manipulated?  Sure, but as I watched the ghost hunters have unsuccessful moments with dowsing rods I thought, here’s a moment where they could have “made them work” and they didn’t.  You can see how gripping the dowsing rods stops a lot of the manipulation you might be worried about, how the rod moves freely inside the tube….and how dramatic a real movement can be.  When those rods turn, something is happening.  For skeptics, I think the rods are the way to go.

There is a great deal of compassion on the show for the lives of the ghosts.  If I were a ghost I would rather run into this group than ANY other group I’ve seen.  They have a welcoming spirit, a compassionate presence (as evidenced by their questions) and they would be people you’d want to hang out with.

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Locations:  Where would queers gather?  The queer ghost hunters–since they aren’t following a lead about a disturbance–are making the best guess on where queer ghosts would be.  Their first stop is a convent.  I’ll admit, my reaction was to be wary of someone implying that nuns were lesbian, but I do remember a time when living in a monastery was appealing to me as a gay man—a place where men could live together in harmony.  In the first episode I thought they might be overestimating the queer nature of a convent–women can be just friends; however, if you were lesbian in the early 1900s, and did not want to marry a man, a convent might have been a great choice.  Their stats in the second episode claim that a quarter of the nuns could have been lesbian.

I looked up some figures and came across a survey done with nuns and priests that bear this out.  A 1978 paper in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy by Margaret Halstead and Lauro Halstead entitled “A Sexual Intimacy Survey of Former Nuns and Priests” found that of the 126 former nuns and priests living in the US who answered the survey (it was sent to 223) 11% of them had same-sex sexual activity before they entered the convent or monastery, 21% during the time they were there, and 16% after they left the convent or monastery.  That’s at least a fifth in 1978 from a small sample who had same-sex activity while as a nun or monk.  The 11% coincides pretty well with the national average, though I would have expected it to be higher when surveying people who were about to go off into the priesthood or sisterhood.  Activity though is different than inclination.  So this survey measured activity, not inclination which, as I know, would have been different for those who were of a religious order or who wanted to be faithful to their understanding of scripture.

A 2013 Benedictine nun confirmed that there were “pockets of lesbianism in the convent” but could only speak of where she was located.

From a 1985 book “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence” (editors Rosemary Keefe Curb and Nancy Manahan) there was a quote taken from the Los Angeles Times interview with one of the editors of the 50 or so essays in the book and she said (in 1985):

“At least 10% of religious sisters are gay. As well as 10% of the congregation or population they minister to. So it really would behoove religious communities to deal with their homophobia,” [Manahan] added. (Curb guessed that the percentage of gay women in convents might in fact be higher than the 10% figure often ascribed to the general population. Many of her peers were attracted to the convent as an alternative to unwanted marriage, she said, without necessarily knowing at the time they were homosexual.)

The book came back into print in 2013 just in time for discussion of same sex marriage in this country (and probably as a way to weigh in on the religious discussion around same-sex attraction).

Queer Ghost Hunters are working backwards, in a sense.  They are trying to figure out where queer ghosts would be and come to them—from Katy Detrow, one of the ghost hunters on the show,

 We are trying to find new locations with Queer history in our area. We have the idea that there may be spirits that felt excluded in life and that the isolation they felt in life may be why they are lingering in the afterlife. We hope that by sharing the community of Queer with these people they will feel more at peace. We think the marginalized spirits may have a hard time communicating with mainstream ghost hunters who are not seemingly in touch with the emotional vulnerability that these spirits may have been living with. We want to communicate with people who were often ignored and pushed aside in life, with ghosts that have been quietly maybe waiting for us, without knowing what they were waiting for.

That, my friend, is why I watch.  It’s feel good queer-positive programming.  It shows the hearts of those involved, and that makes a difference.  These folks aren’t out to scare you, or sensationalize ghosts; they are calling up marginalized people and being there for them.

With Halloween coming up, you will have lots of things to watch that are scary, that have ghosts, even Ghostbusters remake is coming out in a couple of weeks, but I hope you’ll check out this beautiful new series, Queer Ghost Hunters, and see what you think of the remarkable work they are doing THROUGH ghost hunting.

They are reacquainting us with our past.  “That really gets people connected to history in a fun way,” Stu Maddox, their director and producer says.  They are showing how alike we are to the queers who have lived before us, and how much of our lives are richer because we have queer communities.

This is an exceptionally queer-positive show.  Everything about it is welcoming to the viewer from their long introduction showing the ghost hunters who are as important to the show as any of the guest ghosts to their road trips and sit down chats with each other.  Maybe a cable channel can pick this up.

Because it has a real need for your help right now.  Queer Ghost Hunters are self-funded for the most part and they have gone to Kickstarter to seek out help.  If you like what you see, please help them–toss them some money to keep going.  There’s not anything else like this out there, and I think we need it.  No other program examines queer history, shows a reality series with a bunch of queer folks, or has the intrigue and mystery this one has.  Let’s keep Queer Ghost Hunters going!  Below, find their first episode, and below that, their Kickstarter video.  Click on the links above this (or below) to go to their Kickstarter page!

 

 

Thank you to everyone who helps make this series!  It’s good to watch you welcome more of us out and in helping people talk about their lives, you help us talk about ours.  Help out the Queer Ghost Hunters!

4 thoughts on “Some Peace and Community for Queer Ghosts: Queer Ghost Hunters Series

  1. Katy October 9, 2016 / 9:59

    Jerome, thank you so much for this exquisite article! I love that you fact-checked my research! I am a school-teacher, not a historian so please keep fact checking me! You are an Keyes in to what we are all about. I am so grateful to the film maker, Stu, for so accurately getting what we are all about in screen and approximate all the interesting discussion you provoked on the you tube channel. Really, just can’t thank you enough!

    • jstueart October 9, 2016 / 9:59

      Thanks, Katy! You are doing such a wonderful service for a lot of people–and you’re obviously having a lot of fun doing it! 🙂

    • jstueart October 9, 2016 / 9:59

      I didn’t mean to fact check. 🙂 I guess I wanted to understand better what you were saying about convents and monasteries being refuges for queer people. I had the same feelings, perhaps, but I had never searched out the facts and you did! So I had to find what you found. I wasn’t doing it for your audience, as much as for me–and for those who come from a religious background who might, initially, reject the idea that convents often had lesbians. After your show, I just take that fact as normal now. Yes, convents would have a higher propensity for lesbians or same-sex attraction because of the way it’s structured, that it offers a monosexual community, and because it is isolated on purpose. It just makes sense.

      On a side note, great novella that explores this a little bit, Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. Takes place in a convent when a young woman experiences the stigmata, and has visits by a spirit. There are “particular friends” in there! Great little book. Probably needs more queer to make it more accurate. 🙂

  2. Renata Hill October 10, 2016 / 9:59

    What an interesting premise! I definitely will check it out. Thank you for the heads-up! 🙂

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