Sometimes, I feel like the loneliest person in fandom. When Tumblr asks Who in the Glee cast would you most like to have lunch with? I always say Ryan Murphy. That’s not just about avoiding the awkward about cute boys and the intensity of various fandom factions. I really, really am a huge Ryan Murhy fan, which is a little bit like being a Russel T. Davies fan if you watch British TV — people wonder what’s wrong with you, even as they’re all watching the guy’s show(s).
Being a Ryan Murphy fan and being someone who struggles with the horror genre is, however, particularly frustrating right now. Because he’s definitely doing some of his most intellectually interesting and uncomfortably confronting work on American Horror Story. The problem is, I can barely watch it. Not because it’s gory, but because his imagination brings my deepest, darkest intrusive thoughts to visual life with far too much regularity.
I still haven’t, despite strong personal interest, watched AHS: Asylum because of the degree to which medicalized punishment for Otherness is pretty much the one narrative place I don’t quite have the endurance to go. Mainly, because even if it didn’t happen like that, it still really happened. It still does.
AHS: Coven, which I am watching, is by Murphy’s own admission, a campier, funnier show. But it’s still horrifying — and again, not for the gore. This is particularly clear in the way it showcases a litany of female focused horrors: self-injury, deceitful competition between women, the non-metaphorical links between sex and death, the false redemption fame and objectification are meant to promise us.
At its heart, of course, all of Murphy’s work is, arguably, about trauma survivors. It is as clear in Gabourey Sibide’s Queenie on AHS as it is in Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel on Glee. It’s hardly surprising. After all, Murphy is also working on bringing The Normal Heart to HBO. Because while marginalized people are always, arguably, trauma survivors, the tight generational bond some of us share because of queerness and AIDS and activism is particularly illustrative. It is one of the other things that often makes me feel lonely in fandom; I burst into tears every time I see the All My Friends Are Dead dinosaur, and yet when I try to talk about these experiences I often get the message — from myself as well as others — that I shouldn’t.
Weirdly, however, Murphy’s obsession with trauma and its transformative nature may be something he most clearly articulated during the nearly unwatchable, often annoying, and now cancelled reality TV show The Glee Project, in which contestants competed for a role on the FOX show. With the exception of Alex Newell, the most interesting performers didn’t win (I’m looking at you, Charlie Lubeck). But in the sea of all that, one interesting thing Murphy always seemed to ask the contestants, over and over again, was What is your wound?
Most often, this generated people talking about the things in their lives and the reception of their identities and experiences that most hurt. It led to more than a few Tumblr conversations where people tried to identify and craft elevator pitches for their own wounds.
But last night, when I watched Queenie slash her own throat and dip her hand in a glass of acid to inflict the wounds produced on others, I finally understood. When Ryan Murphy asks his potential actors What is your wound? what he means is How are you going to kill me?