Reality TV has morphed the paranormal into a national pastime, albeit a slightly gendered one. Pick almost any night of the week and one can watch primarily white male Christian investigators grope around in the dark. A Wiccan may show up for a little diversity. If one is to believe the shows, the paranormal is a testosterone filled endeavor that requires the token alpha male and a supporting male crew — with a few pretty girls mixed in for good measure.
Off camera, however, things are different. As the only Muslim in the American paranormal field (as far as I’m aware), I am frustrated with an exclusively Christian approach to the paranormal. That perspective suggests a certain Western cultural orientation, and excludes much of the world, both living and dead. Religion aside, there is an emerging gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) niche in the community. Don’t forget queer haunted history, for surely the dead cannot all be straight, either.
Antelope Valley Ghost Hunters is one of the few, and perhaps the only, exclusively GLBT investigative units. Founder Theresa Parker clarifies it was not planned that way, but she discovered GLBT clients are more at ease with her team. “Our point is, if your client’s sexuality is such that they feel more comfortable with us, then everything is wonderful,” Parker explains.
They do not advertise as a GLBT team, nor do they take exclusively gay clients. Parker says, “We aren’t sticking it out there on the billboard. Maybe a client wants to divulge to us, ‘Hey, my lover just died and I think he is still in the house with me.’ You think they would tell a straight group? Probably not. Just for fear of being ridiculed, if nothing else.”
Being GLBT has other advantages. Parker stresses that “we found when the clients are GLBT or some connection, it seems to be easier to do follow-ups. Those investigations are sometimes the most valuable. Makes it easier when the company you keep and the clients are similar.” Like many, she ventured into the meetup.com world and eventually founded her own team with another woman in 2007. It just happened to end up as GLBT, although she would never turn away a tolerant straight investigator. (She jokes that they are so diverse, their team includes Gingersnap, a little ghost hunting Chihuahua).
Sexuality Isn’t an Issue
Parker, who is a police officer by day, insists that sexual orientation needn’t be an issue. “Your sexuality should have nothing, zero to do with your ghost hunting. Our point is, if your client’s sexuality is such that they feel more comfortable with us, then everything is wonderful.”
Parker explains, “Our theory is that folks who are not comfortable with themselves [in the closet], or have family members who aren’t comfortable with them, that makes for upheaval in the home. Number one, that causes stuff to happen.” She feels many investigators may not consider alternative histories regarding potential hauntings. Based outside of Los Angeles, Parker proposes some may overlook the number of premature AIDS deaths during the 1980s and 1990s. “We believe in our hearts that creates restless souls,” she shares.
Ken Summers, author of Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts and the founder of Queer Paranormal website also stresses sexuality doesn’t add or subtract to investigative ability. “The main purpose of investigations is to find evidence of the paranormal, and I do believe that is the focus of most groups,” Summers says. “As far as clients are concerned, I believe many people experiencing strange activity want answers from someone and are less concerned with who an investigator is as a person.”
As sexuality is a personal matter, so is the option to share that fact. Summers does recommend that many “straight paranormal investigators may not even be aware that a team member is GLBT. It’s never safe to assume someone is heterosexual and people can forget this while making casual remarks or gathering outside of an investigation.” This also applies to comments made in front of clients. Yet, no one needs to be on “eggshells and worry about being overtly politically correct at every given moment,” Summers suggests. It is a matter of professionalism.
It Ain’t on TV
If GLBT investigators are not on the radar, then buried even deeper is queer haunted history. Summers reveals that TV shows never air gay or lesbian histories of certain featured cases. His quote is long, yet well-researched, and sums the omission up quite nicely:
Most Haunted was willing to discuss a priest at Fitz Manor allegedly murdered over his sexuality and the “Ladies of Llangollen” at Plas Newydd in Wales — two women who lived there together. Monster Quest went in pursuit of Zanzibar’s Popobawa, but failed to mention the “male bat demon” supposedly prefers male victims. Ghost Hunters International neglected to mention Elizabeth Bathory’s private life (beyond being a serial killer) at Cachtice Castle in Trencin, Slovakia. I researched these and many other stories for my book and I’m aware of the many omissions. I would have to give credit to Most Haunted for being the most “gay-friendly” show when it comes to content. All shows, however, have inspired more people to investigate hauntings and seek out answers to the afterlife and the unknown, people of all sexual orientations. It’s a universal curiosity.
Paranormal reality TV is decidedly hetero on every level. Summers laments, “Not a single show I’m aware of has any out gay, lesbian, or bisexual member who has publicly declared his or her sexuality. And with the increasing number of shows on television, it’s a bit disheartening that there isn’t more diversity.”
For this reason, Parker decided to produce a sizzler of her team for the LOGO (Gay and Lesbian television) channel. She recruited a few new members and aptly created “Family Paranormal” as an alter ego for Antelope Valley Ghost Hunters. The network turned the team down, suggesting they wanted something “more mainstream.” (You can watch their video at the end of this article). While they were disappointed with LOGO’s lack of interest, she believes her team offers a fresh perspective on the investigative experience. “We have a fun group of people. We still get the job done. It’s not your daddy’s paranormal team. We are turning the corner and doing something fresh and new, and it is out of necessity because of who are and not so much who our clients are.” Along with Summers, Parker feels it is time for paranormal reality TV to feature more diversity, and not just GLBT investigators. Simply including more female team founders is a great start.
Gay Men and Psychic Abilities
The paranormal field has always included an interesting array of characters. Spiritualism emerged in the mid 1800s, and women played a unique role as mediums. There were many well-known male mediums, but only females could omit ectoplasm from various body orifices. Many suggest mediumship was one way women reacted against the sexually oppressive nature of the Victorian era. For some, Spiritualism became a safe space for self-expression. Sexual orientation wasn’t a theme of the movement by any means. Today, however, there are some suggestions that a disproportionate number of gay men are sensitive or intuitives.
There are no formal studies on this issue, and Summers suggests linking homosexuality and intuitive ability might be pure stereotype. It is a common assumption, however. Steve Barrell an openly gay investigator with Haunted North Carolina, is also a sensitive and a volunteer at the Rhine Research Center (formerly Duke Parapsychology Laboratory), and institute that actually studies psychic ability. He says, “A metaphysicist suggested that gay men’s psychic abilities may be due to a stronger yin/yang combination or balance. I know many straight guys avoid doing anything that might give a hint of femininity in case someone might interpret their actions as gay, aka internalized homophobia. And those concerns undoubtedly spill over to and include psychic abilities, as they do so many other areas of men’s lives.”
Barrell feels that many straight men may indeed by psychic, as many people are, but will not engage in activity that hints at femininity. His theory? “Openly gay men had to stop caring what other people think at some point, and are therefore more daring and willing to admit their psychic sensitivities. Perhaps that’s the key word: sensitive. ‘Real’ men (machismo) are not supposed to be sensitive in any way, to have feelings, etc. Are they less psychic? Yes, because their intention is that it not be otherwise. That’s why I think the matter of male psychic ability is a psychosocial phenomenon.”
Eileen Garrett, a famous medium during the 1930s until her death in 1970, recognized that sexuality orientation may be beneficial for psychic ability, and she was extremely tolerant of sexual diversity during American conservatism of the 1940s and 50s. Garret suggested, “that all who possessed these special sensitivities blended in the nature the qualities of both masculine and the feminine…such as the bisexual and the homosexual, were not to be despised.”1 She published Tomorrow magazine, which was the nation’s first widespread paranormal periodical. Garrett was not gay, yet she freely took lovers, and was extremely influential in the history of paranormal research as a reliable medium and founder of the Parapsychology Foundation (1951) in New York City. Sadly, her contributions are often overlooked in favor of her male counterparts.
Sexuality is rarely a reason one enters the paranormal field. Barrell suggests some GLBT are drawn to the field the same as so many others: it is a calling. According to Barrell, “Openly gay people who are involved in ghost hunting or other psychic work probably feel called to do so as part of a greater sense of purpose. Psychic work is a form of healing work, and a disproportionate number of men in other healing arts — nurses, doctors, and in the ministries — are gay.”
The larger theme isn’t if being GLBT makes one a better investigator or psychic, yet it is testament that the paranormal field is straight male dominated in many ways. Paranormal reality TV encourages a pattern of behavior that is often replicated in various groups across the nation. (Side note: There seems to be an emerging “paranormal investigator aesthetic” that includes baldheads and North Face jackets). The shows have encouraged a wider audience to engage ghost hunting, yet that reality is more fertile on the ground than on the television.
As new communities enter the paranormal realm, so might novel theories and approaches. Be it Muslims, GLBT, or people from non-Western cultures, diversity creates fresh philosophical approaches and methodology. Inclusiveness may reveal an innovative type of skeleton in the closet, and one that may help propel the field a little closer to understanding what lies beyond.
1See Eileen Garrett and the World Beyond the Senses by Allan Angoff.
Ken Summers’ blog (includes links to other queer paranormal sites, including forum): www.moonspenders.com
Family Paranormal Sizzle Reel: