Next up for Pride Month is an article by one of our favorite human beings. Briana Morgan is the author of Unboxed, The Tricker-Treater and Other Stories, and more.
Say It Five Times: How Candyman Sparked My Queer Awakening
by Briana Morgan
Candyman made me gay. No, wait—let me explain.
It didn’t make me gay so much as it made me question my sexuality and my attraction to different genders. Gay isn’t even the term I prefer to describe my orientation. I’m bisexual, attracted to people across the gender spectrum. Have been all my life, didn’t figure it out until I was in my early twenties. Specifically, in the year 2015.
Anyway, Candyman. The movie came out in 1992, the year I was born, and I didn’t get around to watching it until twenty-three years later. If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s the synopsis:
“Skeptical graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) befriends Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) while researching superstitions in a housing project on Chicago’s Near North Side. From Anne-Marie, Helen learns about the Candyman (Tony Todd), a [hook-handed] figure of urban legend that some of her neighbors believe to be responsible for a recent murder. After a mysterious man matching the Candyman’s description begins stalking her, Helen comes to fear that the legend may be all too real.”
It’s good, right? If you like horror movies—especially the urban legend subgenre—you need to watch this one. Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen are brilliant in it. Beyond that, they’re beautiful. That must count for something.
As a woman who thought I was straight, my attraction to Tony Todd was inevitable. My attraction to Virginia Madsen, however, stirred up something foreign to me. For years, I’dfought this feeling, but presented in a great horror movie, it was undeniable. I couldn’t stop looking at Helen. I drowned in her eyes and was happy not to surface.
That’s when it hit me—I felt the same way about her as I did Tony Todd. The same. The realization hit me like a car crash.
I couldn’t lie to myself about who I was anymore. I knew that since this feeling kept popping up; it wasn’t going away. I could either reject it and deny myself total contentment in my identity, or I could choose to embrace it—as terrifying as that was—and in doing so, embrace myself, full stop. Unconditionally.
Candyman is a hell of a movie to spark a queer awakening. Throughout the film, Helen grapples with her complicated feelings toward the Candyman. Through their interactions, it’sclear she’s enamored with him despite knowing he could kill her whenever he wants. To a lesser extent, this idea is one I’vestruggled with in my own life as I came to terms with my identity. For a long time, I thought embracing my queerness meant embracing a “lifestyle” I’d been taught to avoid.
I’m an agnostic witch now, but I was raised Southern Baptist in several small towns where everyone knew everyone and there were no such things as secrets. All my life, I’d heard preachers and Christian influencers decree that being homosexual—or anything close to it—was morally wrong and served as a one-way ticket to hell. Going to hell meant being separated from all my friends and loved ones in heaven. I had experienced attraction toward almost everyone across the gender spectrum at that point, and even though I believed it was wrong, there was nothing I could do to make the feelings go away.
Watching Candyman can be frustrating. We watch Helen fall under the Candyman’s spell and risk her life just to spend more time with him. For some people, it’s hard to understand why makes certain choices and follows her feelings when they could get her killed.
I understand. I get where Helen’s coming from. All my life, I pushed my feelings down and tried to deny my truth. It was easier and safer to stick to the status quo. As long as I was good—and straight—I would get to go to heaven.
Candyman was not the first film or piece of media that made me question who I was and who I found attractive. It just seemed to hit me at precisely the right time. At that point in my life, I had graduated from college and lived alone in Florida, far from my family and friends and working a job I hated. I was suicidal. I drank a lot.
No matter what happened, I turned to horror. It’s always comforted me. When I watched Candyman, I latched on to the premise and sank my teeth into the movie. I absorbed it and let it become part of me—or maybe I let it reveal a part of me I’d spent so many years hiding.
In the film, you summon the Candyman by saying his name five times. There’s power in repetition, and it requires bravery. Conviction. Maybe that’s why I’ve never written about my queer identity before.
Like Helen, I’m no longer afraid of how who I love might hurt me. I’m proud of who I am because I’ve fought hard to become her. I’ll say it five times: I’m bi, I’m bi, I’m bi, I’m bi, I’m bi.
May you be brave enough to live your truth. Tell Tony Todd I love him.