Fright Night and The Sexual Awakening of a Queer Woman
I've written before on now-defunct websites about how Chris Sarandon's portrayal of Jerry Dandridge in Fright Night is wholly responsible for my sexual awakening, and the major reason I "knew I couldn't be gay." A fun thing about sexuality is that it sits on a spectrum, and it's an aspect of a person's identity that is susceptible to evolution.
I've struggled for years to lock down my identity and find a sexual orientation that best suited me, and it wasn't until the age of 28 that I finally came to grips with who I am and who I've always been. I'm a queer woman. I've always been a queer woman.
But Jerry Dandridge is why I identify as "queer" and not "gay."
If I, as a woman, say that I’m “gay,” the assumption is that I’ve only shared the company of cisgender women, and that I am only sexually attracted to people with vaginas. This just isn’t true. Queer is a little bit more ambiguous, and allows me to identify myself without having to add an asterisk to my sexual history. Not that anyone needs to justify their identifying labels, but it’s what makes me most comfortable.
Growing up, I always knew I was somewhere on the deeper end of the Kinsey Scale. I was a "closeted gay" for most of my adolescence, largely because my feelings for women were completely thrown to the wind after watching Fright Night for the first time. I was so struck by Jerry Dandridge's effortless charm and masterful techniques of seduction. Everything about him, I found alluring. I was so infatuated with him, I convinced myself that I couldn't possibly be a lesbian, because the attraction I felt for him was undeniable.
I spent most of my adolescence "dating" and sleeping with women in secret. I grew up in a family that was constantly under scrutiny in the public eye of my small community, and I was terrified of being outed. But there was always that attraction to Jerry Dandridge. This indescribable desire to want to be Amanda Bearse's "Amy," and know what it felt like to be in that embrace pulsed through me. (The irony that Amanda Bearse is a lesbian is not lost on me.) I couldn't figure out why I was so fascinated by him, and it was, quite frankly, confusing the shit out of me sexually.
So, my closeted, queer, ass starting sleeping with cismen, in addition to the women I had been already sleeping with in secret.
And I didn't hate it.
Whenever I talk with my lesbian friends about our sex lives, the hatred of the phallus is always loudly on display. "Worst experience of my life!" "You couldn't pay me to put one of those in my mouth." "Balls! Have you ever smelled balls?" "Oh my god. Never. Never again in my life."
My experiences were not like theirs, and I couldn't understand why. I never hated the genitalia attached to cis-men the way my lesbian friends did, what does that say about me? To be completely honest, I rather enjoy the experience.
I didn't hate having sex with a penis involved, but I knew that I felt deeper and more intimate connections with women. Does that mean I'm not gay? Does that make me straight? Or bi? Or something else entirely?
Well, much like how it doesn't magically make you gay if you like to have something inserted in your ass during sex, a lesbian enjoying penetration doesn't magically make them straight. It took me a very long time to realize that biological responses to stimuli do not equate to sexuality. Plenty of men can identify that Channing Tatum is an attractive man without being gay, just as I can identify that Jerry Dandridge is attractive and seductive without being straight.
However, I do know this: I would not be with my current partner, a non-op transgender woman, if I hadn't been stimulated by Jerry Dandridge and therefore sought out the company of phallic genitalia. I had been convinced my entire life that if I was gay, it meant that I hated penises and would find no joy in them.
My girlfriend and I have conversations frequently about lesbians who she would go on a few dates with, only to be turned down by them because they couldn't get over the fact she has a penis.
My girlfriend's anatomy does not erase her gender identity, but for a lot of lesbians, the lack of a certain "part" is a deal breaker. Being with my partner doesn't make me any less gay just as her anatomy doesn't make her any less of a woman. People are conditioned to like what they like, and they're more than entitled to have preferences, but I know in my heart of hearts, that if it wasn't for Fright Night, I'd also have been conditioned to believe that I would only enjoy cis-gay sex.
BJ Colangelo is a Cleveland-based film journalist and actress turned screenwriter. Known for her provocative real-life storytelling and hot-take analyses on gender and LGBTQ+ representation in horror films, BJ's work has been featured in numerous trades including Blumhouse.com, Fangoria Magazine, Bloody Disgusting, Vulture, Medium, Birth.Movies.Death. and Playboy, just to name a few. A lifelong cinephile, she refers to herself as the lovechild of Christopher Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT and Susan Sarandon in THE HUNGER. She recently wrapped production on her directorial feature debut after writing, producing, and directing short films for the last five years.