Theo Germaine on the Queerness of Horror, the Alchemy of Time, and “They/Them”

Feature image of Theo Germaine by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

I had the opportunity to interview Theo Germaine during a press junket day for the queer horror film They/Them on Friday, July 22nd. But They/Them wasn’t the first piece of media to put Theo on my radar. When I first saw Theo Germaine, it was as Chris in Work in Progress a show that crashed into my life with an authentic, earnest, messy queerness that was as refreshing and paradigm shifting as I imagine the Kool-Aid Man actually breaking through a wall into your living room would be. As Chris, Theo brought a sensitivity and assuredness that enraptured me and conjured up an unparalleled story, made possible by the alchemy of specificity that emerged when Chris played against show creator and lead Abby McEnany.

Theo brought their ability to fill a character with complexity to their role as Jordan, the lead in They / Them [hilariously pronounced “They Slash Them”] — a feat for a summer slasher ensemble film, where a character might only have a few lines before the next time you see them, they’re screaming. Jordan is a trans nonbinary character whose pronouns are…do I need to tell you…they/them. Watching it, there I was, I believe for the first time, presented with a character who was intended to reflect some aspects of my identity back to me, on purpose. There was no subtext to their presentation, no queer-coding. Just, queerness, as present and clear as a crystalline lake.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scaring myself with horror. I spent countless sleepless nights as a kid, sweating through the after effects of my horror consumption, only to go back for more. Any of my coworkers will tell you that I insist spooky season runs from August (summer slasher season) through January (the end of the most haunted time of the year at the close of the 12 Days of Christmas). It’s well-documented that I’m not alone. Many queer people feel close to monsters, ghosts, the haunted, the villanous. I mean, Autostraddle has both a Ghost tag and a Horror tag. I know that when I was searching for representation as a young queer, I saw myself most closely reflected in the evil-doers on screen — and so, I was curious if Theo shared some of what I and so many of you, I am sure, have felt, too. Not only that, but I also wanted to know what it felt like to step into an explicitly queer role in a horror movie, and to have that horror movie released in the summer of 2022, when trans and gay people and bodily automony is under increasingly public and mainstream attack — not in movies — but in the real world.

It was a busy press junket day for They/Them. I was shuttled into a Zoom waiting room before I felt totally prepared because the person ahead of me bowed out. So, there I was, grabbing at my notes, shutting off my window A/C unit so it wouldn’t make noise, and trying to look like I wasn’t baking in a heat wave when they dropped me into a Zoom press room with Theo and the ten minute timer started.

As nervous as I felt about my first ever press junket interview, Theo, for their part, blew my goth mind, perched coolly on a stool, sitting tall in front of a spooky cabin backdrop, in none other than this outfit:

I’ll give the people who appreciate mesh a moment. 🖤

Throughout the interview, they were kind, thoughtful, and generous with their answers. It was a pleasure to talk to them about queer horror and the timing of the film’s release, and I learned that — apparently — each of us tends to talk in long paragraphs.

Nicole: I wanted to ask you because horror has a long history as a genre of queer subtext and sometimes text. I think that’s actually a huge reason that I’m drawn to horror, as a genre, like from Hellraiser to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Suspiria, there’s so much queerness going on in horror —

Theo: Mm-hmm.

Nicole:This is kind of a two parter, but I wanted to know, because you’re a lead in a queer horror slasher film, what your relationship to the queerness of horror has been like. That’s one. And two, because this is an explicitly queer and trans horror film, what’s it like to be a lead in They/Them?

Theo: Oh, the first part I can say that I have been a really, really huge horror fan for a super long time! I think that one of my first forays into it was actually reading the Goosebumps books when I was a little kid. My cousin outgrew them and I just got a big box of like the whole series, like the whole set at the time.

You know, as a kid, I couldn’t really pick up on what was queer about it, but I just knew that I was really drawn to the genre. And I think it was because, you know, maybe when you’re different in some kind of way…

It’s like — gosh, I guess maybe this question is actually a little hard for me to answer because I literally consume all different types of horror. Whether it’s psychological or, you know, slasher, whether it’s body horror, whether it’s basically any sort of sub genre of horror I’m interested in it.

Nicole: Mm-hmm. Me too.

Theo: I think maybe I felt a way that couldn’t be explained, you know. There was nobody around me who was openly, saying things about being queer. And I was, from the time that I was very little, I very much was like, I knew I was trans, even though I didn’t know what the name was for it until I was an adult.

I knew that I was queer, even though I didn’t know that there was a name for that until I was an adult. And horror is just like, there’s something about consuming it that felt, that feels really cathartic for processing your experiences as a person, the ways that you don’t fit in. There are ways that you can identify with a lot of these characters that show up in horror who are coded in a particular way, because so many of them also don’t fit in.

And a lot of the history of horror is that, you know, those queer coded people who don’t fit in are baddies. They’re the killers. There’s some type of weird stereotype that’s happening.

They’re portrayed in a light that’s not positive… But there’s something that keeps bringing you back to it, even if you don’t get that positive representation that you have, yet. Now with They/Them, I’m hoping that it will help steer a queer representation in film in a different direction.

And being a lead in this film honestly — it was a little intimidating. I’d never done a lead role in a film before. I’ve done some, you know, lead or really high-supporting roles in theater before. But this was very much like — thinking about all the stuff that I had consumed and everything that I know about the history of representation [of queer and trans people] in theater or in horror films — I really felt a huge responsibility, for a little while, to do it right.

Then I was like: I really just actually have to be authentic. I have to really bring myself to the role in order to make it real. And I am responding to all of that negative stereotyping that has happened.

It’s like, I know that I’m a very androgynous person, you know, I’m a nonbinary person. And in my real life, I get othered because people don’t know… don’t know what gender I am.

And that causes a misfit sort of feeling, which is probably something that you experience as well. You know, I would imagine where you kind of exist in the in-between.

Nicole: Mm-hmm.

Theo: And this film shows that that’s good, you know. This film shows that it’s good to be that way. It’s trying to contend with the history of cinema saying it’s not okay to be in between in some kind of way. And that’s kind of like a long, like windy sort of answer.

But because film is changing all the time and representation is changing all the time, it’s like, there’s so much that I think about when trying to tackle these two topics, you know. So I… I hope that that… I hope that that makes sense (laughs).

Nicole: No, it made a lot of sense. Thank you.

Theo: Good.

Nicole: I loved what you said about realizing that you just had to be authentic in this one role and in this moment and in this film — because there’s a whole genre and this film is another entry in that genre and you don’t have to be, like, everything.

Okay. Next question (laughs). Um, so the timing of this film’s release is really interesting, right? There’s a lot going on in terms of anti-gay and anti-trans legislation. Roe v Wade was just overturned, everything else.

And this is a movie that’s actively critiquing — not just conversion camps existing — but also like this quack psychology around queerness or trans-ness in kids being some kind of sign of emotional damage, which we know is obviously not true. How do you feel about this film coming out, now, in summer of 2022?

Theo: Oh gosh.

Nicole: (laughs).

Theo: I can say last year we obviously had no idea that this, you know, these things that have happened more recently would be happening. I hope that people who watch this film really see how it’s like a total sin to try to police somebody’s sexuality or gender.

And also to try to take away somebody’s autonomy over themself, you know, which is a big part of what’s happening in the country right now is that a lot of people are like, “no, we don’t think that everybody should get to decide what to do with their own body.”

The film really takes queer fear seriously. And it takes the things that we face — whether it’s the microaggressions or the gaslighting or the flat out conversion therapy [seriously]. It causes so much damage and it’s so alienating. And I want people to, you know, see the damage that it’s done and see how it really hurts, you know, hurts people.

I hope that people are moved by the character’s experiences in the film. Also, simultaneously, for queer audiences especially, I hope that people really feel empowered. I hope that they feel inspired by the way the campers band together and the way the campers survive in different ways during the film.

How they defy the conditioning that’s being put on them, especially the characters who are experiencing denial, because everybody at the beginning of the film arrives at camp under a different kind of mindset.

The thing that almost speaks to me the most is the way [some] characters are really, really dealing with wanting to fit in a particular way. They change by the end of the film; the way they come into their own… without giving spoilers away.

Art can inspire, and I hope that it does. I don’t like that there is an attack on body autonomy that is happening right now in this particular way. It’s been happening for a while. But uh, I’m getting more scared, I’m gonna be honest.

Nicole: Thank you for that. Yeah. It definitely, it feels accessible to everyone as a movie, at the same time as it feels like it is also for us like for queer and trans people.

Theo: Yeah, I agree with that.

Nicole: Yeah. So thank you, thank you so much for your work. Thank you for what you’re doing and thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Theo: Thank you so much.

Nicole: It was great meeting you.

Theo: It was great meeting you too, Nicole, right?

Nicole: Yes, Nicole.

Theo: Yes, Nicole. Great meeting you, Nicole.

The queer horror film, They/Them, premieres on Friday, August 5th on Peacock.

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Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 227 articles for us.


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