Author and gothic expert Tracy Fahey is a woman in horror who always interests me. I suppose it’s because my first love in horror myself is the gothic sub-genre, but also Tracy always has intelligent and thought-provoking things to say. It’s why, besides wanting to support her, I invited her to write another article for this site during the time frame of her latest release, a collection of female body horror. I knew she’d discuss something that would be make me want to think a bit harder, challenge me. She didn’t disappoint, but extended my thoughts of the pre-conceived boundaries of body horror I had in my mind. And she’s cited one of my favorite stories, and biggest influences, in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman Perkins!
I hope you enjoy it and check out Tracy’s collection too!
I Spit Myself Out: Contemporary Female Body Horror
by Tracy Fahey, Author of I Spit Myself Out
My new collection, I Spit Myself Out, is yet another addition to the rich tradition of writing the female body in horror. Earlier seminal work includes Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ masterful short story of 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” perhaps the finest portrait of patriarchal repression of post-partum depression ever written. Similarly, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) telegraphed anxieties about female autonomy, while Madge Piercy’s 1976 speculative feminist classic, Woman on the Edge of Time, contrasted the wretched life of protagonist Connie Ramos inside and outside the asylum she is confined to with the utopia of Mattapoisett.
In recent years, there has been a renaissance of work on the theme of female body horror. This can be viewed as a direct response to the increasing anxiety surrounding women’s rights. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was recently adapted for TV. This powerful series, with its contemporary setting, speaks to real, current fears about female reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and control. Since 2018, female protestors against the erosion of body rights under the Trump regime have worn the iconic Handmaids’ garb of white bonnets and red robes to signal their visceral fear of a new Gilead made reality. Atwood was spurred on by the march of current events to write a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale thiety years later, The Testaments (2019). In an interview with Laura Lynch, Atwood said of writing this sequel:
I was no, no, no, no, no for a while, but then No. 1: history changed. Instead of going away from Gilead, we turned around and started coming back towards Gilead.
This vision is echoed in Christina Dalcher’s Vox (2016) where women are literally silenced, forbidden to read, and their conversation limited to under a hundred words a day. In Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens (2018) girls begin to transform and to disintegrate, in tandem with the decline of their hometown. Similarly, Georgina Bruce’s magnificent collection, This House Of Wounds (2019), presents a series of visions of the female psyche as riddled with pain, both physical and mental.
In writing I Spit Myself Out, I was conscious of this tradition. There are definite influences that permeate it (there are shades of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the titular story, and an Atwoodeque fear of the subjugation of the female body in the perimenopausal story ‘Becoming’). However, in this collection, I wanted to find new ways to articulate these concerns. My first influence was Julia Kristeva’s essay ‘The Powers of Horror,’ and in particular by the way she explores the notion of the abject; that which is of us, but which the body casts off.
“I” do not want to listen, “I” do not assimilate it. “I” expel it. But since the food is not an “other” for “me,” who am only in their desire, I expel myself, I spit myself out, I abject myself with the same motion through which “I” claim to establish myself. That detail, perhaps an insignificant one, but one that they ferret out, emphasize, evaluate, that trifle turns me inside out, guts sprawling; it is thus that they see the “I” am in the process of becoming an other at the expense of my own death.
Justin Park’s wonderful cover design of I Spit Myself Out perfectly captures Kristeva’s idea of the difficulties that arise when we separate ourselves from what we abject. In this collection I wanted to look at these liminal areas of the female body – the skin as membrane, abraded and permeated, eating disorders that purge the body, and, of course, blood rituals that mark the passage of the body from puberty to menopause.
Ancillary to this was my own cultural background of Irish Catholicism and its problematic attitudes to the female body. So this collection is also rife with images of miraculous cures, stigmata, statues, stained glass, and shrines. It also betrays my interest in both forensics (explored in the story ‘The Wrong Ones’) and morbid anatomy (as featured in ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’). The final font of inspiration for this collection was the troubled relationship between the body and the mind. Characters in I Spit Myself Out inhabit an uneasy world where their bodies become theatres of pain, places that play out the tension between the expectations of society, the desire to conform, and the rebellious refusal to do so.
Like Connie Ramos, like Offred, like the unnamed narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the women of I Spit Myself Out face their anxieties about what it is to be female, they find their voices, and, ultimately, they spit their stories out.
I Spit Myself Out, About –
Eighteen unsettling narratives map the female experience from puberty to menopause.
I Spit Myself Out is a collection of female-voiced stories exploring the terror that lurks beneath the surface of the skin. In this collection, an Anatomical Venus opens to display her organs, clients of a mysterious clinic disappear one by one, a police investigation reveals family secrets, revenge is inked in the skin, and bodies pulsate in the throes of illness, childbirth and religious ritual.
Disturbing and provoking in equal turns, I Spit Myself Out reinvents the body as a breeding ground of terrors that resurface inexorably in the present.
Tracy Fahey, Biography –
Tracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction. In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Her short fiction is published in over thirty American, British, Australian and Irish anthologies.
She holds a PhD on the Gothic in visual arts, and her non-fiction writing is published in edited collections and journals. She has been awarded residencies in Ireland and Greece. She has written two collections, New Music For Old Rituals and The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, the mini-collection, Unheimlich Manoeuvres In The Dark, and the novel, The Girl In The Fort.
Her new collection, I Spit Myself Out is published by the Sinister Horror Company in February 2021.
You can read another article by Tracy, about Doppelgangers, which she wrote for this site last year, HERE.
I’ll be celebrating #WomeninHorror and #BlackHistoryMonth in both February and March specifically here, but also still promoting #WomeninHistory month which is March as well. But you know me, I promote women and diversity all year long anyway. But feel free to follow along on my page for Women in Horror for this special honorary time.