By C.A. Wolters (They/Them)
Photography by Cesar Maldonado
A big thank you to Den Anden Side for letting us use their club as a location for the photoshoot and to dMasque for lending us the Pleaser boots and harness worn by Barbera.
Blade, Drucilla, Damian, Nadja of Antipaxos and Edward Cullen – what do they have in common? They’re all incredibly queer. Or at least their shared ancestors were. Through centuries, the vampire has frightened, tantalised, and fascinated us in literature and on the big screen. They’re parasitic, hungry, and walking sex symbols! But where did our macabre attraction to them come from and why can it be argued that the vampire’s monster DNA is queer?
The very first vampire story was lesbian
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably the first that comes to mind when most of us think about the original vampire, but the inspiration for Stoker’s bestseller came from another vampire tale. The lesbian novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu was published two decades before Dracula. Carmilla follows young Laura who grows up in a grand and lonely castle with her father, and one day she happens to meet the cold, supernaturally beautiful countess Carmilla. They develop a form of friendship more akin to ownership, where Laura’s orgasmic dreams about the countess torments her just as much as the bite marks on her neck.
As the story progresses, we sense the character Carmilla, who never falls for her victims, developing intimate feelings for her dear Laura.
“With gloating eyes, she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine; you shall be mine; you and I are one forever.’”
The novella was written in a heteronormative time where queer themes had to be cloaked in gothic symbolism and supernatural metaphors, but Carmilla and Laura’s relationship was obviously more than platonic.
A shape-shifting metaphor
Vampires, and other scary monsters, have historically always been used as metaphors for society’s fears and to highlight sociological discourses. In the Dark Ages, monsters and folklore were used as a practical way to scare and warn. You should not go out in the dark, sleep with your hands under the covers, or pick up a strange child in the woods, lest it end badly for yourself and possibly the village community.
The silent film Nosferatu (1922) is a good example of how this tendency has carried on through the centuries. The film shows us a frightening creature, creeping into shadowy bedrooms to devour women and children in a chaotic time, where antisemitism was at its highest and World War 2 was imminent. The vampire thus became a propaganda tool to further nationalism and shun certain groups of people.
As times changed, we grew less afraid of the ‘strangers’ and more sceptical of our own governments, and people began to revolt against authoritarian leadership and the patriarchy.
In Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire from 1976, we follow the ruthless vampire Lestat as he sets his sights on the beautiful Louis, and against Louis’ will, Lestat transforms him into a creature of the night. In the beginning, Lestat and Louis have no laws or rules to adhere to, and they share a home, sleep in the same coffin, and end up ‘adopting’ the darling nine year old Claudia. Later, they encounter a larger vampire coven, led by Armand, that turns out to have quite a few rules, but the majority of the plot follows the relationship between Louis and Lestat; a relationship that can be described as a halfway point between best friends, worst enemies, and lovers.
It may be a bloody and dysfunctional family, but it is nonetheless a recognisable family constellation with father, father, and daughter.
After Anne Rice, the vampire as a love interest and sex symbol became less of a taboo. As the visibility of the queer community grew in the 21st century, love-vampirism took the world by storm. Buffy, Blade, Vampire Diaries, Underworld, Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries – an endless array of hot potential monster partners took over pop culture. And although the majority of relationships between vampires and humans were heteronormative, the bloodsuckers kept their underlying queer thematics. They lived in the shadows, or in parallel societies where the rules of normative culture dissolved because the vampire is above office jobs, STDs, and cultural or religious norms, something that most queers in the eighties and nineties were subjected to and in dire need of a break from – in the fictional oasis of the vampire.
Suck me dry, Daddy!
Not only are vampires generally strong, hypnotic, and in possession of especially strong senses that catch the smallest sound and allow them to see in the dark, they also have an insatiable appetite for either blood or sex – or both.
The blood drinking of the modern vampire is about more than just survival. Blood sucking is described as a source of deep, almost sexual pleasure in virtually all works that thematise vampirism, and if we break down the different parts into nutritional processes, it looks like this:
The vampire has to get close enough to its victim to bite them. The vampire has to bite where the skin is thinnest and there is a pulsing vein, meaning neck, wrist, or inner thigh. The vampire often injects its paralysing, numbing or transforming venom into the victim’s bloodstream and consumes the victim’s bodily fluids. And all of this usually happens in the dark, hidden and intimate, between two or more parties.
Here, we can see several similarities between erotica and a vampire feast, and when you add the vampire’s own experience of the situation in for instance True Blood, the session is even more reminiscent of sex, with orgasm as the outcome.
””Drink,” he said raggedly, and I sucked hard. He groaned, louder, deeper, and I felt him pressing against me. A little ripple of madness went through me, and I attached myself to him like a barnacle, and he (his blood) entered me, began moving, his hands now gripping my hip bones.”
– Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries / True Blood
This intimate meal must be consumed on a regular basis. Vampires are parasites that need access to a human’s life-giving fluids in order to function optimally, they need us mortals, and they have an instinctive hunger to sink their teeth into a victim as soon as a single drop of blood trickles out! It’s a hunger so uncontrollable that sometimes they can’t help themselves, so what can we weak mortals do to resist?
The answer is: Nothing.
You might be thinking that we’re about to delve into a talk about consent (which is extremely valid here and in all monster-sex themes), but I’d instead like to take us in the direction of the female liberation that comes with submission, which can be connected to vampirism and paranormal romance.
As me and Line Lybecker (Cand.Mag. with a speciality in paranormal romance) discussed on stage at the Fantasy Festival in Esbjerg, in a conversation about monster partners, we live in a time where feminism has bitten women and female-represented people in the arse.
In order to fulfil the female role in society, it’s not enough to just be a housewife and/or a birthing machine (which is dehumanising and difficult enough in itself), now you should also have a university degree, have freshly baked buns ready for the parents’ group, know the newest make-up and clothing trends, be dominant in the bedroom at the same time as being on top of the day-to-day life of your family and household. That’s not equality, the women’s role has just been expanded with more responsibilities. And if you submit, either at work or in a relationship, you’re a ‘bad’ feminist.
That’s obviously not true. But if it’s a big and strong magical vampire who can’t help its instinct to eat from its victim in a passionate embrace, and the victim can’t help but enjoy it due to magic and hypnosis, then the submission doesn’t happen voluntarily. You can’t be a ‘bad’ feminist if the one forcing you into submission is a fictional creature you’re powerless against – after all, vampires were built to draw in victims. In that way, vampires erase the shame that sometimes comes with erotic fantasies of submission.
The same liberation can be applied to queerness, to a person in the closet or with internalised homophobia. The person meets a vampire who puts them in a queer situation where they no longer can (or have to) fight it.
Again, the ‘consensual-non-consent’* theme is a grey area, and there are many theories about why we tend to romanticise assault when it comes to vampire partners. Whether its a non-physical assault, like Edward stalking Bella, or a physical assault, where Bill can’t control his bloodthirst and attacks Sookie to bite her, there’s quite a few arguments for the stories being an expression of our need to psychologically live out our fantasies in a safe space (fiction) and in that way process reality.
The vegetarian vampire at the end of the world
Assault fantasies and CNC are hot. And it shouldn’t be a taboo that it’s hot (when done right). But having trust in your partner and knowing that your partner trusts you is just as sexy. If not more so.
There’s a spiritual connection, a tantalising tension when there’s trust that your partner won’t do genuine harm to you, and that tension is amplified the moment the sexual encounter is postponed.
Call it foreplay.
”Going to bed with the monster (the vampire) is to risk your life. The monster has to restrain its monster instincts to avoid eating its lover and therein lies a declaration of trust. This self-control and restraint becomes the ultimate declaration of love …”
Before, the vampire was sexy because it had everything! Youth, wealth, and the ability to attract, but now they’re attractive because they know how to hold back.
The ‘vegetarian vampires’ of Twilight (2008) are not especially queer, but many fans discovered a queer community through the book series and later the films. The book touches on themes of exclusion; both Bella and Edward feel like outcasts and they have a longing to be accepted that naturally resonates with minority groups.
Today, vampires don’t just frighten us. They comfort us. In a time of pandemics, financial crises, climate change, and unrest, they allow queerness and offer us a breather in fiction where we can allow ourselves to fall for their monstrous charm.
*consensual non-consent or CNC is a term used in the BDSM community to describe fantasies or scenarios that involve situations where consent is violated. This is not real abuse, but an agreement between partners where clear rules and boundaries are set.