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Repression and internalised homophobia
As Dion and I talked about in the episode, vampires have always been an allegory for sexual freedom and diverse sexualities. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is rife with hidden sexual desire. It’s not a coincidence that he wrote it after his good friend and openly queer man Oscar Wilde was sentenced to prison for sodomy.
It’s only recently, I would say since the seventies with films like Daughters of Darkness, The Hunger, The Karnstein Trilogy, that textually queer vampires really took off. Of course, with the advent of media like Twilight and the Vampire diaries, vampires became heterosexualised and the allegory for queerness lost its bite (AHAHAHAHAHAH) — I mean lost traction.
One of the first pieces of vampire fiction, Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, was about a lesbian vampire who preys on the girls of the village and seduces her great-great-great-something-granddaughter Laura. As we talk about in the episode, most vampire texts, and maybe all of them until Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, ended tragically for the vampires and enforced the belief that all vampires are evil, with the implication that so are LGBT+ people. Though not as well known as Dracula, unless you’ve watched the YouTube series, Carmilla is arguably one of the most influential vampire texts, and prominent for its portrayal of lesbians. The ambiguous ending, which I find to be emblematic of literature of the time, actually gives an interesting take on what would become a very long genre: Carmilla, while she is exposed as a monster, isn’t killed at the end of the novella.
At least, not textually. I’m sure we’re meant to take away from it that she is eventually hunted and killed, but since the death of the author is now well and truly underway, we can read it however the fuck we like. While it is an example of predatory lesbians, Laura herself is still a lesbian, and since she survives without any harm, without Carmilla turning her, or without her dying, it is not such a scathing indictment of lesbianism as a whole. So good on you, Sheridan, for writing a revolutionary text well ahead of western literature.
That being said, there have only been a few examples of canonically queer vampires, which we delve into in this the episode. Mostly over the last few decades gay vampires have been relegated to erotic literature, out of the mainstream — I looked at the 50 Must Read LGBT Fantasy Books on Bookriot and couldn’t find any I recognised, although I mention in the episode White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which is a fantastic novel and definitely worth a read.
Homophobia from outside sources and the allegory for AIDS
The Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, was a set of rules enforced in America cinema from 1934 until the New Hollywood era of the 1960s and ‘70s. The rules of the code were varied, but included the idea that “perverse” topics (such as homosexuality, interracial relationships, and bestiality—because, you know, men fucking men is akin to men fucking animals) weren’t allowed to be shown on screen. These rules perpetuated the puritanical ideals that Hollywood, the Catholic Legion of Decency, and many American presidents wanted to present to the world, and have continued to this day. Sure, fire over 500 drone strikes in Middle Eastern countries, but have a blockbuster movie centered around a healthy, queer relationship, that doesn’t end in tragedy? God, no.
While the anti-communist crusade ravaged American life and politics during the post-WWII period, the Lavender Scare was also ramping up. This period of queer vilification lasted until 1995 when President Clinton overturned the FBI’s and NSA’s ban on homosexuals in their workforces. Suffice to say, the gays terrified people. It wasn’t hard to translate that into vampires. The 70s and 80s were a boon for monster movies, putting in place some of the best practical effects to this day, and vampires were right up there with the kinds of monsters people wanted to be terrified by.
The 1958 Dracula, directed by Terence Fisher, is much more violent and sexually graphic than the book. It was the first text ot show that vampires can be killed by sunlight—thus bringing homosexuality out into the light to be vanquished, much as the Lavender Scare did.
Vampires from the 70s onwards in Anne Rice’s novels and movies like Fright Night and The Lost Boys echo the sentiments of homophobes that homosexuality was a predatory seduction — in Fright Night, the vampire bites a teen boy and turns him, only for him to turn into a wolf and attack the vampire killer, and the Lost Boys turn predation into homosocial bonding and family by creating more vampires. The Hunger demonises the sapphic relationship between the two main women by Sarah’s repulsion of drinking human blood and then locking Miriam in a coffin.
During the ‘80s, vampirisim became linked to AIDS by the allegory of blood and sexually trasmitted infections. This continued in various texts throughout the last few decades — in Dracula Unbound 1991, Dracula suffers from syphillis; vampires in True Blood are only affected by Hepatitis D and then later Hepatitis V; Blade in his 1998 film has to inject serum to suppress his thirst. The parallels are clear.
Overall, there was a lot people had to say about vampires that can be translated directly into sentiments about queer people and other minorities.
Coming out of the coffin
Throughout the ‘70s and onwards, vampires became more explicitly erotic — Dracula’s Vampire Lust, Spermula, Bite Me Darling, Jacula. But it isn’t until Anne Rice’s 1976 The Vampire Chronicles that the vampire counter culture was exposed. It existed along side but in the shadow’s of the straight, human hegemony. Instead of shrinking from the light and self-flaggelating, these new vampires revelled in their bloodlust. We see Lestat turning Louis into a vampire and their blood binge; in True Blood, most of the vampires love to be what they are.
This heralded in a new gay sexual freedom that sees titles such as The Last Vampire (1990s) and Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; Or Up With Dead People (2008).
We talk about True Blood in the Sexuali-tea episode, but it is the most glaring example of the clear allegory for queerness which actually features on-screen, canon representation of queer vampires. We’ve come a long way since Carmilla, but they’re here now, and gay vampires are not going to hide in the shadows anymore. They’re meeting the sun.