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QUEER HISTORY

Why are vampires so queer?


Liz Highleyman | October 31, 2005

Catherine Deneuve

The image of the vampire has undergone dramatic changes over the past century, from Bram Stoker's Count Dracula to Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger. But one feature remains prominent: Vampires are often gay, lesbian, or bisexual, sometimes gender-bending, and always queer.

The myth of the vampire is an ancient one that crosses many cultures. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is often credited with writing the first modern vampire tale with hints of same-sex desire, his 1797 poem "Christabel." John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), with elements borrowed from his reputed lover, Lord Byron, is said to be the first blood-sucking vampire story in the English language.

Vampire stories proliferated in the late 19th century. In Irish writer Sheridan LeFanu's novel Carmilla (1872), the eponymous vampire expresses passionate desire for her victim Laura. Early gay rights activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was also a pioneer of gay male vampire literature. His short story "Manor" (1884) tells of a young sailor who dies in a shipwreck, but returns each night to suck blood from his living friendís nipple. The best-known literary vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), was not homosexual, but the story did include homoerotic interactions between Mina and Lucy.

The early 1970s have been called the "the Golden Age of lesbian vampire movies." Among the many examples are Vampyros Lesbos, Daughters of Darkness, and The Velvet Vampire. These films established the image of the female vampire as a ravishing seductress who uses her sexuality to entrap men, even as she preys on innocent women. According to filmmaker Andrea Weiss, the lesbian vampire represents the threat posed by feminism.

The '70s also saw the emergence of the camp vamp, for example, in Blacula (1972), in which two gay antique collectors unleash a vampire who was once an African prince, and Andy Warhol's Blood for Dracula (1974), featuring a vampire who must feed on virgins, yet can only find sluts.

Vampire chic underwent a resurgence with the publication of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976). While Rice has said her vampires are not interested in sex, various same-sex couples in her books have passionate relationships – including Lestat and Louis, who raise a vampire child together. Seven years later, Tony Scott's The Hunger (1983) introduced Miriam (played by Catherine Deneuve), who seduces a doctor played by Susan Sarandon.

Why are vampires so queer? "When you think of a man who dresses well, stays out late, and has an endless appetite for supple young flesh, admit it: Vampire is the second thing that comes to mind," critic Wenzel Jones once quipped. For lesbians and bisexual women, the vamp resonates as a woman who transgresses patriarchal norms and takes charge of her desires. With the advent of AIDS, vampires became even more relevant to the gay community, as blood and sex became linked with disease and death.

Vampires hold a special fascination for queer readers and writers. Several GLBT authors renowned for other genres have also written vampire fiction, including Patrick Califia and John Preston. Jewelle Gomezís Gilda Stories (1991) trace black history through the eyes of an escaped slave girl adopted by a vampire woman who runs a New Orleans brothel, while David Thomas Lord's Bound in Blood (2001) has hunky vampire Jack cruising Greenwich Village for tricks, whom he drains in more ways than one.

Why are vampires more queer than werewolves or witches, goblins or ghouls? Vampires are characterized by elegance and sensuality; their needs are not dependent on gender or genitals. Their penetrating bite offers a unique form of intimacy – not to mention immortality. The vampire doesn't kill his or her victims, but rather transforms them.


Further Reading
  • Doyle, David. Queer Horror website: www.queerhorror.com.
  • Gordon, Joan, and Veronica Hollinger, eds. 1997. Blood Read: The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction (University of Pennsylvania).
  • Keesey, Pam. 1997. Vamps: An Illustrated History of the Femme Fatale(Cleis).

    Bonus Limerick:

    There was a gay vampire with pluck
    Who was a bit down on his luck
    He spied a cute lad
    Willing to be had
    But wondered which end he should suck

    Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics.


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