When is a monster not a monster?
When you love it..
These isolated verses, nested inside a poem by Caitlyn Siehl, strike very close to the intersection between vampires and queerness.
The myth of the vampire as a liminal figure embodying cultural preoccupations and anxieties dates to its birth in literature. Even before certain common characteristics, such as aversion to sunlight or affinity to bats, were codified in our understanding of vampires, the core of what a vampire did and the fears they were meant to invoke was clear: their sexually symbolic preying was and has been an ideal demonic representation of non-normative desire.
The vampire, however, has evolved from these entirely othering beginnings. First, they captivated writers and readers enough to pull the point of view inside the vampires’ own heads, giving us first row seats to their struggles against their monstrous nature. Then, they became half-domesticated, protagonists of stories where “good” vampires (and other monsters) rose to defend or fight alongside mortals against “bad” vampires, sometimes so inhuman as to lack even the ability to communicate intelligibly. The closer to mundane humanity, the more understandable a vampire becomes, the less it can be a vehicle for what society attempts to push into the dark corners. A domesticated monster in a heterosexual relationship, mindful of their nature and accepted as a fully integrated member of a social group, is little more than an attempt to smooth away vampirism’s old creases.
But the great appeal of the vampire romance, of the vampire’s sexuality, is at once the appeal of something forbidden and hidden, and of something liberating in the way it breaks the bonds and conformities of normative, “in the light” social relations and relationships. It’s little wonder that the trope calls so deeply to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The World of Darkness doesn’t shy away from the disturbing, night-crawling nature of vampires, especially with the advent of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th edition, in which the themes of Hunger and Humanity are inextricably joined; the game encourages players to dive headfirst into the conflict between bloodthirst and soul. We have however grown past vampirism as a coding for queerness. With the supernatural nature of the monster standing on its own feet, without needing to act as a simulacrum for the socially unspeakable, vampires are free to be both ambiguous creatures torn apart by inner strife and queer.
For the 5th edition’s canon, we can find stories such as that of Lucita de Aragón and Fatima al-Faqadi. Initially bitter enemies during the Crusades, the two Lasombra and Banu Haqim assassins eventually become on-and-off lovers. The two women exemplify the intriguing nature of relationships among immortals plagued by the Beast: at first divided by factions and politics, they learn to coexist with the violent and often unpredictable push and pull of an eternal rivalry laced with affection. Originally introduced in the Children of the Night sourcebook, published in 1999, the relationship also receives a mention in the Fatima al-Faqadi Loresheet in the Camarilla sourcebook for the 5th edition.
In Trails of Ash and Bone, a supplement of the Cults of the Blood Gods sourcebook, we also encounter the Florentine Council, the governing body of the Hecata in Florence, and its leader: Carmen Giovanni. Carmen’s pronouns are they/them, and the short text by Joshua Alan Doetsch that introduces them puts on display the many horrors with which a member of the Necromancers brushes shoulders. We are treated to a lengthy description of the gory preparation and devouring of an ortolan bird, to the severed heads that mutely open and close their mouths, and to the sight of the Brazen Bull, a hollow bull-shaped torture device inside of which people were cooked to death. Carmen used it to destroy their own brother. The character’s gender identity is never called into question throughout, nor used as horror fuel.
As a Vampire: The Masquerade roleplayer and writer myself, this intersection where the monster is a monster and happens, incidentally, to be queer and engage in queer love is the satisfying sweet spot. The inhabiting of my queerness in the vampirism of my characters allows me to touch on themes of concealment, of illicit pleasure and danger, but also of pride at the same time.
My vampires do not aim to be coded as LGBTQ+, nor to stand for anxieties over “irregular” attraction. Their struggles are struggles of power, their plague that of social backstabbing and careerism in a cannibalistic night world. Struggles for survival of literal blood-drinkers. The enigmatic wants and passions that are inherent to them are instead made explicit as yet another lens through which they experience unlife. Here is my queerness, I say to readers, fellow roleplayers, and members of the communities I moderate. Much like sires with their childer, I embrace it.
For the Vampire: The Masquerade Game Jam 2022, a talented team and I built such a story in the visual novel dating sim Rat Rhapsody, rewarded as one of the jam’s winners. The World of Darkness is ripe for the creation of similar stories, as we can see both in official and unofficial streamed actual plays and other games. Erika Ishii in LA by Night brought us a bisexual character with Annabelle, while Simone in NY by Night is a trans woman; she was firstly introduced as a Storyteller-played character and then portrayed on screen by Persephone Valentine. In the character roster of World of Darkness games we also find Omnis, the nonbinary Nosferatu Primogen in Bloodhunt, and all Choice of Games collaborations offer players the chance to play as more than one fixed gender or sexuality.
In Parliament of Knives by Jeffrey Dean, we also learn that the Camarilla Prince of Ottawa, the Ventrue Arundel, was involved in a complicated romantic relationship with a Brujah, the revolutionary Anarch Robert Ward, once again intertwining politics and forbidden love.
Modern mainstream media itself has been stepping away from vampires stigmatised as predatory menaces. One of the first movies to combine horror and bisexuality without relying on bisexuality as horror is The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott. This staple of vampire cinema entrances with atmospheric shots and melancholic moods, leading us through a harrowing story of addiction to blood, of the process of accelerated ageing, and of the looped repetition of loss in relationships. Bluebeard comparisons come naturally to mind, and Vampire: The Masquerade fans will find a familiar symbology in the use of Ankh pendants.
Another somewhat vintage option that nonetheless holds up to the test of time is The Gilda Stories, a novel published in 1991 by the writer and activist Jewelle Gomez. The book’s protagonist is a Black lesbian woman whose story begins in 1850 Louisiana and progresses through time in a series of varied historical settings, eventually landing us in 2050. The spare yet poetic language delivers us an introspective journey through themes of oppression, consent, and choice. Once again, the vampire’s monstrous nature and the human’s personal identity meet in that sweet spot where what was once merely subtextual or coded is now elevated to textual exploration and acknowledgement.
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