Dead Queer: LGBTQ+ History Through a Vampiric Lens
It’s Winter, and it’s officially spooky season. Of course, every day can be Halloween, but in the past year or so, there has been a resurgence of one scary icon in particular, the vampire. Vampires have been a staple in pop culture for decades, spanning the horror genre. When you think of the vampire, it could be the original Dracula, whose impact on the vampire mythos has been unprecedented, or the recent resurgence of the Twilight Saga, which has been christened ‘The Twilight Renaissance’ by fans and the internet.
The vampiric archetype has evolved and changed with time, starting as a horrific monster intent on drinking the life essence of the innocent (mood), changing into an aristocratic figure, and finally, as a romantic hero. However, vampires and the LGBTQ+ community have long shared ties, as both have been persecuted, pushed away from society, and condemned by conventional religion. As a result, monsters, like vampires are often used to represent minorities who deviate from the norm. But, as the LGBTQ+ community has fought for acceptance in society, the vampire has similarly fought the same fight.
Written by Bram Stoker, Dracula has long been speculated to have ties to the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years, there has been speculation that Dracula was a means for Stoker to confront his struggles with his own homosexuality. Kaya Genc explored this in their article, ‘Coming Out of The Coffin’, for The New Inquiry. Genc said that Stoker’s mystique surrounding their private life lent to this interpretation.
“Reading it, you might not get the slightest hint of Stoker’s relationships with men, particularly with his friend Oscar Wilde, or this friend’s centrality to the Dracula story. But it was this silence itself that shaped Stoker’s desire.”Stoker had a strong admiration for the American poet Walt Whitman, which has often been queer-coded and viewed as an expression of Victorian homosexuality. Stoker’s rampant homophobia against Oscar Wilde demanded the imprisonment of all gay authors. Genc states that Stoker began to write Dracula after Wilde’s imprisonment and seemed to justify his need for the closet by painting Wilde and gay men as monsters.
Dracula laid the foundations for the vampire as the aristocrat, which was emphasised in Anne Rice’s cult-classic The Vampire Chronicles, beginning with Interview with the Vampire, which established the decadent vampire. But, of course, if you have been alive for so long, then you could accumulate a vast fortune. Louis de Pointe du Lac is changed into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt, who is openly bisexual, and the two are referred to as lovers, even creating, or ‘adopting,’ a child. However, Louis hates his vampiric status, wearing the pain he has witnessed on his sleeve, frozen in time. He refuses to change another person, unwilling to subject anyone else to his torture. I imagine this might ring true for some gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people who harbour self-hatred and wish to change that.
Vampires became more explicit with their queerness in the early 2000s leading up to 2010, with vampires dominating television and film. The clearest is True Blood, which is often regarded highly for its inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters. Anne Cohen wrote in her article for Refinery29 that True Blood’s strength lay in its comparison of the supernatural as ‘others’ which could represent marginalised communities, namely the LGBTQ+ community. The language within True Blood certainly takes inspiration from the queer people and their struggles. The inclusion of vampires into society is referred to as ‘coming out of the coffin’, which is thinly-veiled queer coding. Their problems mirror the LGBTQ+ community, with marriage between vampires and humans only legal in certain states, and prejudice from religious groups. As Cohen states, the opening credits featured a billboard reading ‘God hates fangs’, reminiscent of the mantra of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Despite these allegories being assumed, showrunner Alan Ball, an openly gay man, insisted the show was not a metaphor for gay rights. Ball stated that the vampires in True Blood were morally ambiguous. Therefore, this comparison to LGBTQ+ people could be considered problematic. In her article, Cohen suggested that True Blood was not as progressive as perhaps once thought and said: “it rarely allowed LGBTQ+ characters to be sexual in a way that didn’t somehow serve a heterosexual-focused plot line.”
Despite this apparent progression, there was a lot of homophobic rhetoric thrown towards the Twilight Saga as Stephenie Meyer changed the vampire’s aversion to the sun into having their skin sparkle, which was deemed a horrifying change to vampire lore. For some this amounted to rendering vampires as ‘gay’. That was often the punchline of the joke when it came to this new interpretation of vampires, stripped of the masculinity highly valued by straight men. Vampires were now one big gay joke.
However, what if vampires were one big gay joke? What We Do In The Shadows has run with that concept, and it has garnered a lot of popularity. Initially, a short film created by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, What We Do In The Shadows, followed four vampire roommates living in a New Zealand flat. Waititi and Clements take the traditional tropes associated with vampires and turn them on its head. Due to the film’s popularity, a television show was commissioned for FX. The plot is similar to the film, but the main cast features predominantly queer characters. And, their queerness is treated as a part of them but not their defining character trait.
The main couple Lazlo and Nadja, are in a heterosexual marriage but have both expressed same-sex desires. Lazlo is the most open of his same-sex romances and has starred in gay pornography throughout the centuries. Nadja had a relationship with her lover Gregor, who has been primarily male-identifying, in the body of a French washerwoman. It is never made fun of, but is instead treated as something natural. As Ari David said in his article for CBR, humour is derived from the frankness of these acts rather than the actions themselves.
“It seems in the world of What We Do in the Shadows, that once a vampire becomes comfortable with their undead life, labels and gender roles seem to be an afterthought.”
This afterthought is not reserved for the main heroes, as David notes that background vampires do not conform to traditional gender norms, wearing whatever they please. That seems like an ideal reality, where sexuality and gender identity are accepted as a part of everyday life. Vampires can provide that fantasy for many LGBTQ+ people to live, or not live, true to themselves. Once an individual stops caring for others’ perceptions, anyone can pursue happiness.