Marginalization and Eroticization in Vampire Fiction

In studying vampire fiction, I've noticed that homoeroticism is given more significance and time than in most other genres. Whether it be innudendo or plain statement of desire, this dynamic exists in almost every work where vampirism is involved. Because homoeroticism is not usually highlighted to such a degree in most other genres, one could conclude that homoeroticism is somehow a key element of vampirism. In researching for this paper, I set out to discover from where that importance originates, but instead discovered a different dynamic, which I had before interpreted as homoeroticism.

I now hypothesize that it is not homoeroticism which is important to vampirism, but bieroticism, or sexual tension between two vampires, regardless of their genders. For example, in The Hunger, the female vampire character is "married" to David Bowie's character, also a vampire, but upon his death, she takes a female lover, played by Susan Sarandon. Later in the movie, the viewer discovers that this female vampire has taken a multitude of lovers over the centuries, without showing a preference for either gender. It is not gender that is important, but some other dynamic. I began to explore what this other dynamic might be.

To begin, I first looked at what a vampire is essentially. A vampire is a being who inhabits a human body, yet is not itself human. A vampire thinks, feeds, and moves, and yet is not alive. A vampire is not dead, but undead. A vampire is free only in darkness, and exists only to sate, however temporarily, a deep and unending hunger for human blood. It is forced to abide the centuries, consuming other life so that it may prolong its own unnatural existence. A vampire is a creature that exists along the margins of society, which feeds upon a populous of which it can never, after its mortal death, be a part.

It is this marginalization of the vampire that is important, as it removes any human social boundaries. Because the vampire is a creature that exists along a border of life and death, human and monster, there is no reason for a vampire to obey traditional gender roles followed by those in the mainstream. The "rules" violated by a vampire by its very existence, laws of nature being the most pronounced, nullify any less significant life "rules". Social constructs such as sexuality cease to be of such importance when the possessor of that sexuality, more importantly than defying ideas of what sexuality ought to be, defies the very laws of life and death.

Vampires are able to eroticize whomever they desire, but that desire can be indirect. For example, in Dracula, Dracula really only converts women to vampirism, but it is not women that he actually desires. He desires men, and gets to them trough the draining of the women's blood.

"Your girls that you love (Mina and Lucy) are mine already; and through them you and the others shall be mine," (Stoker, 394).

Dracula is gaining access to the men in two ways through the women. First, with Lucy, he was able to consume their blood through Lucy, where it mingled via the transfusions. He has already tasted the blood of the men, and it is their blood that he wants more of. Secondly, through Mina, he is able to provoke the men to place themselves in harm's way. He wants the men, but manipulates them using their heterosexual love. In this way, Dracula is showing his ambivalence about desiring a man directly.

"Desire's excursive mobility is always filtered in Dracula through the mask of a monstrous or demonic heterosexuality. . . . This is. . . apotropaic for two reasons: first because it masks and deflects the anxiety consequent to a more direct representation of same sex eroticism; and second, because in imagining a sexually aggressive woman as a demonic penetrator, as a usurper of a perogative belonging 'naturally' to the other gender, it justifies . . . a violent expulsion of this deformed femininity," (Craft, 221).

The lines of gender roles are very blurred by vampirism, and this blurring creates ambivalence, but it also allows the vampires to express that which is otherwise not expressible: homoerotic desire. Vampires, being not truly human, cannot truly be male or female in a sense. Though their anatomy remains the same as the human's they once were, their being changes. This is alluded to above in the discussion of the sexually aggressive female.

All vampires penetrate via their bite. Penetration is "naturally" male, and for a female , especially a female vampire to penetrate, is upsetting because it is a violation of an accepted gender construct where women are passive and men aggressive. This dynamic is turned on its head in vampirism, and you essentially have a being capable of penetrating and experiencing any other being. This is a phallic image; the (dual) phallus of the vampire is the fang. Therefore, you have many phallic creatures penetrating both male and female humans, creating a visually bierotic image.

In Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach relates the story of a transsexual, Sandy Stone, she met at a conference of Queer Theorists.

"Sandy Stone theorized her-and his- existence by summoning vampires. Sandy Stone is a performance artist who has not exchanged one gender for another; s/he embodies both. Shadows of a woman dart out of the man; glimpses of man flicker in and out of the woman. Only by evoking the freedom of the vampire could s/he convey the transcendence of boundaries to which transsexuality aspires," (Auerbach, 181).

Vampires are similar in that they have not fully exchanged human for inhuman. Evidence of both identities exists. Moreover, they consume the human to sustain the inhuman through the bite, which is often a highly erotic moment.

First of all, the bite is almost always on the neck, a highly sensitive area of the human body. Initially, one could assume that this is because there are large arteries in the neck and therefore the neck is the best place to obtain blood. However, the arm or wrist or leg could be as easily bitten with "good" results. The biting of the neck simulates kissing, and places the vampire and victim very close together. In this way, the scene appears quite erotic. "The vampiric Kiss excites a sexuality so mobile, so insistent, that it threatens to overwhelm the distinctions of gender . . . " (Cross, 226). Later, Cross remarks:

"Kissed into a sudden sexuality, Lucy grows 'voluptuous' (a word used only to describe her during the vampiric process), her lips redden, and she kisses with a new interest. . . . Lucy, now toothed like the count, usurps the function of penetration that Van Helsing's moralized taxonomy of gender roles reserves for males. . . (Stoker's) sexualized women are men too," (Cross, 228, 29).

Like the transsexual, vampires are free to cross gender boundaries. Above, because women penetrate, they can be considered men. One could then conclude that male vampires, having been penetrated, are female as well.

The act of feeding for the vampire is also concerned with other forms of desire, as most often a victim is chosen to satisfy a hunger in the vampire that goes beyond the hunger for blood. Whose blood it is becomes important. This is interesting because although vampires themselves defy categorization and do not adhere to normative gender behaviors, they are often depicted as killing to satisfy a desire that while, not erotic at its source, conforms to gender stereotypes. This passage from Interview with the vampire explains this notion well:

"The better the human, as he (Lestat) would say in his vulgar way, the more he liked it. A fresh young girl, that was his favorite food the first of the evening; but the triumphant kill for Lestat was the young man. . . . You see, they represented the greatest loss to Lestat, because they stood on the threshold of the maximum possibility of life" (Rice, 41).

Lestat, the book goes on to say, was satisfying a need for revenge by killing young men with such potential. It was this need to "get even" that determined who he would kill. Lestat was driven by anger and contempt, emotions usually considered male. Claudia kills families, as she longs to replace her own family of origin.

Vampires also kill those whom they desire to posses. For example, in Interview with the Vampire, the film version, Claudia kills a young Creole woman because she wants to be her. Because Claudia is forever trapped in the body of a child, she is envious of the developed adult body she has killed. By killing the woman's body, by consuming her blood, she can somehow take into herself that which she can never possess independently: physical adulthood. She also keeps the naked body buried beneath her dolls, sketching the dead woman's likeness, emphasizing the importance of the developed female body. This act of penetrating and possessing is also on a deeper level erotic, and interestingly enough, in a sense the same thing that Lestat did to Claudia. He penetrated her so that he might have her in order to hold on to Louis, his companion. Dracula also did this when he bit Mina and forced her to partake of his blood. His aim was to possess Mina so that he might possess the men.

The dynamic that makes eroticism, especially bieroticism, so powerful in vampire fiction is marginalization. Vampires cannot exist within human boundaries, because though they may inhabit dead human bodies, they are inhuman. Vampires, though living in dead bodies, are not dead. They are not demon or angel, but parasites who sustain themselves on those who still have the life they've lost.

Because their means of sustaining themselves is so carnal, so horribly physical, it is very erotic when vampires feed. By feeding, they try to infuse themselves with that which they've lost, with life. They penetrate, they take, they consume, they use up. And to what end? It all serves to prolong the cycle of consumption.

This is important to fiction because marginalization is something that everyone thinks about, that some people experience, but that not many feel comfortable discussing. At the time when vampires came into vogue, in the nineteenth century, puritanical social standards especially repressed such issues as physicality and carnality. The vampire provided a means of expression that was safe. Since the vampire was already "abnormal", it could commit behaviors that were also abnormal without providing any real threat to social constructs. After all, people weren't committing such horrible acts as bloodsucking, the mythical vampires were. In this way, gender roles and sexuality were explored in quite a bit of depth.

"Like Sandy Stone's transsexual engorger of subjectives, Craft's Dracula, who exists to dissolve 'opposites and contrasts', is more shadow than substance. His role is to expose the insuitability of the barriers that differentiate men from women, death from life," (Auerbach, 183).

Vampires exist where people fear to go, in the depths all that which culture shuns. "Vampires" express for us what happens in those marginal areas, and allow us to distance ourselves from all that we, as a society, cannot accept.

Author: Emily Stater
Source: Swirl, Southern Oregon University


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