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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Vampires Are Gay and You'll Never Change My Mind

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.


Happy last week of Pride, y’all! I hope all my LGBTQIA+ readers have had a great month. As a reminder you are safe, respected, and welcome here. May you always find an ally in me.


Rainbow flag gif that says "happy pride."

Time to get into the meat of today's post. You’ve seen the title. Vampires are gay and you can’t change my mind. Vampires have been LGBT icons pretty much since their first incarnation. And there’s a reason for this. It’s not a good one, but it is a reason. Thankfully the world’s perception of literary vampires has changed since their first appearance. So let’s dig into it. Why are vampires gay? How has history and society changed the way we see them?


First let’s discuss the history of the literary vampire. Vampire literature began after a real life vampire epidemic. Around the mid-1700’s, there was a panic in the Serbian countryside where villagers claimed they were being visited in the night by dead relatives who were trying to break into houses and kill the living (Mumford). While people went around digging up the graves of their deceased relatives, the author Heinrich August Ossenfelder wrote “The Vampire,” a poem, you guessed it, about vampires (Mumford). "The Vampire” depicts the traditional vampiric traits of a deceased person breaking into a home in order to drink a living person’s blood.


“And as softly thou art sleeping
To thee shall I come creeping
And thy life’s blood drain away.”
~Heinrich August Ossenfelder, “The Vampire”

"The Vampire" is considered the first piece of vampire literature and readers can clearly see the famous creature of the night being born. Between 1748, when Ossenfelder’s poem was initially published, and 1897, when Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, there were many other pieces of vampire literature which helped create the well-known vampire lore and motifs we recognize today.


In 1819, The Vampyre hit the scene. In this tale, vampires are depicted as aristocrats; a detail that many other vampire stories still include to this day. It was this story which sparked England’s obsession with vampiric tales and the reason why there are so many gothic literature vampires (Mumford). Now, as there are countless penny dreadfuls, novels, plays, and literature from this time, it is nearly impossible to determine which vampire tropes began in which pieces of literature. What should be noted though is all the well-known, common vampire tropes- i.e. vampires being rich, seductive, undead creatures of the night with an aversion to sunlight who drink the blood of the living and are able to shapeshift and mind control people- were cemented in pop culture all the way back in 1872 with the publication of “Carmilla” and again in 1897 with Dracula.


All this to say, vampires have a long history. A history that still continues to this day. While the Victorian era vampire craze inevitably came to an end, there have been a few resurgences of vampires in pop culture. Notably in the late 20th century when Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was published and then again in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s when vampires became sexy, teen heartthrobs. Quite a big jump from their original incarnations, but not the focus of today’s post; although it is slightly related.


Scooby-Doo's version of Dracula.

We’ve reached the end of today’s history lesson. It’s time to get into why we’re really here: vampires are gay. We’re going back to Victorian era vampires. Peak gothic literature time. And we’re going to dive deep into the my thesis.


Vampires are inherently gay. When they first appeared in literature, they were depicted as simple monsters. They were creatures that would break into a house and harm those inside. As they evolved over time, and they gained higher social classes and a more seductive nature, vampires became “rife with dark desires and invisible secrets” (Later). Take Carmilla for example. The titular character of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s story is a beautiful woman in need of help. But that is the character she plays in order to lure Lauren, the protagonist, into a sense of safety. Except it’s not safety, it’s predatory in nature, and there’s a good reason for that.


As the relationship between Carmilla and Lauren grows, Le Fanu includes passages like the following:

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever."
~Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, “Carmilla”

That sounds pretty gay if you ask me. There is no heteronormative explanation for that paragraph. But note, Carmilla is intending to dominate Lauren through seduction. The above passage is incredibly predatory. Actually, the whole story is. There’s never really a moment where Lauren seemingly wants to be with Carmilla despite the latter being obsessed with the former. And that’s the point. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is using homosexual subtext as a way to depict Carmilla as the villain. She’s the “other” in this situation.


Quick vocabulary lesson. “Other” or “othering” refers to the following: “the act of treating someone as though they are not part of a group and are different in some way” (Cambridge Dictionary). I include this definition as I will be including this word a lot throughout the rest of this post and want to make sure everyone understands what I’m talking about if they are not familiar with this term. Thank you, now back to your regularly schedule programming.


Hand reaching out of coffin.

“Carmilla,” as stated, was published in 1872. The Victorian era was nearing its end, but it still had a few more decades before it reached that point. Another thing that was still going strong was homophobia. While there were many notable LGBTQIA+ figures during the era, and for some being gay was an open secret, homosexuality was illegal nearly everywhere (Dryden). For example, being gay in the UK meant you could be sentenced to death until the law was changed in 1861 (Dryden). After that, you could be punished with ten years in prison (Dryden). Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned because of this law. It’s not hard to see why many pieces of vampire literature had homosexual subtext.


While today these first gothic literature vampires are considered gay icons in some circles, the sexual ambiguity they possess did not come from any sort of progressive state. Vampires, during their first incarnation, are the villains of their stories. Authors needed reasons for the public to dislike the vampire characters of their stories. Authors have used anti-semitism, racial tensions, and yes, homophobia, to other vampire characters. The idea was to make the “proper” and “normal” reader of the Victorian era feel uncomfortable with these creatures of the night.


It wasn’t until fairly recently that this all changed. Anne Rice published Interview with the Vampire in 1976, and yet again, there was some gay subtext. But the main vampiric character wasn’t a villain. There was nuance to him, he was the protagonist, the anti-hero, and the all vampires had nuance for that matter. They were fully fleshed out characters with good and bad qualities. Finally, vampires were no longer simply monsters.


Society has grown to be far more supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community in comparison to when vampires first appeared on the literary scene. Using homophobia to other vampires just isn’t going to work today. It’s why you see a lot more vampire love stories today than traditional gothic horror stories where the vampire is the antagonist.


So yes, historically, vampires are gay. There is no denying the fact. While it stemmed from a horrible reason, it did create quite a few horror icons for the LGBTQIA+ community to call their own in the modern day.


And with that, I must bid you all adieu. Thank you for joining me today into this vampiric deep dive. You’ll find my sources listed down below if you feel like diving more into today’s topic; it’s quite interesting so you should. I hope you all enjoyed today’s post. I’ll see you again next week with a new review.


Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.


Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!


Sources:



Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. Carmilla. E-book, Project Gutenberg, 7 Nov., 2003.




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