Vampire Fiction Is Popular Because Straight Women Secretly Want Gay Men? I Don't Think So.
By avflox on October 19, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
Last week, Stephen Marche, author of Esquire's A Thousand Words About Our Culture column, regaled us with his latest epiphany: “Vampires have overwhelmed pop culture because young straight women want to have sex with gay men.”
I'll be the first to say Marche makes a few good points. There is a correlation between desire and the vampire phenomenon, but it has little to do with sexual liberation and even less with a secret desire harbored by heterosexual women to hook up with gay men.
If you were a foreign species paging through the rubble of a post-Apocalyptic Earth to get a sense of our species at this particular time period, and stumbled on Marche's piece, you'd think we were all sexually aware and liberated. We aren't. There is still repression, there are still many shameful things: let us not forget the abstinence-only curricula, the gay-rights battle we're still waging, the fierce come-back of the born-again virgin and chastity oaths, the prominence of the XXX Church at porn conventions, Apple's refusal to even devote a section of the iTunes store for 18+ adult entertainment applications, the ghetto in which sex bloggers reside on the web, Australia's mandatory internet filtering system, the fact that science still doesn't understand female desire—do I need to go on?
We're not an orgy of wild, good times. We're not, as Marche claims, processing “a newfound acceptance of what so many once thought strange or abnormal.” There may be a sexual revolution underway, but the battles are still being waged and we're caught in the crossfire socially and emotionally. The conflict that is delineated by themes in contemporary vampire fiction is two-fold: as I elaborated above, we know there are many ways to enjoy sex but we are not all quite there yet, and neither is society—by a long-shot. Secondly, we have discovered the zipless fuck isn't exactly enough for everyone in terms of in-depth sexual exploration.
Oh, the zipless fuck, the purest thing there is, the great encounter of sex for the sake of sex, free of emotion, commitment, motives and a whole lot of information about the other person. Don't get me wrong—that was an important step in getting to where we are, and a modus operandi that continues to work for many. But the themes in vampire fiction point to a specific need for something more.
This “something more” involves a concept with which many people in BDSM (bondage discipline sadism and masochism) are already familiar—that of aftercare. I'll explain: BDSM experiences are intense, often pushing participants to the limit physically, emotionally and psychologically. Aftercare is the period following one such experience, during which all parties cool down and provide one another emotional reassurance and tenderness. The trend in vampire fiction highlights the importance of aftercare, but it goes further: it explicitly demands respect, devotion, and loyalty.
Let's go over everything vampires are and work our way back to that last point.
The vampires in our two most popular chronicles, Twilight and True Blood, are much older than their human counterparts. By having lived so much longer, they walk into sex with the level of experience that makes it comfortable for us to go to that place where our deepest desires hide. With them, we can go there, not the same way our husbands or boyfriends let us go there, when they agreed to try it out, blindfolded us—half-giggling—and tried to figure out how to tie us to the posts of our beds. Our vampires know the ropes with the certainty and comfort of someone who has been practicing shibari for a lifetime—and then some.
And yet despite having lived dozens of lifetimes before meeting our heroines—and enjoyed at least a million trysts during these—our vampires never go in with the jaded look of someone who's done it all and is simply waiting to be surprised. Our fantasy demands that they relish in it every time. And they do.
In Twilight, which Marche uses to make his point about women's apparent desire for gay men, the vampire Edward is repulsed by the human Bella only because he desires her so intently that he fears he may kill her. He can hardly kiss her because the experience is so transcendent, he can't entirely control himself. Sex is rampant among our contemporary version of vampires, yes; but despite how common it is, these vampires give themselves so wholly to it, they nearly lose themselves every time.
This is not a man who is panting over you, worrying about whether he is pleasing you or not, or worse, someone who is simply getting himself off. This is someone so deep in you, so consumed by you, that he might destroy you. He won't, of course. But he could. He could destroy you because you are taking him as much as he is taking you into that place.
Then there is the matter of blood. During sex between humans and vampires, it is common for the vampire to indulge in the blood of the human. In the HBO show True Blood in particular, this communion, is such a powerful act that it binds the vampire to the human forever. Having consumed that blood, the vampire can now experience everything the human experiences. They are one, not just in the moment, but for the entire lifetime of the human.
Let's analyze this oneness—because it's not quite love, but something more. In True Blood, there is an excellent exchange between Sookie, the main character, who is a human, and Eric, the vampire who is the sheriff of the area where Sookie lives. Sookie asks Eric if the vampire he is seeking is his maker. Eric responds: “Don't use words you don't understand.” Then Sookie asks, “do you love him?” And Eric replies, “don't use words I don't understand.”
Yet when you see Eric with his maker a few scenes later, you do see something quite like love. But it's more intense than the love we have come to expect in our modern interactions: you see absolute devotion. Likewise, you see a soul-quaking, all-consuming devotion between the vampire Bill and his partner Sookie, and between Edward and Bella. Devotion, loyalty and respect are key concepts to our modern vampires—traitors are not taken lightly. Even among the renegade vampires, the displays of loyalty are incredible. They may not “know love” but the devotion, loyalty and respect they display makes an “I love you,” over candlelit dinner feel like a half-melted Valentine's candy gram in our locker after fifth period.
Which brings me back to my second point. The secret I think, is not that we want to be with gay men whom we repel, but that we desire someone with whom to go to the place where our deepest unexplored desires hide. We want someone who is not only accepting and able to undertake the exploration of these with us masterfully, but who becomes so invested in the moment that even if our desire is still new and frightening to us, he is not turned off by it or by us, but is, in every sense, consumed by it—and the act of being with us. So consumed, in fact, that he might lose all control.
Our vampires give us license to enjoy because they enjoy. In the modern vampire fantasy, no matter what skanky little thing we do together, our vampires are not afraid of the implications and importance of aftercare and are, furthermore, completely devoted, respectful and loyal. They're so loyal that they'll risk certain death in sunlight, not because they hear us scream, but because they are so in touch with us (by having consumed a part of us), that they intuit our distress.
Not that we're maidens in distress who desperately want to be rescued—the rescuing frequently goes both ways. Twilight's Bella is intelligent and can stand on her own two feet, and True Blood's Sookie began her relationship with the vampire Bill by saving his life. Our human heroines may not be equals to their vampire counterparts, but they are very much able to hold their own.
I want to shake Stephen Marche and scream, “YOU MUST BE A STRAIGHT MAN IF YOU DON'T GET ANY OF THIS YET!”
Vampire popularity blamed on young women wanting to have sex with gay men. Discuss! by Mandi Bierly: “When I first read the essay, I wanted to flat-out shoot it down. But then I remembered that I’m someone who’s said “I’d like a man who’s just to the left of gay” and “I know I’m really into a guy when I fantasize about watching Golden Girls with him.” (It’s a turn on to watch him appreciate vocal, funny women and their friends.) So maybe I can’t call total bulls—. What do you think?”
Women Love Vampires Because We Want ... Gay Men? by Jessica Wakeman: “Further proof some men don’t know jack about women: Esquire magazine says chicks go bananas for vampire love stories because we lust after ... wait for it ... gay guys. Gay guys don’t want to be with us the way vampires can’t be with us and you know us ladies: we just want what we cannot have. No, I’m not buying it either.”
Twilight Vampires and the Return of Courtly Love (Potential Spoiler) by Nordette Adams: “Defanging vampires for romance is the staple of some of the newer vampire movies, books, and TV series that make vampires our chivalrous lovers, and the idea of the chivalrous beast has its appeal. For instance, the post you're reading now is an update to a post penned shortly after I saw the movie in November, but in the last few days I've noticed a rush of queries from Google on the post's theme, vampires and courtly love. I suspect many women long for a love that appears both pure and dangerous, either that or a summer school teacher's just assigned a paper.”
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