THE INNER INHUMANITY
I’ve got a theory, one that’s been brewing for a while really, ever since I first read Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. It’s one that’s been partly informed by my… exposure to the Twilight phenomenon, to the general prevalence of the vampire trope these days. And after coming across one of those internet kerfuffles over a recent article in Esquire by Stephen Marche that made a rough stab at advancing a similar idea (and largely got shot down in flames) I thought it might be a good time to get my teeth into it, so to speak.
I can’t say it’s an entirely objective theory, can’t say it’s the sort of theory one develops from a serious study of the relevant texts — literary, cinematic, televisual. No, it’s the sort of theory one develops from throwing books across the room, shouting “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” at the television set, feeling one’s flesh crawl at the mere thought of the flick that’s now showing at the picture house. Smiling politely when people tell you how much they love this or that take on a trope that brings you out in hives. It’s not a theory that can really be summarised in a single sentence, because it’s still really in the process of formation; but I’m going to chuck out a simple statement and then see if I can sketch out some lines of thought around it. It’s really quite straightforward:
Vampires are ex-gay.
See, I’ve tried to like vampires. I really have. I did even go through a phase of thinking there was something cool about the whole idea way back when I was going through my angsty teen phase. Who can’t love The Lost Boys, after all? And if a lot of the cool there is kind of cute and comic and kitschy, well, when you’re dressing all in black and daydreaming of butchering your entire peer group, it’s natural to see Vlad the Impaler as a role model; so while I’d managed to miss out on that first phase of the goth subculture back in the 1980s — being too young for punk, too nerdy for metal, ultimately too fucked-up to latch onto any style of music and fashion as a focus for my alienated identity — plenty of my high school fantasies of murdermayhemkillkillcrazy sprees did extend to slaughter in a more up close and personal mode. With a Bowie knife rather than a Kalashnikov, you know? Or, yes, with fangs.
Clearly there’s a timeless appeal to the power fantasy of being the psychokiller in the long black coat (or cloak) — blood cold as a reptile’s, movements graceful as a cat’s, calm and in control. And to kill with a kiss is the perfection of that fantasy, that fantasy which is, in the end, to become the Jungian Shadow made flesh, to unleash the inner archetype that is pressing its hand, stained in red blood or gloved in black leather, against the all too thin tissue of the ego, stretching the tenous veil between conscious restraints and urges born somewhere in the snake-brain. We all have that inner inhumanity, and we all access it now and then, all recognise the characters that give our narcissistic rage flesh forms to prowl in.
It is, of course, kind of easy to snort derisively at that power-fantasy as adolescent angst, as the compensatory wank of the weak, to say: man, vampires are so gay. But that’s not really the issue now, I think. The trope has moved on from there.
DEAD SOULS, DAMNED SOULS
Besides, I dont do that sort of cocksnooting. I understand the Columbine killers cause I had my own plans (even my own trenchcoat), understand that psychology well enough to be wary of scorning it. If adulthood will come as a healing haven for most of the self-mythologising adolescents who idealise this inner inhumanity — the demonic will-to-power that makes, say, Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher such a resonant horror — if most of them will make it to college and beyond, and find that being a freaky individualist can actually make you kind of cooler than the clones, if most of them will either abandon their emo angst in cringing embarassment or simply find a healthy emotional balance as a fine upstanding fans of movies or music the squares call “Satanic,” if the majority of them will, at most, limit their moral transgressions to a little kinky rubberbound BDSM — still, there are those who won’t just peek over the edge of the abyss to get a little thrill but will jump right into it and take as many with them as they can.
Nietszche said that when you stare into the abyss, it stares right back. As much as we might like to dismiss some self-styled “creature of the night” as a pathetic Walter Mitty, they might well be the one who’s recognised the face gazing at them as the one they see in the mirror every day. They might be the one who’s been broken by that. Stepped through the looking glass and into the abyss. Look at the language of those who’re headed for it, or who’ve lived through the comparable shattering of schizophrenia, and you find the dissociation and destruction of identity articulated in a vocabulary of ecstasy and death. In actual schizophrenia, you find acute and chronic stages, the first associated with apophenia and apotheosis, with an ecstatic rapture where everything is numinous, the latter associated with an utter loss of affect. These are the realities that seethe beneath the skin of the fantasy, in the flesh of archetypal images used to represent what it is to become a vampire: rebirth as a dark angel, a dread demon, man become god even, Christ and/or Antichrist; and a living death as a corpse that walks, that can have no relationship to those it sees as only meat because empathy dies with all the other emotions. The imagery of perdition articulates an all too real psychology as much as it play-acts an adolescent angst:
“Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shores, burning with the fires of Orc.”
A Rutger Hauer line, needless to say.
So, yes, while one might “grow out” of that power-fantasy and come to find the whole Damned Soul trope frankly more than a little absurd in its Romantic self-idealising, me, I reserve my cynical disparagement for the most overblown examples, where the leavening kitsch quality of Hammer’s Dracula becomes risible retardedness in Coppola’s, for example, because the Byronic / Miltonic theme of tortured sensitivity is all so cack-handedly overwrought. Yes, vampire fiction suffers, as much pulp fiction does, when the power-fantasy is written without an ounce of self-awareness, when it seems like you’re reading the therapeutic journal scribblings of a fifteen-year-old’s compensatory daydreams. Then it’s just plain lame. Or gay, as the kids say.
But it’s not that kind of gayness that irks me. If vampire fiction is ex-gay in that sense, it’s because the writers have moved past that thematically, gone through the glamour and into the rotting flesh of it. It’s because the writers have been moving past that for as long as they’ve been using the trope — or at least those with anything that remotely resembles skill have. Lucius Shepard’s The Golden, to take one example, could hardly be accused of that fault. No, it’s the proper kind of gay I’m talking about — vampires as fags.
SEMITES, SEX AND SIN, SIN, SIN
If the power-fantasy is a core part of the vampire trope, so too is the repressed sexuality. Stoker’s Dracula has it in spades, as does much of what comes after, so much so that I really don’t need to regurgitate a million essays on how bloodsucking functions as a cipher for the sexual act, right? Of course, when I say “functions as a cipher for the sexual act,” I mean “stands as a twenty-foot sign with flashing arrows, air raid sirens, and the Voice of God repeating the words ‘SIN! SIN! SIN!'” Cause, you know, where the dance of down-and-dirty desire is represented by a hypnotic power that puts rohypnol to shame, a slow leeching of will-to-live never mind will-to-power, and a feeding action as sensually seductive as a snake sucking the insides from an egg, this is sex as the action of a predator and parasite, sex as a pernicious temptation of the flesh, sex as a Bad Thing.
I’ve never really gotten how Stoker’s book is any more “transgressive” than a slasher movie with the subtext that “teenagers who fuck must die”. I’ve never really gotten how it’s any more “transgressive” than a Victorian freak show where the hoi polloi and hoity toity rub shouders as they’re thrilled by their revulsion at caged monstrosities — which is pretty much what vampirism sets sex up as. Stoker isn’t raunchy; he’s square as a Bible Belt church elder with a stick up his ass, preaching a gospel of sinful appetites to be denied. There’s all the prurience of a peep show in his novel but its message is born of prudishness, nurtured with perdition and, at the end of the day, as fucked-up as a self-flagellating penitent. If you want a Gothic horror that subverts Victorian mores, go read Frankenstein where it’s the creature’s abjection as a monster that sets it on a path of destruction. No, the conservative moral worldview of Christianity is written into the vampire trope, in its crucifixes and holy water. God is in his Heaven, Satan roams the Earth at night, and good clean Christian folks sometimes have to band together against the abominations who want to rape and/or eat their children.
It’s an undercurrent that persists to the present day. I’m given to understand that when Twilight’s Bella finally unlocks her chastity belt, the sex with Edward has good old-fashioned Terrible Consequences. Fuck, the whole series is a twisted Mormon chastity allegory, with some profoundly unsavoury nastiness presented as righteous and good in that typically neurotic inversion of rational ethics — e.g. having an adult werewolf “imprint” romantically on a newborn baby, which is simply creepy as fuck. But if we can expect sex to lead to death-by-childbirth with Meyer, even Whedon couldn’t get away from those Terrible Consequences at points, with Angel transformed into the monstrous Angelus by his consummation with Buffy, and with Buffy moving on to a dysfunctional dalliance with Spike that’s clearly royally fucked-up. The dread of desire is part of the mythos now to the extent that even a leftie liberal feminist couldn’t write it out of his series, even as he rewired the morality of his metaphysics to undercut the easy Good/Evil duality. Ultimately, Anne Rice’s (re)conversion to Catholicism is perfectly in line with works that revel in the demonic; the works depend on that Catholicism.
It’s not just about sex, of course. The simpler superstitions of stakes in the heart, heads cut off, mouths stuffed with garlic and sewn shut — these speak of more folkloric fears, belong in the medieval mists when vampires were basically just graveyard ghouls seeping from the corpses of the cursed, miasmas more likely to sicken cattle than seduce chaste maidens. The distinctly non-sexy creatures of that tradition carry on in the ugly-ass vampires of Nosferatu or Salem’s Lot, but with their bald heads, rat-like fangs and postures hunched in greed, even these trade on some less than palatable Christian neuroses. Dracula himself conforms to that type actually, despite the sexual subtext and the Byronic spin the trope has subsequently developed. His appearance in the book is in fact quite… illuminating. A swarthy foreigner from Eastern Europe with the distinctly “criminal” physiognomy of bushy eyebrows and hooked nose, speaking in a guttural accent that switches ‘v’s and ‘w’s. One who is seen early on in the book carrying a child in a sack to be fed on with his vampire mistresses, in an image straight out of anti-Semitic blood libels. One who, late on in the book, in a scene where Harker slashes his cloak with a knife, makes sure to “grasp” the “bundle of banknotes” and “stream of gold” that falls out before fleeing.
Vampires were Fagins long before they were fags, I guess.
Of course, as the trope becomes unbound from the text, seeps into the culture-at-large, the return of the repressed ultimately undermines the dubious message(s) of Dracula. Maybe it’s the appeal of that sexual undercurrent in the novel, regardless of the explicit meaning. Maybe it’s just that Lugosi made more ripples in the popular media than Schreck. Either way, those “criminal” features become unfocused, blur and blend into those of Romantic anti-heroes, factual and fictive, those Byronic aristos and Heathcliffian lovers. The allure of his darkness and deviance overriding the avarice and ugliness, figuratively speaking Dracula transforms from Jew to Gypsy, and the vampire begins the transition from the reviled Other to the fetishised Other.
Cause, yeah, that’s a big improvement.
DARK DEMONS AND WHITE KNIGHTS
Now, since the trope is reshaped in works made both by and for straight men, the subtext that develops between Stoker and Rice is not exactly a great step forward from the Victorian neuroses underpinning the former’s work; but it does have to be said that any moral squick over sex as “SIN! SIN! SIN!” is about as potent in Hammer movies and Italian lesbian vampire flicks as it is in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Which is to say, not very. For all that the pulp fiction which picks up on the image of vampire as sexy beast and runs with it remains underpinned by a Christian mythos in which crosses repel the corrupting seducer, there’s too much of the exploitation movie in a whole lot of Hammer movies for anyone to take that reading of the vampire trope very seriously at all. No, the low-cut bodices revealing heaving bosoms, the blood trickling down soft-skinned necks, the harems of female vampires charged with titillating lesbianism, the magnetic gaze of the dark demon himself — these are all in the service of sensationalism now. Sexiness is on the surface, the wickedness only a way to make it all the more thrilling through a flirtation with the notion that one is doing wrong. Sex isn’t a Bad Thing; it’s a Naughty Thing. And another message is hammered home between the iterations, with each return — Dracula rising from the grave again and again and again — that you can’t keep a good fiend down. Repression is futile.
The vampire here isn’t gay in the slightest, of course. Christopher Lee may look swish in his silk cape, but he’s a ladies’ man through and through. Nor is it even unconventional. If his sexual predation is a fantasy of date-rape as seduction, it’s a male fantasy of empowerment in which the villain is the identification figure, rather than a female fantasy of disempowerment as a threatened but protected victim; we’re not quite dealing with the fetishised Other here, not yet. Rather this fantasy binds with that will-to-power daydream outlined above, but in doing so dilutes the murderous psychokiller into a hypnotising philanderer, panders to the Id rather than the Shadow. Arguably, it binds also to a white knight fantasy where the anodyne Harker (or Harker surrogate) in those Hammer movies gets the girl by playing the good guy and saving her from the rapist. These two fantasies create a mixed message in the zone of tension created between them perhaps, the former serving as the absolutely unacceptable mechanism for getting the girl-flesh, set against the “acceptable” heroic strategy of riding to the rescue — “acceptable” being in inverted commas cause this is hardly the most enlightened feminism.
The thing is, it’s still all about straight male dominance, straight male libido, up to and including, I’d say, Sarandon and Deneuve getting it on in The Hunger. There’s a hint of something new in the flipping of the dynamic between Deneuve and Bowie, in Bowie’s degeneration and ultimate disposal, and in the centrality of Sarandon as both victim and hero; but the lesbian relationship here is all just a little… soft-focus softcore, no? It’s not like two foxy mamas getting steamy is designed to alienate an audience of libidinous men. And in the great tradition of Victorian fiction those two women with the temerity to assume centrality and strive for independence come to a sticky end. The woman can’t save herself, you know; she needs her white knight to do that. And if a woman thinks she gets to be the dark demon with her conquests in thrall, well, it’s interesting how that reversal of the dynamic is undone in the end.
Which brings us to the more recent iterations of the trope wherein the male vampires have become way sexier than Stoker ever imagined them, as much Bowie as Byron, and where a far more radical reshaping of the trope has taken place, the dark demon and white knight fused into one, both threatening and protective towards the female protagonist who is now front and centre in a mode of vampire fiction that seems largely written by women for women. A protagonist I hereby dub Mary Sookie.
GIRLS CAN BE BOTTOMS TOO
See, where in the past vampires were pretty much just the Big Bad Wolf, objects of fear because they represented the threat of male lust — male desire as a predatorial, parasitical, penetrating menace — more and more these days they seem to have become objects of desire in and of themselves, representing the dark side of masculinity as yearned for by women. These aren’t stories about some crotchety eccentric and his dashing young crusaders smiting Satan in the shape of a man. These are stories about the swooning maiden all too thrilled to be courted by a brooding poet-cum-warrior who has to do his damnedest not to rip her fucking throat open. These are stories told from inside the glamour, wet dreams of the dangerous outsider who’ll sweep a girl off her feet, who’ll follow her everywhere in case he needs to rescue her from peril, who’ll claim her as his own, his possession. And if a girl has to cover up those marks he leaves on her neck, well, he doesn’t mean to hurt her; he’s just so passionate.
Date-rape, stalking and domestic violence. Isn’t he just the Best Boyfriend EVAR?
Clearly girls can be bottoms too, methinks. You know about the whole top/bottom dynamic in (some) gay relationships, yes? That while a lot of gays are as happy as pitchers as they are as catchers, sometimes there’s a whole manly-man active partner versus girly-boy passive partner thing going on? Well, I won’t go into the mechanics, but that is a fairly common dynamic even if it’s not as obvious as some daddy bear with a trophy twink glittering on his arm. It might not go as far as S&M, as outright domination, but sex and power aren’t exactly strangers in the steam rooms of the psyche, you know, and for many there’s nothing hotter than that strong, silent type who’ll throw you on your back, shove your legs up over your shoulders and own you. (Oh, I said I wouldn’t go into the mechanics, didn’t I? OK, I lied.)
My own attitude to this? Whatever floats your boat, baby. When you look at it in heterosexual terms, from a feminist perspective, there’s something deeply disquieting about the obeisant reverence of all these undead Heathcliffs, these Rebels Without a Pulse; there’s a whiff of submission to abuse. And yet that sort of passivity in gay relationships can, truth be told, go hand-in-hand with a pretty controlling personality; equalise the genders and you can start to see where all the gruff, rough manliness says little of who wears the pants in the relationship. True Blood’s Vampire Bill fits the mold so well that I’d lay odds on Alan Ball being an unashamed power bottom, with Sookie as his Mary Sue, quivering at the bite of her noble savage vampire lover, but feisty as a faggot on daytime TV, arms on hips, dressing down her sheepish ex-serial killer of a boyfriend with the sass of a drag queen who’s been dissed. (And a similar power dynamic might well be detected in the relationship between Arlene and Terry, I’d say.) Is there a weird subversion of the power dynamic at play in this fantasy of the vampire as a top then? If Edward’s creepy stalker behaviour in Twilight is dodgy as fuck, is there a point where the sexual politics of vampire and victim is less about men and women than it is about tops and bottoms? If girls can be bottoms too, is the whole vampire trope these days reflecting a desire no less valid for them than it is for gay men?
I don’t know. All I know is I watched Twilight to see if I could ever seriously consider dating any of the countless hot emo boys who list it as their favourite movie on Gaydar, and the answer was, “Fuck no! That movie stinks!”
FOPS, FANGS AND FAGS
It’s somewhere in the development of this permutation of the trope, I think, in the fusion of dark demon and white knight, the transformation of the Other from an object of dread to an object of desire, that vampires became kinda gay. See, I have to say I think that Esquire article has a point. Along with all the AIDS metaphor stories in the 80s, Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite cemented a link with homosexuality that was already coded into the image of vampire-as-sophisticate. All those frilly-shirted, flouncing pretty-boys in one, pouting at each other across the room. All those proto-emo, moping pretty-boys in the other, drinking Chartreuse and making out. Rice and Brite were only, I’d say, picking up on the age-old association of sensitivity and sexuality. Byrons or Bowies, poets and pop idols, all those glamourous and glamouring Romantics tend to accrete rumours of gender-bending exploits, even before they start actively courting them. All fops are fags, as far as your homophobic hick is concerned. Stepping out of the bounds of heteronormative masculinity even by — shock horror! — reading a book automatically renders one something less than a true red-blooded male, renders one effete, renders one queer. All Rice did was see how James Dean might play Dracula instead of Christopher Lee. With Sal Mineo as Louis, of course.
But when I say vampires became kinda gay the qualifier is there for a reason. If the under-current of sexuality to vampirism lends a homoerotic aspect to any male-male vampire-victim or vampire-sire relationship, it seems there’s a tendency to avoid full-on dedicated faggotry. Lestat and Louis in Interview With the Vampire, Erik and Godric in True Blood — these might be intense relationships with homosexuality rippling under the surface or right there on top of it, but the characters are as likely to end up with a girl as a guy in their centuries of bed-hopping. Bisexuality is the order of the day here — as it was with Byron and Bowie, of course — not bona fide bumboy buggery that wouldn’t give a passing glance at Buffy, Bella or any other human being who just… well… has the wrong set of genitalia, sorry.
No, for all the male-male pairings you get in vampire fiction, I don’t think vampires have ever really been properly gay; to be gay they’d actually have to fuck, you see, not just gaze at each other longingly across the room. No, there’s an insipid, anodyne, even sexless quality to the gender-bending androgyny of these pouting, posturing immortals. In all the slash fiction style couplings, there seems little understanding of how gay guys actually get it on, how much it’s about the stereotypically male obsession with body-parts rather than the stereotypically female emotional communion. The buckets of blood and passion wrought to the histrionic level still, for me, seem utterly divorced from any, yanno, actual sweaty physicality. It should be meat and bukkake, baby, not Mills and Boon. The fact that vampires in Ball’s TV version of the Harris novels weep blood is not insignificant, though it is ironic given that Ball’s take on the trope is pretty unashamedly flesh-worshipping (and I can’t help wondering if his sexuality is entirely coincidental here); blood, it seems, is the surrogate substance that replaces all other bodily fluids, all sweat and piss and spit and spunk. Do vampires need to drink blood because they’re basically in and of themselves bloodless?
Really, is it at all surprising that Rice is now touting angels as “the new vampires”? Is there much difference when it comes down to it? The tropes of vampires and angels both seem to… mark out the edges of a profound neurosis as regards the corruptible body in all its icky squicky salty wonder, a response of “eeewww, cooties!” to the gloriously sordid realities of life itself. They share key features, resonate with each other. They even intermingle here and there; ageless and beautiful, more than human, Nephelim and vampires rub shoulders in the Goth subculture, swap clothes and pseudo-historical legacies. In Tim Powers’ novel, The Stress of Her Regard, they’re pretty much equated, and Powers is not alone in making this connection — though if Powers is way too good a writer to let his Catholicism render his work a subtextual religious polemic, I can’t say I hold out the same hope for Rice as she turns from the tortured tick of a guilt-ridden vamp feeding on rats — like Angel in Buffy, Bill in True Blood, Edward in Twilight, Stephen in The Vampire Diaries, all those ticks trying so hard to undo their Fallen state — to a contract killer working for a dark angel, aiming for Redemption. The point is, the trope of the Fall is writ large in the mythos, and that ain’t a terribly healthy metaphor for the human condition to my mind.
And if you do try and read vampires as gay, that whole Damned Soul schtick and the male-object-of-female-desire malarky sort of combine into something altogether more ugly.
I should be clear about one thing here though: I’m talking about the power of the trope as shaped in popular culture — not the field of vampire fiction in general, which like any such field can only be insulted by gross generalisations, just the aspects of the motif made most dominant in recent years, in the zeitgeist, by the most influential works. These are thoughts shaped by my sense of the shifts in that zeitgeist, a lot of them biased, I’m sure, by my responses to particular works, and an experience limited to the big movers and shakers — Dracula, Interview With the Vampire, Lost Souls, Lost Boys, Queen of the Damned, Buffy, Angel, Twilight, True Blood, to which my responses range from outright contempt to bona fide fandom. I’m claiming no expert knowledge of the field in all its capacities and nothing I say should be taken as a grand proclamation on What Vampires Are And Must Be All About. As the anti-Semitic aspects of Dracula demonstrate, this shifts with time. Even a tired trope that seems set in one form can be twisted, made fresh in skillful hands. Probably already has somewhere off my radar. It’s just… if there’s a queer subtext to the trope as it stands now, in the shadow cast by those versions that have claimed primacy, well, it’s… kinda fucked-up.
And the trope is accessible to a queer reading. This isn’t just a matter of stereotypical notions of gay men being better groomed. It’s not just that the girls are going for those metrosexual boy band types these days. It’s not just that sparkling in sunlight is the paragon of fabulous, darling. In the modern exemplars of the vampire-as-boyfriend, that bloodsucker is a secretive motherfucker. He has cover stories and performative stratagems — mocking squeamishness and repulsion in place of desire when tempted by blood, like a closet case homophobe dissing “homos” in the locker room. He’s the Other who can’t be sure of a welcome in that nice family home, bastion of heteronormativity, who stands on the threshold waiting to be invited in, knowing that he might not be invited in if his true nature was known. In The Vampire Diaries, he’s the guy who wouldn’t dream of reading the heroine’s private journal because he couldn’t stand someone reading his. He’s the guy who’s “sensitive” enough to actually keep a private journal of his own. (Fag!) He’s the guy who lies about the familial relationships he doesn’t have any more because of what he is, who lives with an older man that isn’t really his “uncle”. He’s the guy who asserts his normality by trying out for the football team — just as the gay character in Williamson’s previous series, Dawson’s Creek does. Man, he’s the guy who gets a Kate Bush song covered by Placebo as a soundtrack to his big “I’m a tortured soul” brooding scene.
And if feeding equals sex in the subtext of the trope, such that all those self-denying martyrs to morality — Angel, Bill, Edward, Stephen — are essentially being celibate when they snack on animals rather than humans, how are we meant to read it when the latest in that line has his brother turn up to taunt him about this abstinence, urging him to admit his true nature, to feed. “Let’s do it together,” he says.
If you think that’s stretching it a bit, by the way, well, it’s later revealed that both brothers were turned by a female vamp who pretty much wanted an immortal threesome.
Like yaoi and slash, there is something here that’s tapping into a female interest in gay men, I think. Sometimes that interest may be healthy and harmless, not so much a creepy crush on Teh Gayz as an identification with their experience, the sort of mutual sympathies from which faghags are born, bless them. Hell, even if straight girls get off on gay guys getting it on, I’m hardly going to complain if it means more homo action in my fiction. I might occasionally baulk at the exoticism, a little too redolent of those women you meet now and then who want you to be their Gay Best Friend (cause Teh Gayz are so Kewl,), but hey, if I don’t do the dance music and feather boas they find so wonderful, I’m gay enough to court attention with the shallowness of Jack from Will & Grace, so who am I to judge? I just think, if you’re going to write Teh Gayz and not have it read as the female equivalent of lesbian porn by and for straight men… well, you need a little less romance and little more rimming, dig? Really, you’d be better working with werewolves; you can imagine them with their noses at each other’s arse.
No, the problem for me is where the trope seems to have moved on from the slashy homoeroticism of Rice and Brite into a new permutation where, it seems, faghaggery has gone really quite wrong — where there’s a flip-side to the “taming the bad boy” subtext in a “turning the gay boy” subtext. With the two latest twinktastic takes on the trope — Twilight’s Edward and The Vampire Diaries’ Stephen, the way I see it is these vampires have more than a hint of the castrato homo to them. They read as the high school homosexual — not the flighty, flouncy girly-boy bottom who everyone knows (and just adores) as gay, but the closet case top whose masculinity offers no easy out(ing). They read as that queer kid in the depth of denial, telling himself that straight equals butch and butch equals straight, fixating on a girl but in a hyper-Romantic rather than raunchy way because it’s a profoundly neurotic pseudo-attraction. One-girl guys, they seem immune to the base lust of male adolescence, but weave in that thwarted hunger for blood and it becomes a story of repression rather than indifference.
But hey, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be the object of such false, compensatory desires? Wouldn’t it be awesome if your Gay Best Friend was only so repressed that the gayness was really little more than a bit of metrosexual preening and emo moodiness? Wouldn’t it be sweet if he was all tortured and mysterious, weirdly distanced and circumspect at times, guilt-wracked by some terrible secret he can’t ever have people know? Wouldn’t it be ace if he wasn’t even remotely interested in other girls but devoted to you as if his very sense of self depended upon it? Wouldn’t it be killer if his repressed sexuality surfaced as another kind of “dark appetite” or “private vice” but he could somehow — strangely — manage to restrain himself from unleashing it on you — the power of true love presumably — pull himself away when the necking gets too hot, in an endearingly panic-stricken sort of way?
Baby, these vampires aren’t gay. These are fetishised homos-in-denial who’ve been sent off to get the cure at some Christian Ex-Gay Boot Camp. These are mollys scared straight by Mormonism, by the power of the perdition written into the mythos. These are journal-writing jocks who’ve flirted with bi-curiosity but ultimately foresworn it, buried their abominable appetites in the coffin they crawled out of, dumped six foot of soil over their diabolic desires. If Angel got his soul back, Edward and Stephen have had theirs purified, redeemed, hallelujah, by however many decades of denial. Happily walking about in the daylight, protected by a silver ring or a Silver Ring Thing, there’s barely a hint of the demonic to them now, just those dread desires they’ve got boxed away nicely. No, it’s the wholesome life for them now — family baseball matches and try-outs for the football team, find a nice girl and settle down. If they did Bad Things in the past they can make up for it by being the Best Boyfriend Evar! They’ll love her like no-one’s ever loved before, cause after all they’re actually trying. Really fucking hard. Though if they ever stop trying… well, there would be Terrible Consequences for their beard — sorry, beloved.
Man, you know that old phrase, “so far in the closet, he’s in Narnia”?
If you go further back it seems you end up in Forks, Washington.
– originally published 11/5/2009
Hal Duncan is a sodomitic Scots smoker who staggered drunkenly into the SF Café in 2005 with his debut, VELLUM, and now has various novels, novellas, short stories, poems and essays circling in print or the aether. Further scribblings and rantings can be found at www.halduncan.com.