By Katherine Ramsland
Although I’ve been aware of vampire culture for over a decade, I recently had the opportunity to penetrate it in a much more focused way. It seems that a journalist named Susan Walsh had disappeared in 1996 while researching vampire cults in Manhattan and, because of my extensive work on Anne Rice and her vampire universe, I was contacted by reporters seeking an explanation. Those inquiries inspired my new book, Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today.
I decided to pick up where Walsh left off, so I contacted people everywhere who claimed to have some investment in vampire culture. It didn’t matter whether they were role-players, victims, vampire hunters, vampirologists, writers, artists, or “real” vampires. I wanted to find out what had happened to this subculture since I’d written about it back in 1989. I was very surprised to discover how Anne Rice and White Wolf (and possibly the approaching millennium) had inspired many thousands of participants to get involved in very elaborate ways, and not just here but around the world. Over the course of a year, I interviewed a number of these people, sometimes posing as myself and sometimes as my vampire persona, “Malefica.” I managed to step into a few risky situations and could understand why someone might think that the vampire community was implicated in the disappearance of Susan Walsh (although no one is currently under suspicion). Yet for the most part, people just had fascinating stories to tell.
Of all the people I spoke to, I have to say that the hottest, boldest, and sexiest accounts of vampiric activity came from the gay world. One man, whom I call Wraith in the book, began to communicate with me by sending long descriptions of sensual scenarios in which he indulged with his “prey.” Occasionally, he’d call and, in a whispery voice that reverberated with eroticism, tell me about some recent exploit: “I erected a pole and told the boy to spread himself on it in the form of a crucifix, which he eagerly did. I tied him to it and performed several erotic acts on him, working his desire into a frenzy. Then I picked up a sterilized razor blade and deftly sliced through his left nipple.” From this wound, Wraith would suck his blood, ever in search of a “limit experience,” a rip in the fabric of his being that would push him past all experiential boundaries. Wraith also told a shocking story about how he and a partner became vampires together, and how they emboldened each other in their increasingly-violent nocturnal activities.
Another vampiric young man, whom I named Shadow, described a network of covens in Chicago that involved mostly gay males. His vivid recounting of the ceremonies in which he’d participated proved ornately competitive with the best of those tales told by Rice’s vampires.
And of course there was Lynda Licina, the lesbian vampire of Chicago who writes a witty column about her specialized supernatural arena. She speaks for herself elsewhere in this publication.
These people are highly intelligent. They are not, as the public at large imagines, demented in some way or losers unable to get their acts together. They’re smart. However, that doesn’t necessarily endear them to the mainstream populace. It has been a tradition in our culture to equate intellectual sophistication with eccentricity, strangeness, even degeneration. Thus, linking the vampire, symbol of the Outsider, with gay intellectuals is not much of a stretch. They garner similar reactions.
In American society, intellectuals are deemed fundamentally foreign. They are perceived to possess a purity of mind and wealth of life that is difficult to grasp by the typically fuzzy and shapeless thinking of the masses. Yet it is the masses who wield power over values, so to be average, conformist, and mediocre has come to mean being wholesome, uncomplicated, safe. Thus, the unnaturally gifted who stand apart are somehow perverse and even dangerous.
They have freedom and individuality, and can exploit both to their secret advantage. They see the world in a different way, which gives them the means to be transcendent. Freedom from social constraints equals the potential for power, and those who grasp this truth know how to take what they want; they also know how to soften the brutality of vampiric acts with an educated framework. They can justify those acts as a more refined embodiment of the human condition than those who cling to the norm can achieve, and their shrewd vampirism becomes even more threatening…and seductive.
That’s what I found among the vampire intellectuals, those who knew they were different and enhanced with wit whatever power it offered. Although Wraith made references to postmodern philosophers, perhaps the most philosophical of those with whom I spoke was a man I called Michael, who was a conservative minister in a Midwestern church—and a vampire! His parishioners knew nothing of his sexual proclivities or his occasional indulgence in drinking blood. To play out each of his roles and make sense of his compartmentalized lifestyle, he had developed a smoothly ironic perspective.
“I’m a frightening paradox,” Michael said. “I was drawn to the healing power of ministry and I think I serve in that capacity as a form of redemption—to compensate for my secret lives. I have an intense desire to know other lives deeply, which I can do as a counselor and as a vampire. I’m drawn to minister with the same intensity of force I use to draw my prey.
“I always wanted to be a minister, ever since I was a kid. I also always wanted to be a vampire. And I knew quite young that I was gay, and that felt like an evil thing. So I thought there was evil in me that I had to eradicate in some way. But it didn’t make sense to have to lie [to be a minister]. It just seems like someone who has a gift that can help others shouldn’t be barred from using it just because he has different life practices than other people in the church. So I pass myself off as being what they want me to be, to get what I want and to serve others.”
I asked him how he lives with all his different identities and still maintains personal integrity.
“That’s been one of my most relentless struggles,” he acknowledged, “creating a balance between my worlds, the blood lust and the spiritual. There have been times when I’ve leapt from some sinful embrace and gone straight to the ‘holy’ cloth of service to others. I’ve spoken in front of congregations and felt totally alone—alienated by my secrets, unable to be honest.”
He then explained this tolerance for contradiction in more depth:
“I think of the vampire as I think of gay males, as a fluid fiction. One has to change constantly to survive. The fiction with which gay men portray their presence is perfectly alterable for any occasion. I first started to create myself when I realized I was gay, around the age of thirteen. Then when I dabbled in vampirism, the fiction became more intricate. Trust and continuity are factors in most relationships, but not in vampirism. That’s about the one-night feeding, which doesn’t require a solid frame. And I have to create myself for the prey. As a result, who I am has become a constant mystery even to myself.
“Yet all of us are engaged in the conscious creation of our identities, inventing profiles and personalities that fit our fantasies. From the California surfer who bleaches his hair and wears baggies to the New York businessman selecting power suits, we all use techniques to artificially inflate ourselves. The modern self is a contrivance, a mask behind which often lies a desperate desire to find our real selves.
“I have never felt a prick of conscience when I assumed a role. It’s like being an actor who assumes the character's interior life. The actor assimilates the part into himself in order to give genuine life to it. I, too, assimilate the role required to serve a parishioner or lure a blood donor. But it’s true that a person with my ability to play out many fantasies can’t keep everything separate forever. Soon, characters begin to run together, partly because some of those created characters fascinate more than one's own personality.
“I’m not supposed to know myself in a static way. Who really is knowable in any solid sense? Even if I were to consciously construct myself as a solid character who maintains set traits, I would revert to fictionalizing myself in moments of need. It becomes desirable for what I do in all my roles to permanently integrate the quirks of ghosts.
“Vampires are themselves fluid fictions, immortals who reinvent their identities for each new experience. The vampire's charade is to appear harmlessly charming and erotic, a point-by-point response to his prey's every nuance. He seduces his victim through the lure of his mask.
“There is a vampire in the fiction of every modern gay boy—a Jekyll and Hyde beautifully rehearsed. The monster and the man transmogrify, dissolving back and forth into one another. The vampire inhabits even the compassionate queer who helps the old lady with her groceries. He may sit with dying friends in clinics and wards, make contributions to charities, feed the homeless and volunteer in soup kitchens. Vampires even donate blood. But at night, these same boys pound their brothers into submission in smoky red basements, shifting into their monstrous other life. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.
“I wanted to be successful in all my worlds, so I had to develop the art of impression management. Deception is an approach, a method that has proven effective for me. It’s more a process than a lie.”
For Michael, for Wraith, for Shadow, making their vampiric acts—cutting, biting, drinking, manipulating, trespassing—into acceptable behavior almost requires the aptitude for a philosophical persona. They are set apart, as intellectuals, as gay men, as vampires, and being acutely self-aware, they have braided those identities into a powerful and transcendent ideology that lures their prey and feeds their own hungry souls.
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