Not to bury the lede, this is me thinking, “What if vampire fiction is just about sex and not inherently about rape/consent violation?” You can bow out now, that said. I’m going to talk about the fiction of what vampires can be, their mythology. It may be useful if you’re a fiction writer, but also I’m touching on how it interacts with roleplaying games.
So a friend of mine was saying that she wanted to explore vampire fiction (in her case talking about Live Action Roleplay, or LARP, specifically, which is not a sex thing but structured dress up/ improvisational theater style game.) She wanted to play a game about vampires but was worried because it might get “rapey.” Which is a pretty valid concern.
So whenever you make a statement like this on the internet, people come in to call you a pearl-clutcher and announce loudly that VAMPIRES IS A RAPE METAPHOR AND THATS ALL THERE IS TO IT!
I agree that a lot of authors and creators take that angle. I agree that it’s a strong fucking parallel. But. I think if we look at where vampires came from (or came to be most like our modern versions) there is a pretty strong argument for another take.
Short version = vampires are metaphor for wild kinky sex you don’t want your mom to know about. Sex outside of marriage. Sex in rubber. Sex with someone of the same gender. Sex with a bunch of people. Sex with lots of other weird kinky stuff I won’t list because that’s not the point here. Vampires are about getting freaky and assuming that means it’s always got to be rapey is, at the end of the day, a pretty boring interpretation.
I mean, vampires aren’t real, they’re made up, and their mythology is going to change by author but let’s look, in general at where “modern” vampires came from. The Victorians, right? Victorian authors had such influence on modern vampire stories that most of our images of vampires include touches of Victorian fashion, history, and I think most importantly, Victorian attitudes about sex.
The Victorians has some… issues… with sex. I’m not going to prove that to you, just go Google it. I’ll wait. Back? So right. Cock-rings and chastity belts and all the really creepy stuff the Victorians did to prevent themselves from getting turned on or doing the freak nasty. They Victorians re-wrote history to remove the sex from it. The Victorians, meanwhile, had some the raunchiest underground porn you’ve ever seen. You can look that up too. So it’s in this environment, where SEX IS EVIL and SEX IS REALLY HOT of oppression and clandestine longings, that vampires are born.
This is where things can get tricky, because as a cool modern person who is totes into enthusiastic consent and open dialogue about what we want (you are, right?) saying that the metaphor of the vampire could have, at the time, been as easily about “sex I can’t admit to in public” as it could be “sex I was vampire-coerced into enjoying.” The second is really bad, the first is… complicated. I’m not asking you to pass judgment or approval on an earlier time’s sexuality but I am saying maybe we can’t apply all modern sensibilities to that stuff. I’m not saying “rape victims secretly want it, and vampire fiction proves it.” I am not saying “rape victims wanted it and made up rape to get out of responsibility.” Those things are not true. Let’s look at vampire fiction of the era and note that we rarely see victims who came away regretting their actions. It’s SOCIETY that says what’s done. The pattern repeats in a lot of early gothic literature. Girl of questionable moral fiber is seduced by the vampire into kinky vampire noms. She wants to stay and be like the vampire, and society isn’t going to take her, so she’s “turned” to be like the thing. (Turning into a vampire, turning her back on society, same diff.) Society declares he’s a monster because he seduced a girl away from her good girl life and turned her “into a monster.” (Or, you know, a liberated woman who wants what she want
< — This is a horrifying idea to the Victorians.) Society, as represented my Men with Torches and Weapons drive the vampire away, or else come in and murder the girl to “save her from damnation” or in other words, kill her for getting the freak nasty she wants. Pretty gross if you assume she was there willingly. The story follows from there (using Dracula as the core example here because duh) we get the long seduction of the Good Girl. Vampire meets girl, Vampire is pretty cool guy with a sad story and a huge amount of sexual appeal. Vampire is WAY hotter than boring Good Boy boyfriend/husband. Good Girl wants a taste of Vampire, yeah!
(I’ll break in here to say that Dracula was a bad person, in the story, because he killed people. I get it. Let’s move on. This is a whole point of discussion we can have at another time tho. Because, hey, maybe he’s just another weird forigner being blamed for things he didn’t do? Maybe? That’s another debate too.)
So vampire loves Good Girl, Good Girl wants a piece of that sweet vamp D and expresses her own agency. Which is horrific, yeah? But don’t worry, delicate Victorians, Men with Torches and Weapons (society) will march in and kill Vampire once and for all before he ‘turns’ Good Girl and ruins her for all other men. “But, Mena,” you say, “the vampire hunter is these stories tells us that the vampire uses mind magic to MAKE the girls love him. The girls are out of their minds. They didn’t have agency!” Totally valid. If true, that is unforgivable, hand me a stake, I’ll hold it while you hammer.
But what if the vampire hunter is wrong? Or represents a society that cannot handle the idea of women enjoying sex and deciding for themselves who their partners will be and when? Is it possible that society, now represented by the vampire hunter, is wrong about the Good Girl’s desires, attributing super natural manipulation to what is actually just honest agency and desire. (In Dracula, depending on which version, we often have the girl’s testimony, Mina’s diary, saying SHE WANT SOME YUM, vs Society as the vampire hunter telling us “She can’t want some because she’s a good girl. IT MUST BE EVIL MAGIC AND MIND CONTROL!” Hmm.)
We could talk about authorial intent, is the author dead, unreliable narrators and all that stuff for years, and other people have. But here’s what I’m saying: You can draw from the gothics, and agree with Society and believe that vampires use dark magic to force girls to do things they don’t want to do and ruin them for other men. Okay. That’s valid. Plenty have done it. A lot. To death, actually. Or, you can look at the source and assume that these good girls are still good people and were punished for expressing their agency and admitting to their desires. In this way, it is society that manipulates the girls, manipulates us as the readers, by robbing the girls of agency because they aren’t doing what society expects of them. Hell, maybe Renfield liked what he liked, and that freaked the norms so they tossed him in an asylum. Metaphorically speaking.
And maybe Stoker DOES mean literally this vampire is a rapist. Maybe that tells you more about Stoker and the sexually repressed culture he comes from? Where women who choose are bad, and women who aren’t bad must be forced to enjoy sexy sexiness. I mean. Really. Dracula is about a lot of things… But mostly it’s about racism. But you don’t have to take my word on it. Good Girls don’t sleep with weird foreign men, right? And if they do, it must have been rape.
STOP SCROLLING THIS IS WHERE I TALK ABOUT GAME/FICTION YOU CAN MAKE STUFF. If you look at the source material and decide that Mina and Lucy and the Brides had agency in the story, and wanted what they wanted, but were robbed of a chance to choose by a society that oppresses their desires they, well, you have a vampire story that’s about sex and not inherently about rape. So there’s your foundation, what do you do with that? I’ll break out some ideas you could use from that. Not all of this will apply to straight up fiction.
- You can make stories about hot queer sex and being cool creatures of the night without inherently shaming queerness by basically saying “yeah, but it’s all kind coercive isn’t it?” Modern stories often draw lines between queerness and vampires for reasons too many for me to touch on here. But let me just say, if you’re cool with “vampires are queer” (and you should be it’s awesome) but also say that vampires = rapey… You got a problem baked right into your shit! (Here’s your real pearl-clutching, huh? The people who are bound and determined to make all queer media seem a little bit evil make me… anxious to say the least.)
- You can give your vampires real agency, which makes them better more layered characters. Characters who always do the same thing based a stimuli are boring and formulaic. We’re better than that, right? Lots of stories/games suggest that vampires don’t have to kill to feed. Why do they have to coerce and rape? If we remove the idea that some people “cant help themselves” then we add stories about personal responsibility by shrugging and saying “Well, vampires are just like that.” This is a refrain you hear in society a lot, yeah? Boys will be boys? How was he supposed to stop himself when she dressed like that? Well they were married so she pretty much had to? How often, in real life, do we see rapists and abusers treated with the idea that “they can’t help themselves” as if it’s supernatural? It isn’t. Rapists rape because they rape. This is a real thing, and for me, and many others, the gleeful way some fiction presents vampires as characters with agency and choice EXCEPT when it comes to being rapey that’s… weird. “Well, he’s a really moral guy, he’s the hero! Look, he made this hard choice about being a hero or being a monster… but yeah he’s really rapey. But it’s just who he is. Can’t really blame him for that, right?” < — really undercuts his heroics and his agency don’t it? I say, if we’re making vampires heroes or anti-heroes in our stories, if we’re making them characters with agency, we have to do that 100%. If a vampire is using powers to coerce sexy/blood times, that’s because they’ve done something morally wrong, not because it’s their nature and they can’t help themselves. (Eat me, Victorians.)
- You can make it about seduction instead of violence. Video games, movies, they often have feeding and blood drinking about the act of grabbing someone in an alley and draining them dry. Could that happen in your stories? Yeah duh. That’s your bad vampire. But if vampires are really about kinky sex, than the -seduction- is the thing. Forget blood pools (game mechanic stuff) and blood as a quantifiable amount that you lose and gain like cash in your pocket. (I never much loved that in games.) Being hungry as a vampire then becomes being low on gas in your car. There’s a dial, you know how long you can drive before it’s dangerous. Fuck that. It’s boring. If being a vampire is about freaky sex, the sex that you want, the sex that you NEED to feel alive, then it’s not a number in a dial. It’s a long game of finding a partner who can satisfy you. You must seduce, explore, and seek the heart of your partner to be sure it’ll actually be worth bringing them into your bedroom. Er. Feeding from them I mean. A long game (full of dice rolls if you’re inclined that way) ending with a consumption of sexy sexy times. I mean. Blood. (Personal experience here, you can ignore this if you like, but I am always… cautious around people who see a place where seduction and intimate interactions and replace those interactions with violence.)
- You can still explore stories about rape and coercion if you really really want to I guess. In real life, rape happens. If vampires are about wild kinky sex, yeah, rape happens there too. But now you can explore more realistic issues with sex and rape and culture. Less of the “stranger in the bushes who rapes you” which is not how most rape plays out, and more of the “well, we all knew he was a creep but no one knew it was THAT bad” kind of stories. The real stories. Stories about missing stairs and bathroom warnings and coverups because of positions of authority or privilege. If you want to. But you don’t HAVE to because vampires aren’t about rape. They’re about sex and the two don’t HAVE to be one in the same. (I would also say this from personal experience… Beware the author/player who wants all vampire stories to be about rape all the time. They may not be rapists themselves. But. Beware.)
Clearly, I have a lot more thoughts on this, and a lot more ways you could make your fiction/games about vampires without in being all about rape and why maybe you shouldn’t. But I’ll stop here for now.
What about you? How would you tweak stories and myth to make vampires about sexy sexy adult time passion and love instead of boring, Victorian, rape metaphors?