Vampiric Kiss

Scott Bentley
13 min readNov 5, 2021

Between the Vampire and Me

What does it mean to see yourself within the vampire? To identify with the monster within books and film. My own experience with the vampire is that it is other and yet also a part of myself. Vampires are a partial, non-wholistic form of representation. The vampire as something other than human, other than hetero-normative, creates an opportunity for individuals who feel different to see themselves represented within media devices. What if audiences see themselves represented by the vampire within a media device that says the vampire is evil, can audiences find empowerment in monsters?

In “Figuring the Vampire: Death, Desire and the Image,” Carolyn Brown’s writes “the body in vampire lore serves as a mutating metaphor for the mobility of shape, substance, and desire” (Brown 114). The changing of the body, the transition of the human bodies’ appearance, its substance, shape, and desire to that of the vampire allows for representation through characters coded as gay and queer.

Within the Victorian era of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula there is a clear representation of good, Abraham Van Helsing and his Crew of Light, versus evil, Dracula and his demonic vampire sires. What makes Dracula evil is a transgression. He transgresses the moral scripts of humanity. He transgresses life and death as he is neither living nor dead, he is characterized as other, or demonic.

As a child, my interpretation of Dracula at first was that he was obviously the villain, he killed people. I was too young to understand the nuances that made Dracula a monster, or something not human, and how this shaped my perception of humanity, what it meant to be human. As I have grown up my interpretation has become more complex. Dracula is an example of sexually entitled males, against their wills he glamours, feeds upon, and vampires women.

The audience experiences the novel from Jonathan Harker’s point of view, with Van Helsing as the hero and Dracula as the villain. In “Kiss Me with Those Red Lips: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Christopher Craft says the character of Van Helsing is also problematic in a modern lens.

Van Helsing is a priest, his first name Abraham has biblical meaning, it means “exalted father” or “father of multitude” in Hebrew. In name Van Helsing is a symbol of the patriarch, the church, and religion. He symbolizes some of the problematic aspects of religion and the church with relationship to gender and sexuality. Dracula and the vampires are a metaphor for the gay and transgendered body. Van Helsing kills the vampires, kills the symbol in that metaphor. He is also the male hero that saves the female character Mina Harker, creating a passive female as victim narrative. The way Van Helsing saves Mina is phallic and penetrative, he transfuses her with his own blood then sticks his steak into the heart of Dracula. This kind of sexism, where the girl is the passive victim, and the patriarchal church is her savior would have been socially acceptable in the Victorian era of Stoker’s novel but should be challenged in a modern lens.

Dracula is portrayed as demonic and evil, yet seductive and powerful. He is otherworldly and immortal. Many vampire characters have these attractive qualities to them, they are powerful, seductive, and attractive in ways that are beyond human. The portrayal of vampires as attractive allows vampirism to become metaphor for desire.

Vampirism and Transgender Identity

In “Skin-flicks,” Zachary Nataf writes angels and monsters are metaphors for transgender identity. “The metaphors ‘angel’ and ‘monster’ represent familiar and containable ways of imagining sexed or gendered body exceeding the normative,” (Nataf 167). “The monstrously sexed body on the other hand is transgressive and mutating, blurring boundaries in its ambiguity and indeterminacy” (Nataf 167).

Vampirism transitions the weird sisters. The sisters are removed from the passive role of female and are given phallic fangs they use to penetrate and dominate men like Harker. Lucy Westerna rejects motherhood and femininity by killing children and drinking their blood before she attempts to kill and vampire Arthur Holmwood. Westerna, unlike Mina, becomes like the weird sisters, a full vampire. As punishment for her transition, Lucy is killed by Holmwood, he drives a steak in her heart, symbolically reasserting traditional gender roles.

In Stoker’s Dracula sexuality outside of marriage recognized by the church, gay sexuality and transgendered identity are portrayed as monstrous, sinful, and evil. Van Helsing has the power of light and God on his side in the fight against Dracula and the vampires. Van Helsing and the Crew of Light are presented as heroic by killing the vampires and returning the world of the novel to the realm of the hetero-normative.

Dracula’s otherness is attractive to his victims, and repulsive to Van Helsing. Dracula possesses the ability to change shape beyond the figure of a man, into mist, a wolf, or a bat. It is a kind of imaginative trans-speciesism. Dracula is as metaphor for the desire to be something other than what we are, for transfiguration, to change our physical appearance, to change shape and substance.

Sexy Gay Vampires

In Stoker’s novel, Dracula never directly vampires men but there is a tension within the book regarding this possibility. Dracula as a male figure could sink his vampire fangs into a male character’s neck and penetrate the male body. Instead, Dracula indirectly vampires men using the females he sires. Dracula says “Your girls that you all love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine,” (Stoker 323). Dracula threatens to penetrate the male body, as punishment Van Helsing and the Crew of Light penetrate Dracula’s body, killing Dracula. In “Vampire and Replicant: The One-Sex Body in a Two-Sex World,” Cyndy Hendershot says, “the destruction of Dracula apparently restores stable gender, sex distinctions and makes heterosexuality possible again” (Hendershot 382–383). After Dracula has been destroyed, Mina and Jonathan Harker return to their marriage and have a son.

“Harker enjoys a feminine passivity and awaits a delicious penetration from a woman whose demonism is figured as a power to penetrate” (Craft 109). Harker’s “desire to be penetrated by the vampire women feminizes him as he waits ‘in a languorous ecstasy’ for the vampire bite” (Hendershot 381).

Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire “offer[s] a postmodern yet nostalgic phantasmagoria of desire and death, of the demonic which offers the violent transgression of all human limitations and social taboos prohibiting the realization of desire” (Brown 116). In “Children of the Night: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism,” Richard Dyer writes “two of the cult novels in US gay circles…though not written by a gay man…in which male gay love is an inherent part of the ecstasies of vampirising” (Dyer 48).

In “Revamping the Roles of Women in Vampire Film,” Christy Freadreacea says “the two men [Louis and LeStat] reproduced together and became a real family with the birth of their child [Claudia]” (Freadreacea 12). In “Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a female vampire lures young woman to fulfill her unnatural desires. Thus, lesbianism and vampirism have been joined from the beginning” (Freadrecea 10). Camilla, Louis, and Lestat are interpreted as queer coded.

The cult nature of vampires “transcend the categories of gender and sexual orientation by which we are too often domesticated” (Brown 116). Brown focuses on vampires as a metaphor for the phantasmal self, a self-identity that is multiple and other rather than single and unified.

Vampirism as Empowerment

Stoker’s novel creates a girl as victim narrative. This kind of narrative can be found elsewhere in the vampire genre. In “Unpleasant Consequences: First Sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and Gilmore Girls,” Caroline Jones writes that for female character’s their first sexual experience is characterized as a loss. The characters suffer negative consequences as punishment for engaging in sexual activity, reinforcing social messaging that denies female sexuality.

Freadrecea analyzes the films Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931), Son of Dracula (1943), Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), Andy Warhol’s Dracula [also known as Blood for Dracula] (1974), Hunger (1983), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and Interview with the Vampire (1994), she uses feminist film theory to “grab hold of the jugular” (Freadrecea 2) and “draws critical blood from the [vampire and horror] genre.” (Freadreacea 1). Freadreacea “found several themes that spring from both traditional vampire lore and the original Stoker novel and directly pertain to the roles of women in vampiric fiction. All of these films contain themes of purity and violation, marriage, female intuition, and sexuality, which are inseparable from the lives of the female characters” (Freareacea 1). The vampire genre simultaneously empowers and disempowers women, making them the victims of predatory monsters that bleed them dry while giving them new life.

The theme of impurity and purity applied to female characters is vital for the plot in vampire films. “Purity versus impurity reinforces the patriarchal order of society that requires women to be virtuously devoted to one man, and to be under sexual control” (Freadreacea 4). The intuition of female figures is ignored by male authority figures. The concerns of female characters are too easily dismissed by male characters and male characters are primarily the figures of authority.

Westerna is portrayed as sexually impure and must be punished for her impurity, in comparison Mina is portrayed as pure and must be saved and protected by the male authority figures as an example of Victorian feminine purity and chastity. Female vampires are often the brides of Dracula, defined by their relationship to the male authority figure, “they speak little if at all” (Freadreacea 11) and are “uncontrollably sexual creatures in the novel and in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1994), but they lack the suavity and charisma of their master” (Freadreacea 11).

The female roles exist through the male gaze for “the consumption of the male spectator. The throbbing vein of marriage, the emphasis on the necessity of purity, the lack of value of the female opinion, and the condemnation of women’s sexuality all reinforce the message that women are subject to male control.” (Freadreacea 14). It is possible to view these female figures “as released from the bonds normally imposed on them by society” (Freadreacea 12). They are “freed not only from the expectations of society, but also from the expectations they place upon themselves.” (Freadreacea 12).

In the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is through Buffy’s role as the slayer that she is empowered. The series falls into the girl as victim narrative at times, and subverts this narrative to create a woman as hero narrative. As the slayer, Buffy defeats than the vampires she encounters, she is the modern Van Helsing. She saves male characters, and the world, from vampires and demons, using physical strength, her maturity, intelligence, and through her relationships. However, “Buffy’s agency is simultaneously affirmed and undermined, creating not simply plot tension but a dialectic for the rest of the season and, arguably, for the rest of the series” (Jones 12).

In “Doubled Coded Feminist TV — Overlooked Contradictions within Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Timothy Foley says “The coding of the series is complex, it promotes female empowerment, but reserves that empowerment for only a select minority of women” (Foley 1). The series contains “a preferred body type, as well as an emphasis on looks and money” as forms of empowerment (Foley 13). The series “is a Postfeminist marketing machine attracting millions of fans, lulling them into believing that girls are empowered while selling them consumer culture and traditional gender expectations” (Foley 20). The series “is constructed in a way that offers a positive portrayal of women to young viewers while also promoting a contradictory agenda” (Foley 19).

In “Re-Vamping the Gothic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Anna Free, says Buffy subverts the traditional power dynamic within Stoker’s novel. Buffy “makes Dracula seem like a fool by joking about him with her knowledge of popular culture” (139). She refuses Dracula’s dominance.

The women that Dracula sires are given vampire powers. They become empowered by vampirism. Lucy and the weird sisters become less passive, they have beyond human powers over the people they would kill or vampire. However, this power does come from the male figure whom they serve.

In “Empowerment Through Female Sexuality in Dracula” Tabassum Hayat writes, “after Lucy’s transformation the men watch vigilantly over Mina, fearing that they will lose another epitome of Victorian womanhood to the depraved world of vampires and hence lose them to freedom” (Hayat 1). “The need for multiple victims to satiate a female vampire’s appetite for blood is a given, whereas it would be unthinkable for a respectable Victorian woman to have multiple partners to satiate her sexual appetite” (Hayat 1). The hunger of the vampire is a symbolic one, a metaphor for desire.

When discussing her collection of stories Salt Slow in an interview with Ellie Broughton for Electric Literature, Julia Armfield says “Women who become monsters are stepping into their power, rather than becoming disenfranchised” (Broughton 1). The old vampire of the Victorian gothic is disenfranchising towards its female figures. However, the modern gothic and horror genre, the modern vampire, offers opportunities for female empowerment. Armfield says there is “an obvious sense of the Otherness of the monsters being oftentimes, in some way, queer, or Other.” Armfield likes “the idea of taking that back and the monster being the good thing and the monster being the true thing” (Broughton 1). In her stories, the female characters overcome disenfranchisement and become empowered.

The Vampire’s Reflection

The vampire genre is filled with metaphor about the body and identity. Vampires “are crucial to gender identity because through them the body serves as a visible image of the subject’s ego.” (Hendershot 373). Vampire metaphors “contaminate reality through the introduction of the one-sex body.” (Hendershot 376). Vampires challenge the Victorian anatomical model of the two-sex body, perceived notions of what is feminine and masculine and the patriarchal fallacy that masculinity is superior, and that femininity is inferior.

Craft says:

with it’s soft flesh barred by hard bone. It’s red crossed by white, this mouth compels opposites and contrasts into a frightening unity, and it asks some disturbing questions. Are we male or are we female? Do we have penetrators or orifices? And if both, what does that mean? And what about our bodily fluids, the red and the white? What are the relations between blood and semen, milk and blood? Furthermore, this mouth, bespeaking the subversion of the stable and lucid distinctions of gender, is the mouth of all vampires, male and female. (109)

Brown’s essay cites Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as creating multiple other selves, the phantasmal self and the vampire self. The phantasmal self is the vampire’s reflection. The reflection that Dracula can’t look at in the mirror, and which confirms his vampire identity in the eyes of Van Helsing. The portrait that Dorian Grey can’t look at which shows all his flaws, every rotten desire, and every cruelty. The Lacanian “body reflected in the already culturally framed-mirror” (Hendershot 373) “to reveal the corps morcele (the body in fragments)” (Hendershot 373).

The Horror genre is probably my favorite in film, some of my favorite films are Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, An American Werewolf in London, The Faculty and The Craft. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mixed Indigenous character centered in the horror nor vampire genre. The only example of a horror film which centers Indigenous characters I can think of is Blood Quantum. Something I would like to see are examples of characters within the vampire genre that are not just subtextually coded as queer but are explicitly written as queer (or Indigiqueer). I’ve been forced to experience my representation always partially and never holistically in these films through various forms of otherness. Through Martin Brody and Matt Hooper in Jaws, both of whom are considered outsiders by the local islanders and framed as other. Through Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, who struggles to be taken professionally as a young woman. Through David Kessler in An American Werewolf in London, the American seen as other because he’s a foreigner not a Londoner and because he’s a werewolf and not human. Through Casey Connors in The Faculty, a geek who is relentlessly bullied and dismissed by his peers and one of the few humans remaining after the town is taken over by aliens. Through Sarah Bailey in The Craft, a new girl at a private Catholic school in LA who finds acceptance as a witch and is then treated as an outsider by her own coven which tries to kill her.

In recent years, there’s been a renaissance or resurgence of the horror and gothic genre within film and television, there was the Scream 4 sequel in 2011 and subsequent tv series in 2015. In the Scream tv series, characters have a meta discussion regarding the ways the gothic genre is present in television. There is The Walking Dead series, the spinoffs Fear the Walking Dead (which did have a main character of Indigenous Māori descent) and World Beyond. The Vampire Diaries, the spinoffs Originals and Legacies, The Following, Hannibal, Bates Motel, and American Horror Story. These titles they are white as fvck, they generally suffer from a lack of diversity in casting and behind the scenes. These titles are mostly adaptions, prequels, or sequels to existing intellectual properties and lack originality. The only diverse, non-white, and original recent examples I can think of within the horror genre are Us, Get Out, and Squid Game.

Works Cited

Brown, Carolyn. “Figuring the Vampire: Death, Desire, and the Image,” in Sue Golding, The Eight Technologies of Otherness. London: Routledge, 1997. 114–128. Print

Craft, Christopher. “Kiss Me with Those Red Lips: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” in Elaine Showalter, Speaking of Gender. London: Routledge, 1989. 107–133. Print.

Dyer, Richard. “Children of the Night: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism,” in Susannah Radstone, Sweet Dreams: Sexuality, Gender and Popular Fiction. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988. Print.

Freadreacea, Christy. “Revamping the Roles of Women in Vampire Film,” University of Kentucky Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship, 2005. Web.

Free, Anna. “Re-Vamping the Gothic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Screen Education. 2002. 139–144. Print.

Foley, Timothy. “Double Coded Feminist TV — Overlooked Contradictions within Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” University of Washington, Tacoma, 2012. Web.

Hayat, Tabassum. “Empowerment Through Female Sexuality in Dracula,” Baylor University, 2013. Web.

Hendershot, Cyndy. “Vampire and Replicant: The One-Sex Body in a Two-Sex World,” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995. 373–398. Print.

Nataf, Zachary. “Skin-flicks,” in Sue Golding, The Eight Technologies of Otherness. London: Routledge, 1997. 171–188. Print.

Jones, Carloyn. “Unpleasant Consequences: First Sex in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and Gilmore Girls,” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, vol. 5 no. 1, 2013. 65–83. Print.

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. London: Futura/Macdonald, 1986. Print.

Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. London: Futura/MacDonald, 1986. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Whedon, Joss. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Twentieth-Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2002. DVD.

Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. 47–216. Print.

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Scott Bentley

Scott received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington, Bothell.