Suicide By Sodomy
The Last Quarter of the Twentieth-Century and AIDS
by Alexander Renault
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome has brutalized the gay community mercilessly since the early 1980s. With its devastation came a new genre of vampire literature based on a new element, a variable never before perpetrated against the human race in such an insidious way. The deadliness of AIDS-infected blood juxtaposed with the super-blood of the vampire having the ability to make a person almost indestructible, brought a newer and darker theme to the forefront. The AIDS victim also became a social outcast, identified and quarantined like the equally deadly vampire. It is easy to imagine villagers with pitchforks, axes, and torches rioting just outside the front door of earlier AIDS sufferers.
A 1991 novel by Brian Alsiss, Dracula Unbound, is a vampire story weighted down by AIDS and foretells of a bleak future of destruction for the planet and society, while Kim Newman's Anno Dracula shows a world of sick vampires and emphasizes bloodlines. In her world, the blood of Vlad the Impaler has been contaminated. The implication is that the potency of vampire blood is weakening due to over-breeding.
Social changes accelerated in the 1990s. With no cure for AIDS in sight, nor even a vaccine for the protection of the uninfected, it became a period of almost intolerable frustration. The U.S. government's apathetic stance against a blood born illness affecting mostly gay men and intravenous drug users was horrific in and of itself.
Nina Auerbach compares changes in the vampire persona as mirroring social change. In her 1995 non-fiction book, Our Vampires, Ourselves, she writes,
The new beginnings that marked vampire literature of the '70s settled into submission in the Reagan years. Like so much else in the leaderless 1970s, vampirism has been full of promise. After conservative leaders took hold of America and England, vampires, like many other species, enjoyed an apparent, inflated success story: there were more of them and they were more popular than ever. Nevertheless, the vampires of the 1980s were depressed creatures. Constricted in their potential, their aspirations, and their effect on mortals, they were closer to death than to undeath.
The 1990s brought with it a new fatalism as more and more young gay men stopped using safer sex practices and allowed their blood to be irreversibly poisoned. For some, actually living with AIDS infection was accompanied by a sense of a relief post-diagnosis. It spared them from having to wonder if their next partner could be the fatal deliverer of an early, painful death.
Modern vampires seem to be gory, stunted adolescents. With the perfection of special effects, vampires can tear apart a body in seconds. However, none of these purely visual techniques reveal any psychological insight. Has James B. Twitchell been correct all along after stating that the gift of the vampire died following the English Romantic era?
If we look hard enough we can find new creative ways to present the vampire. Lawrence Shimmel's short story, "Femme-de-Siecle," features a feminine vampiress with an eating disorder. Her butch lesbian lover is worried about her partner's health but does not realize her emaciated little girlfriend is a vampire who remains ill because she is fearful of gaining weight and only drinks blood from victims who are anemic. This is an original and entertaining twist--the lamia as victim of our modern culture bound syndrome of anorexia. It is an example of what happens when ancient phenomenon meets modern life in a misogynist society.
The vampire myth will remain alive and well in the
future because this archetype has too much potential to reflect social, political,
and sexual changes as they occur. They may doze off for a while but there is
too much raw power in those mysterious fangs for the vampire to sleep for too
Reprinted with permission by QueerHorror.com