In the latest issue of Esquire, columnist Stephen Marche offers an intriguing take on the current vampire craze. In “What’s Really Going on With All These Vampires,” Marche proposes that the vampire characters are proxies for gay men, and the fantasies encoded in books like Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books (for an older but no less fantasy prone audience), involve the awkward girl scoring with the un-gettable guy. March writes:
Edward, the romantic hero of the Twilight series, is a sweet, screwed-up high school kid, and at the beginning of his relationship with Bella, she is attracted to him because he is strange, beautiful, and seemingly repulsed by her. This exact scenario happened several times in my high school between straight girls and gay guys who either hadn’t figured out they were gay or were still in the closet. Twilight‘s fantasy is that the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend, and for the slightly awkward teenage girls who consume the books and movies, that’s the clincher. Vampire fiction for young women is the equivalent of lesbian porn for men: Both create an atmosphere of sexual abandon that is nonthreatening. That’s what everybody wants, isn’t it? Sex that’s dangerous and safe at the same time, risky but comfortable, gooey and violent but also traditional and loving. In the bedroom, we want to have one foot in the twenty-first century and another in the nineteenth
Anyone who knows me has heard me bitch about the profoundly anti-feminist strains in Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse books (which are the inspirations for the deliciously trashy True Blood TV series). In the latter, especially, there’s also something profoundly homophobic. Lafayette, the gender-queer drug dealer who is the most interesting thing in the True Blood series, is barely a blip on the radar of the novels, dying an ugly death at the beginning of the second book; and ancient teenager Godric, whose portrayal in the series was exquisite and poignant, is a ravenous pederast in the novels. So for Harris, the really un-gettable boys must die awful deaths and be exposed as truly monstrous monsters – to do otherwise spoils the fantasy. And it goes without saying that in Meyer’s sanitized universe, there are no queer characters at all.
Marche sees the fantasy moving us as a culture toward something positive:
For most Americans, there is no longer any such thing as a shameful sexual act between consenting adults. Having a bland sex life? Now, that’s shameful. No one would dare admit to that.
And so vampires have appeared to help America process its newfound acceptance of what so many once thought strange or abnormal. Adam and Steve who live on your corner with their adorable little son and run a bakery? The transgendered man who gave birth to a healthy baby? The teenage girl who wishes that all boys could be vampires? All part of the luscious and terrifying magic of today’s sexual revolution. The political consequences are sweeping — Iowa’s Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is further proof of an old wise man’s [Winston Churchill] dictum that the United States invariably does the right thing, after first exhausting all the other alternatives — and the cultural impact is just beginning to be felt.
Despite his positive spin on the cultural phenomenon, I think there’s something a tad misogynist about Marche’s reading. Like all fag-hag stories, and like too many of these vampire novels, there is a presumption that these girls are alienated from their own desires, and incapable of expressing sexual agency, and pursue the queer boy because they’re emotionally unable to get what they want in ordinary relationships. There’s nothing empowering about a girl surrendering her sexuality to a vampire boyfriend, and there’s nothing empowering about a girl sublimating her desire to commit to her gay bff. I want to buy Marche’s rosy thesis that these fantasies make all queerness (not just of the homosexual variety) more palatable to middle America, but it seems to be asking middle America’s girls to pay a troubling toll in the process.