Posts Tagged ‘Vampire’
‘…the vampire is a queer figure because it is disruptive; the vampire breaks down categories, transgresses boundaries, and upsets the very premises upon which systems of normality are structured. At least this is true of most vampires. In 2005, Stephanie Meyer [End Page 1] introduced the Twilight series, which valorized a family of vampires who clearly and firmly refuse the queerness typically associated with the figure.’—Kathryn Kane, Bitten By Twilight
In the last several years, much ink has been spilled in the creation of whole collections of essays exploring the social, sexual, political, and religious ideological foundations of Stephanie Meyer’s four book saga and Summit Entertainment’s five part screen adaptation of the series known as Twilight (Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians and the Pursuit of Immortality (Housel 2009); Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media and the Vampire Franchise (Click 2010); Bringing Light to Twilight (Anatol 2011); Seduced By Twilight (Wilson 2011); Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It (Erzen 2012); Genre, Reception and Adaptation in the Twilight Series (Morey 2012)). Stephanie Meyer’s gothic romance series, aimed at teenagers, chronicles the teenage life of the dowdy and awkward Isabella ‘Bella’ Swan (Kristen Stewart) as she becomes intimately involved with two of the most celebrated monsters in Western literature and film: the icy and demure vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and the (hot)headed and bold werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
With box office numbers in the billions, the Twilight saga has undeniably sunk its teeth into a cultural vein and has seduced large audiences into craving more. The Twilight series primarily follows Bella as she moves to the small and gloomy town of Forks, where she develops a fascination with a particularly strange family of fostered teenagers known as the ‘Cullens’ who attend her school. Captivated and mesmerized by Edward Cullen (the only single and available Cullen), Bella pursues Edward in spite of his strange and suspicious behaviours and/or ways of being. Revealed to be ethical and decent vampires, Edward and the Cullens refer to themselves as ‘vegetarians,’ because they refrain from hunting humans, feeding on the blood of animals instead. Besides the central focus—developing a romantic intimacy and relationship between Bella and Edward—the Twilight saga also pivots around Jacob the werewolf and his competing longings for Bella. While Twilight’s romantic dynamic, unquestionably triangular and arguably queer (McFarland 2013), has the potential to disrupt conventional understandings of desire, romance, and relationships, my focus in this article lies in the queer potential of the romantic monster—the vampire.
Monsters offer some of the most egregious representations of race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality. Far from being apolitical creatures that simply fascinate and frighten, monsters embody constitutive difference or ‘otherness’. Put simply, representations of monsters matter because they are socially instructive. Judith Halberstam notes as much in Skin Shows, when she argues that representations of the modern monster and the horrific body bolster and sustain social and sexual hierarchies (Halberstam 1995). Depictions of vampires, for instance, are largely seductive, sexualized, and often indulge fears of forbidden or taboo sexuality (Skal 1993; Creed 1995; Benshoff 1997, 2006; Dyer 2002). The destructively predatory and hypnotically charming vampire, moreso than any of its supernatural contemporaries, is associated with sexuality. This has not so much been posited by a few as it has been established as a canon when both analyzing and understanding the vampire figure in both literature and film. A scholarly tradition of conflating the vampire with sexuality, especially deviant sexuality, suggests as much (Skal 1993; Weiss 1993; Creed 1995; Benshoff 1997, 2006; Dyer 2002; Williamson 2005). [End Page 2]
With a predisposition to seducing, nibbling, biting, penetrating, and sucking, the vampire ‘is perhaps the highest symbolic representation of eroticism’ (Jackson 120). While Jackson’s contention is typical of a generation of scholarship that conflates vampires with eroticism broadly, a more recent trend has materialized which focuses on the association between vampirism and homosexuality (Creed 1993; Auerbach 1995; 1997; Benshoff 1997, 2006; Dyer 2002; Williamson 2005). These scholars, drawing parallels between the lifestyle of the homosexual and the vampire, largely argue that what makes the vampire attractive yet frightening to the general public is its embodiment of sexual transgression and difference: queerness at large. More recently, however, cultural critics and scholars alike have been noting an even more odd and frightening tendency toward the normalization of blood(suckers) within vampire fiction. Referring to the contemporary vampire figure in visual fictions like True Blood (2008-2014), The Vampire Diaries (2009-) and the Twilight Saga (2007-2012), Stephen Marche illuminates this trend when he claims that ‘our vampires are normal. They’re not Goth, they’re not scary, they’re not even that weird’ (March n.pag). Recalling familiar Antebellum chivalry and virtue, modern vampires—gentlemanly, handsome, and young—are, indeed, quite normative.
Stephanie Meyer’s chaste and conservative Twilight saga especially demonstrates this tendency toward the normalization of the vampire figure. The Twilight books and films, which center on a morally righteous family of vampires referred to as ‘the Cullens’, construct an image of vampirism that is white (alabaster-white), moneyed, educated, patriarchal, monogamously coupled, appropriately reproductive, domestic, and, as Kathryn Kane poignantly notes, ‘distinctly unqueer’ (Kane 117). A (straight)forward embodiment of the American (neoliberal) dream, Meyer’s conservative conceptualization of the vampire as a normal and compliant subject, Kane and I argue, strays from the canon’s radical representation of the vampire as a strange and disruptive troublemaker.
Through an in-depth thematic analysis of the five filmic re-imaginings (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, Breaking Dawn: Part 2) of Meyer’s four book Twilight saga, this article explores, develops, and challenges Kane’s contention that the modern vampire as characterized by Meyer’s Edward Cullen is distinctly un-queer. While for the most part I agree with Kane’s assertion that Stephanie Meyer’s vampire—a figure that has often been championed as being both transgressive and sexually ‘deviant’—is emptied of some queerness, I depart with Kane’s argument when her definition of ‘queer’ stops at transgression. Following an elucidation of the various conceptualizations of the term ‘queer’ to make clear how the term will be deployed throughout the article, I trace a history of queerness within the vampire genre to locate Meyer’s conceptualization of the vampire within this practice. Claiming that Meyer’s representation of the vampire largely breaks with its traditionally queer (troubling) ancestors, I demonstrate how Edward Cullen, frighteningly less monstrous and more normal than his predecessors, is not wholly capable of parting from a well-established tradition of understanding the vampire as queer. While Kane briefly explores how the Twilight series restrains the radical possibilities of queerness, I wish to fully expand this analysis to include an exploration of the ways in which this text as a cultural artefact is in the business of producing meaning about normative queerness; and how this text, in spite of its normalizing tendency, is still very queer. [End Page 3]
Traditionally, vampires have often been thought of as being quite queer creatures. They are troubling (queering; verb) because they challenge and defy the rules and institutions of hetero-patriarchy, strange (queer; adjective) because their habits, appetites, and appearances are divergent, and homosexual (queer; noun) because they are often imagined engaging in same-sex relations. Vampires are simply ‘queer’. As illustrated, the use of the term ‘queer’ here does not refer to a particular conceptualization, but to a multitude of meanings. The word ‘queer,’ initially utilized to describe something of a strange or unusual nature, has undergone significant transformations in both activism and scholarship. For example, while the 1980s’ human rights activists’ reclamation of the pejorative ‘queer’ indicated an identity for LGBT individuals and communities, the use of ‘queer’ in contemporary academia frequently refers not so much to an identity, but to a politic associated with anti-identity attitudes. Thus, ‘queer’ is both a ‘catch-all’ term for the panoply of LGBT identities (sexual orientation) and an attitude (positionality) that challenges hegemonic systems and institutions predicated on heteronormativity and the supposed stability of gender and sexuality. Queer as an organizing identity for both alternative sexuality and oppositional positionality make up the bulk of ways in which the vampire has traditionally been understood in relation to the Western construction of the queer.
Most often, these two divergent discourses arise in scholarship regarding the vampire figure in one of three ways. First, the vampire is associated with queerness because the vampire itself is depicted as explicitly engaging in same-sex sexual activity and is therefore assumed to be a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identified character. This association is arguably most commonly discussed (Weiss 1993; Creed 1993, Aurebach 1997; Dyer 2002; Williamson 2005). Although not limited to women, the vampire as an explicitly queer identified character is most often represented as a lesbian or a bisexual woman (Creed 2002). While few films revel in explicit same-sex male vampirism, Gayracula (Roger Earl 1983) being one of the few exceptions, the 1970s and 1980s most remarkably abounded in fetishistic images of lesbian vampirism. Commonly referred to as ‘dykesploitation’ films, films exploiting images of lesbian desire, such as The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker 1970), Lust for a Vampire (Jimmy Sangster 1971), Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel 1971), Vampire Orgy—originally titled ‘Vampyres’ (José Ramón Larraz 1975) and The Hunger (Tony Scott 1983), to name only a few, deal exclusively with representations of the vampire as a lesbian or bisexual. Many, most notably Bonnie Zimmerman, Andrea Weiss, and Barbara Creed, have noted the metaphorical possibilities linking vampirism and lesbianism. This union between predatory vampirism and licentious lesbianism, Creed notes, is a happy one, because both lesbians and vampires have been popularly imagined as seducing ‘properly’ disciplined and gendered subjects away from patriarchal order (Creed 59).
Secondly, the vampire is associated with a queer identity without explicitly engaging in same-sex behaviour. Put differently, the lifestyle, behaviour, performance, and gestures of the vampire are implicitly compared to those of the Western construction of the queer. In particular, Richard Dyer notes the similarities between vampires and Western understandings of lesbian- and gay-identified individuals in his article ‘It’s in His Kiss!: [End Page 4] Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism’. Dyer confirms as much when he claims, ‘what has been imagined through the vampire image is of a piece with how people have thought and felt about homosexual women and men—how others have thought and felt about us, and how we have thought and felt about ourselves’ (Dyer 73). Here, Dyer is, of course, alluding to the long history of the West perceiving LGBT identified individuals as sexual and physical predators capable of mass infection (Benshoff 1997; 2006). Amenable to queer readings, vampires, Dyer argues, are similar to the West’s socially constructed ‘homosexual’ because they are both steeped in histories marked by secrecy and mystery, isolated from normative society, and sexually voracious, among other similarities. There is, of course, nothing inherently ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ about being private, alienated, or sexual; however, this is how the West has frequently constructed and thus understood LGBT identified individuals. This essentialist notion that queerness has certain innate sensibilities and behaviours makes possible the conflation of the vampire with Western constructions of the ‘queer’.
This leads me to the third, and perhaps most significant, conceptualization of ‘queer’ in scholarship focusing on the vampire figure and its fictions. While the first two applications of ‘queer’ focus on the longstanding trend of exploring both the explicit and implicit connections between the vampire figure and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, the third application centers on the more recent yet equally important trend of equating the vampire with an attitude or ethos that refuses to comply with the rules of hegemonic systems. Throughout my work, the capitalization of ‘Queer’ will refer to the latter understanding in order to provide distinction between the two. Accordingly, ‘Queer’, in this sense, refers less to the supposedly innate and stable identity often coupled with LGBT individuals, and more to the actions taken that are motivated by the intent to challenge, transgress, disrupt, and destabilize naturalized systems of oppression such as compulsory heterosexuality, monogamy, temporary able-bodiedness, white supremacy, and patriarchy, among others. Put differently, the first two applications rely on the usage of ‘queer’ as a noun to categorize a set of people with supposedly identifiable differences, while the third depends on ‘Queer’ as a verb to indicate a state or action. Aligned with a positionality, ‘Queer’ is, therefore, not necessarily contingent on one’s sexual identity, but on one’s lack of compliance with or mistrust in normalized systems of ordering.
As a positionality that is aligned with disruption (Muñoz 1999), loss (Love 2007), and failure (Halberstam 2011), ‘Queer’ has understandably been perceived by activists and scholars alike as a politic or ideology of gay culture. However, as mentioned previously, ‘Queer’ is less an identity-organizing construct and more a critique of identity (Jagose 1996). Assuming that a sexual orientation, then, like ‘gay’ even has a culture that possesses unique, fixed behaviours, gestures, and attitudes is antithetical to ‘Queer’ sensibilities. However, this is not to say that queerness, like heterosexuality, is not performative (Butler 1990, 1993, 1999). Refusing categorization and definition, Queer sensibilities reject essentialized notions of sexuality which rely on an acceptance of the supposed fixedness and stability of socially constructed binaries like homosexuality/heterosexuality. It is this disruptive potential of Queer, Kathryn Kane maintains, that aligns with the vampire (Kane 107). Regarding the vampire as a ‘boundary threat’, Kane argues that the vampire, like the Queer, has conventionally disrupted ordered ways of knowing, being, and relating: ‘it undoes that which is taken to be fixed’ (106). Kane is critical of Meyer’s depiction of the ‘defanged’ (107) vampire which, she claims, is ‘a radical revision’ (107). Arguing that [End Page 5] Meyer’s conservative and sympathetic vampire represents the pinnacle of heteronormative success and order, Kane contends that Meyer’s conceptualization of the vampire is decidedly ‘unqueer’ (117).
Correspondingly, Meyer’s conservative representation of the vampire is, indeed, quite queer (strange) in its un-Queer (un-troubling) tendencies. Although I agree with Kane’s contention that Meyer’s vampire has been emptied of much of its potential to trouble, challenge, disrupt, transgress and, hence, Queer systems and institutions of power, I disagree with her argument when she severs herself from a tradition of aligning the vampire with gay and lesbian (queer) identity. While Kane briefly acknowledges a scholarly tradition of conflating the vampire with LGBT identity, her line of argument is overwhelmingly and distinctly grounded ‘in the way the vampire aligns with [Q]ueerness, not gay and lesbian identity’ (Kane 105). Even as she suggests, without elaboration, that many compelling connections exist between Meyer’s vampire and homosexuality, Kane divests Edward Cullen of his queerness and homoeroticism and instead contributes to a popular mainstream understanding of Edward as an unqueer vampire. I, on the other hand, discern a queer individual in Meyer’s protagonist vampire. While there is nothing particularly revolutionary about the Cullens and none of them are imagined as being explicitly gay identified characters, I return to the metaphor to explore the vampire’s relationship to queerness. Taking direction from Richard Dyer’s conflation of the performances of both vampirism and Western constructions of queerness, I locate Meyer’s conceptualization of the vampire within this tradition.
I have elucidated multiple conceptualizations of the term ‘queer’ to illustrate shifting notions of queerness while creating the parameters of how I will engage with ‘queer’. While I occasionally refer to the vampire’s Queer potential, my use of the term ‘queer’ in this article refers to the limited and limiting categorical understandings of sexual difference. Put simply, I employ ‘queer’ to indicate a perceived sexual orientation rather than a defiant positionality. Aligning vampirism with queerness, I will trace the often homosocial and homoerotic histories of the vampire figure to resuscitate the queer within Meyer’s heteroromantic fiction.
Edward’s Great Queer Ancestors: (Blood)suckers and Man Haters
The vampire is popularly imagined as a caped, white-fanged aristocrat. He is of your Halloween variety—foreign, male, effete, unsympathetic, ghostly, lonely, old, white (very white), and most likely saying ‘I vant to suck your blood’. He is Dracula. Although the image of Dracula informs our popular understanding of the vampire, the vampire is a versatile monster that has been (vamp)ed and re(vamp)ed throughout the years. As Nina Auerbach begins in her influential text Our Vampires, Ourselves, ‘…there are many Draculas—and still more vampires who refuse to be Dracula or to play him’ (Auerbach 1). In all its diversity, the vampire has been represented as being sympathetic, trans, female, lesbian, bisexual, white, black, Asian, evil, good, homosocial, and symbolic of psychosis (respectively Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (Neil Jordan 1994), Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson 2008), Vamp (Richard Wenk 1986), Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer 1936), The Hunger (Tony Scott 1983), White Skin “La peau blanche” (Daniel Roby 2004), [End Page 6] Blacula I (William Crane 1972), Thirst “Bakjwi” (Chan-wook Park 2009), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon 1997-2003), Twilight (Harwicke 2008), The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher 1987), Martin (George A. Romero 1976)).
These vampires, in all their various forms, have functioned throughout the decades as salient metaphors for a myriad of social and political epidemics afflicting the United States. Vampires have been useful stand-ins for everything from slavery (Lee 2002; Cain 2009), consumption (Marx and Engels 1967; Latham 2002), modernity (Abbott 2006; 2007), and immigration (Newland 2009) to polymorphous sexuality (Auerbach 1997; Zanger 1997), lawyers (Sutherland 2006), menstruation (Creed 1993), sexual disease (Skal 1993), and surveillance (Grandena 2013). Although the vampire figure has symbolized all such meanings, among others, it has most commonly haunted the popular cultural landscape during moments of sexual panic and crisis to symbolize an embodied threat to normative sexuality (Marche n.pag). Correspondingly, we see a rise in vampire fiction produced at the turn of the century when women were becoming more independent. Similarly, vampire fictions experienced a renaissance in both literature and film in the United States during the 1960s and 1980s when the sexual revolution and AIDS epidemic transformed the sociosexual terrain. Although vampire films are, of course, not restricted to these periods, the rise can perhaps be best explained by grasping the vampire’s fundamental relationship to sexuality.
The vampire’s characteristic bite or ‘kiss’, as it is often referred to—yet another indication of the vampire’s association with sexuality—situates both predator and prey in an intimate embrace that is at once both satisfying and painful. Although you do not have to read the vampire’s transformational bite as being sexual, Richard Dyer, among a number of other writers, says, ‘an awful lot suggests you should’ (Dyer 75). The vampire’s erotic bite, consequently, appropriates the place of sex—penetrative sexuality specifically. Archetypically, this erotic displacement commonly occurs between a predatory male vampire and an unsuspecting female victim; however, both male and female vampires are also regularly imagined freely preying on men and women. The vampire’s connection to deviant sexuality, then, or queerness—more appropriately—is but a single step in the logic when a vampire bites someone of the same sex. Consequently, the vampire as a character has been integral to the production of gay and lesbian fiction as its participation in same-sex relations has often been overlooked (Dyer 73). The vampire allows authors to explore sexual themes and imagery that may otherwise not be available to them. To illustrate a tradition of queerness, I turn to several of Edward Cullen’s queer predecessors who, more frequently than not, revel in same-sex biting—a preference that is markedly homoerotic (or (hemo)erotic), if not homosexual.
Often thought to be the inventor of the vampire, Bram Stoker—the creator of the notorious Count Dracula—is frequently credited, mistakenly, as being the first to imagine the vampire. Although Stoker’s Gothic novel Dracula (1897) largely defined our modern understandings of the vampire, Count Dracula is not the first vampire in Western literature. In fact, prior to the conception of the unpleasant Dracula, who singlemindedly pursues young women, vampires were considerably more homosocial, more homoerotic—more queer. Nina Auerbach notes as much when she argues that the infamous Dracula ‘is less the culmination of a tradition than the destroyer of one’ (Auerbach 64). Referring to a tradition in which vampires were considerably more friendly and intimate, Auerbach argues that the nineteenth century pre-Dracula vampire ‘offered an intimacy, a homoerotic sharing, that [End Page 7] threatened the hierarchal distance of sanctioned relationships’ (60). For example, Samuel Coleridge’s unfinished and ambiguous poem ‘Christabel’ (1797), written a century before Dracula, tells the story of a young but dead woman named Lady Geraldine who has inexplicably returned to charm and captivate the young maiden Christabel. Successfully captivated by Lady Geraldine’s enchantment, Christabel is transfixed by the sight of a naked Lady Geraldine, her breast specifically. The erotic overtones of the prose are markedly Sapphic, for example:
So half-way from the bed she rose,
And on her elbow did she recline
To look at the lady Geraldine,
Beneath the lamp the lady bowed,
And slowly rolled her eyes around;
Then drawing in her breathe aloud,
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast:
Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and full in view,
Behold! Her bosom and half her side
A sight to dream, not to tell?
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel
(qtd. in Urisini 32)
This imagery, in which Lady Geraldine, partially naked, holds the attentive gaze of Christabel, takes advantage of the naked female figure and lesbian desire. Employing her seductive wiles, Lady Geraldine’s power, as Auerbach and others have noted, lies in Geraldine’s focal breast (Auerbach 26). Correspondingly, Barbara Creed and others (Weiss 1993; Williamson 2005) have argued that ‘the female vampire’s seduction exploits images of lesbian desire’ (Creed 59). The imagery of predatory and voracious female intimacy and sexuality is undeniably homoerotic in its vivid illustration of same-sex attraction between Lady Geraldine and Christabel.
Sheridan Le Fanu’s supernatural novella Carmilla (1871) similarly focuses on a young girl named Laura who is haunted by dreams of a beautiful and mysterious woman named Carmilla and, later, Millarca—both anagrams of ‘Mircalla’. Both Carmilla and Millarca are eventually revealed in the narrative to be the same person, Countess ‘Mircalla’ Karnstein, a female vampire who expresses a predilection for vampirizing young women—a preference that produces palpable homoerotic underpinnings. Following a suspicious carriage accident, Carmilla is unexpectedly placed under the supervision of Laura’s father where she officially meets Laura. They quickly become close friends in spite of Carmilla’s abrupt and disruptive mood swings which fluctuate between perplexing rage and unsettling ‘passionate declarations of her liking for [Laura]’ (Le Fanu 82). Distressed by ‘a cruel love—strange love that would have taken [her] life’ (82), Laura expresses confusion: ‘I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of [End Page 8] abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling’ (87).
Correspondingly, Laura’s contradictory feelings of both disgust and adoration resonate with popularly imagined representations of how gay and lesbian identified individuals have thought and felt about themselves as they experience dissenting attraction and desire. Also implied in her statement is the notion that Laura is attracted to and affected by Carmilla in spite of her best efforts to remain unyielding. Similarly, being bitten by a vampire constructs a biological connection that binds the victim to the prey in spite of reason. Thus, the narrative which ambiguously explores Carmilla’s lust and/or hunger for Laura in many ways establishes a tradition in which vampirism is conflated with homosexuality. One possible implication of such imagery is that women who desire other women are predatory and, more worryingly for a heterosexist, patriarchal culture, capable of ensnaring heterosexual women, transforming them into deviants, sexual or otherwise. Although Christabel toys with lesbian desire, Carmilla effectively establishes the trope of the lesbian vampire, as it is this fiction which is re-appropriated time and again in twentieth century horror films.
After the creation of Carmilla, the lesbian vampire as a trope does not significantly return as a common depiction until the 1970s. No longer a thinly disguised metaphor for queer desire, the films of the 1970s portray many of their female vampires as explicitly lesbian- and bisexual- identified individuals. The Hammer productions especially boast lesbian vampires whose ‘lust knows no boundaries’—a tagline from the so-called Karnstein Trilogy Lust for a Vampire (Sangster 1971). While the instances of lesbianism or queerness discussed in both Christabel and Carmilla are more incidental, the instances in the dykesploitation films of the 1970s—loosely adapted from Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’—are purposeful. The female vampires find identity politics and are clearly lesbian (Auerbach 56). Correspondingly, these films exploit imagery of softcore lesbianism that is at once both threatening and non-threatening. These films offer audiences—overwhelmingly heterosexual and male—the brief opportunity to revel in images of pornographic depictions of lesbianism before the narrative re-establishes order or ‘proper’ ways of relating within the heterosexist matrix. Even as these films narrowly present lesbian desire, they demonstrate a shift in patriarchal and heterosexist structures. These films arguably emerged during a time of burgeoning feminism and a greater awareness of lesbian relations. For Auerbach, films such as these can indeed celebrate alternative expressions of female desire as a result of the shifting attitudes of the 1970s (Auerbach 165). Where lesbian or, more appropriately, queer desire was suggested in the nineteenth-century female vampire, lesbianism is specifically addressed in the vampire films of the 1970s.
Although ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Christabel’—fictions which solely focus on intimacy between women—largely establish the explicit queerness of the vampire figure, a comparable pattern of same-sex intimacy and attraction between men can similarly be traced throughout vampire fiction. Referring to Lord Byron’s ‘Fragment of a Tale’ (1816) and John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819), Nina Auerbach makes clear a connection between the male vampire figure and homosexual writing. Elaborating on this correlation, Richard Dyer’s ‘It’s in His Kiss: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism’ provides a rich variety of examples to argue that the vampire figure and vampire fiction in general is a cultural phenomenon that has been both produced by and about men in the [End Page 9] category ‘queer’: ‘From Manor and Har to Anne Rice’s Louis, Armond and Lestat, or from Vathek to Gaywick, there is a line of vampire Gothic writing that is predominantly queer/gay produced, or which at any rate forms part of a queer/gay male reading tradition’ (Dyer 71). Vampire fiction, like Gothic fiction, Dyer argues, is often in contention and divergence with hegemonic male culture and narratives (72). Apart from elucidating a tradition of queer produced vampire fiction, Dyer’s most important intervention in the scholarship relies on the metaphorical connections between the construction of the vampire and the queer.
Ultimately arguing that the vampire’s metaphorical possibilities account for its traditional and historical relationship to queerness, Dyer explicates how the construction of the vampire is dependent on modern discourses used to articulate the social construction of queerness. Dyer argues that there is a fit between vampire imagery and gay and lesbian identities. Referencing both explicitly queer and heterosexual vampire fictions to illustrate how the visual production of vampirism is homologous with the construction of queerness, Dyer underscores several features that the two identities share: privacy/secrecy, uncontrollable desires, and discourses of self-loathing. Although there is nothing inherently private, uncontrollable, or self-loathing about the popularly imagined queer, these features, Dyer argues, are integral to modern notions of hegemonic queerness.
I have focused on traditions of both visual and metaphoric queerness represented throughout Western vampire fiction. A history of textual and visual homoerotic vampires, both male and female, and a metaphoric compatibility begin to explicate my, among other scholars’, reasons for extending the metaphor to contemporary vampire fictions such as True Blood (Brace and Arp 2010; Culver 2010; Curtis 2010) and, most importantly, the Twilight saga. Turning now to a more direct analysis of the Twilight saga, I will illustrate and reiterate Dyer’s claim that ‘much of the form of vampirism/sexuality is homologous with the social construction of queerness’ (Dyer 77). Although the Cullen family and, more importantly, Edward, in many ways represent a major revision in the construction of the vampire as monster (Kane 117), Dyer’s metaphoric understanding of the vampire largely remains the same. I return to Kane’s claim that Edward and the Cullen family are ‘distinctly unqueer’ (Kane 117) to argue instead that Meyer’s representation of vampirism continues to articulate and conflate popular discourses of the ‘queer’—inflected by gender, race, class, and ability—with the vampire figure.
The Undead Metaphor
Turning to a more direct analysis of the Twilight saga, I will demonstrate how Meyer’s vampire, regarded as being atypical and revisionary (Kane 2010), represents an extension of the very tradition it is believed to disavow. Locating the self-hating outsider known as Edward Cullen within a tradition of equating the experience of the vampire with the imagined experience of the queer, I will illustrate how Meyer’s film series reanimates this undead trend.
As a social construction, homosexuality or, more appropriately, queerness is often perceived to be a fixed and stable category that is thought to have inherent and identifiable characteristics and ways of being. While privacy has been integral to the definition of the [End Page 10] ideal sexual citizen (Rubin 1984; Warner 1999; Dyer 2002), which, according to the construction, does not include queers (Rubin 1984; Warner 1999; Puar 2007), privacy has also been integral to the construction and perception of the queer for other reasons. Popular culture often imagines queer individuals to be private individuals either out of necessity to avoid perceived—yet very real—physical and psychic violence (Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce 1999); Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee 2005)) and/or because the queer individual is ashamed of his/her same-sex attractions (M. Butterfly (David Cronenberg 1993); J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood 2011). Correspondingly, it is under the conditions of a heterosexist matrix and often flagrantly homophobic culture that queer individuals are encouraged or, more appropriately, forced—both intuitively and physically—into lives of secrecy. Although there is nothing inherently private about queer folks, the idea of privacy is frequently perceived to be very important to the queer ‘lifestyle’.
Similarly, secrecy and privacy are integral themes within traditional vampire fiction. Noting the similarities between the lifestyles of the queer and vampire, Dyer discusses the importance of the secret double life in which both vampire and queer must hide their true identities. Like the perceived-to-be or self-identified queer, the vampire must conceal its strange desires and acts to ensure its survival in a society that ruthlessly maintains normalcy because, as Dyer notes, there is a ‘sense that being a queer is something one must keep to oneself [which] certainly accords with an idea of the authenticity of private sexuality, but it also is something that one better keep private if one is not to lose a job, family, friends and so on’ (Dyer 78). As a result, the vampire’s existence relies on its ability to be consistently regarded as belonging to a group that is not its own—essentially, the vampire is able to ‘pass’ as being human. The sociological phenomenon known as ‘passing’—which not only includes sexual passing, but racial, gender, and class passing—is reliant on successful misrepresentation. The concept of passing requires a critical nod of acknowledgment to the constructedness or performance of identities—racial, gender, sexual, class, bodiedness, or otherwise. In the same ways that queer individuals have been understood as possessing an identifiable ethos, ways of being, and cultural practice (Dyer 1988; Halperin 2012)—or, as Dyer aptly observes, ‘a widespread discourse that there are tell-tale signs that someone ‘is’’ (Dyer 78) —vampires, similarly, have ways of being which, if revealed, threaten their existence. Although Dyer made this comparison over ten years ago, this theme of what is essentially ‘passing,’ which fittingly resonates with the lives and stories of many LGBT identified individuals, still rings true for the vampire figure in Meyer’s Twilight saga.
The characterization of Edward Cullen as an emotional teenage boy with pouty lips, beautifully coiffed hair, and, most notably, sparkling skin appeals, perhaps unintentionally, to camp’s aesthetic and performance. Revealing his bare skin to the sun’s magical rays and Bella’s gaze, Edward bemoans, in a fashion reminiscent of ‘coming out’ narratives, ‘This is what I am’ (Twilight 0:52:12). Bella gasps, ‘It’s like diamonds. You’re beautiful.’ (Twilight 0:52:18)—cue swooning drag queens. The depiction of Edward as a strange (read as odd, different, queer), glittering adolescent—a condition that Pramod Nayar terms ‘Supernatural masculinity in drag’ (Nayar 62)—who is simultaneously repulsed by Bella’s abject body (most notably, her scent) and attracted to her appearance reads as Liberace-excess, Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-camp, RuPaul-drag: queer at the very least. Steven Marche similarly notes queer incongruities in the seemingly staunch hetero-romantic tale in his article ‘What’s Really Going on With All These Vampires?’: ‘Twilight’s fantasy is that [End Page 11] the gorgeous gay guy can be your boyfriend’ (Marche n.pag). Despite Marche’s hasty generalization that ‘[v]ampires have overwhelmed pop culture because young straight women want to have sex with gay men’ (Marche n.pag.), I believe that the parallel that Marche draws between the representation of Edward Cullen and queerness is fitting and a subject worthy of greater attention.
Indeed, Meyer’s ‘beautiful’ vampire breed renders statements like Dyer’s—‘the classic metaphoric statement of the idea of the gay male image of the gay man as a sparkling, agreeable surface masking a hidden depravity, brilliant charm concealing a corrupt and sordid sexuality’ (Dyer 80)—quite fitting. My attention here is, of course, focused on Dyer’s description of the vampire’s body as being sparkling and agreeable because Meyer’s vampires—in a break with traditional vampire convention—indeed, sparkle. Among being exceedingly beautiful, Meyer’s vampires sparkle when their skin is exposed to the sun. The iconic scene in Twilight in which Edward not only reveals himself to be a vampire to Bella but also exposes his peculiar ability to sparkle has been only one of many sites of incredible amusement and disparagement for viewers of the Twilight series. This scene of discovery and Edward’s fabulous ‘coming out’ is instigated by Bella cagily saying, ‘I know what you are’ (Twilight 0:50:36). In spite of this ‘othering’ language, which is strikingly similar to Dyer’s ‘tell-tale signs that someone ‘is’’ (78), Bella does, in fact, have grounds to suggest that Edward is different. After all, the first half of the Twilight film goes to great lengths to demonstrate how Edward’s ways of being are different, strange, peculiar—queer, even. As Bella notes, Edward is ‘impossibly fast and strong. [His] skin is pale white and ice cold. [His] eyes change colour and sometimes [he] speak[s] like [he is] from a different time. [He] never eat[s] or drink[s] anything. [He doesn’t] go out into the sunlight.’ (Twilight 0:49:43). Not only does Edward have ‘give away aspects’ (79) which align him with vampirism, reinforcing Dyer’s comparison and argument that both the queer and vampire have ‘tell-tell signs’ (71), Edward has queer ‘give away aspects’ which more closely align him with queerness.
While Dyer argued that vampirism in all its expressions was easy to read as an image of queerness, I argue that Edward Cullen’s revisionary signs more readily associate him with queerness. Besides possessing the ‘othering’ yet typical traits of conventional vampirism, Edward sparkles when out in sunlight, appears to be repulsed by the sight and smell of Bella, and, perhaps most importantly, will not and/or cannot bite—the figurative act of sexual penetration—or have sex with Bella. Surely, this is the type of concealed ‘sordid sexuality’ (80) Dyer was referring to previously. These particular additions to the vampire mythos are unquestionably queer behaviour for a vampire (Sommers 155). But, more importantly, are these additions not also queer behaviour for an adolescent male? If only stereotypically indicative of the ways of being ‘gay’, these features align Edward more readily with queerness. Stephen Marche suggests as much when he claims that Edward resembles the gay best friend construction:
Edward…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. (March n.pag) [End Page 12]
Although Marche’s hasty claim is quite reductive and essentializing, it reinforces Dyer’s comparison between the rhetoric and discourse of queer- and vampire-spotting and, more importantly, it locates queerness within the hetero- and abstinent Twilight saga.
Conventionally, monsters emerge to disrupt and challenge hegemonic ideas of the normal. Consequently, monsters, including vampires, evade rules, mores, and order. Renowned for especially evading sexual rules, decorum, and order, the vampire’s appetite, in spite of its sexual orientation, ‘always exceeds and defies cultural mores’ (Weinstock 2012). At the whim of its appetite, the vampire has traditionally been depicted as indiscriminately feeding on both men and women. Consequently, the vampire, unable to control its hunger, has often been depicted in same-sex biting, penetrating, and sucking. This imagery, which imagines a man or woman invading the body of another of the same sex, has had limited visual homoerotic representation in popular culture. Thus, the vampire’s voracious and irrepressible appetite has afforded it the opportunity to engage, even if only platonically or temporarily, in same-sex relations.
Recently, however, vampires have been depriving themselves of this natural yet evil instinct in an attempt to be civil and moral—HBO’s True Blood and Meyer’s Twilight series being the most blatant expressions of this trend. Although not the first to depict the vampire as attempting to control its appetite, Stephanie Meyer is the first to depict her vampire as being successful and content while doing so. Where Anne Rice’s self-loathing and sympathetic Louis is ultimately unable to manage his natural inclination toward drinking human blood, Meyer’s resolute and controlled Edward ultimately perfects repressing his bodily appetites. Although drinking the blood of humans is perhaps the most distinguishable and significant feature of the vampire as well as its greatest pleasure, Meyer’s vampire, in a mark of disinterest with this convention, abstains from feeding on humans. Referred to as ‘vegetarian’ vampires, Edward Cullen explains, ‘my family and I, we are different from the others of our kind. We only hunt animals. We learned how to control our thirst’ (Twilight 0:54:20). In the interest of leading a moral life, Meyer’s vampire rejects and denounces an inherent part of its self-identity because vampirism and morality are thought to be incompatible.
Correspondingly, if we are to understand the vampire’s innate and pleasurable act of sucking the blood of humans as a thoroughly Victorian displacement of the traditional sex act, recognizing its refusal to feed on humans as an attempt to abstain from sexual intercourse—same-sex or otherwise—is but a step in the logic. Put simply and directly, Meyer’s Byronic Edward not only controls the biological impulse to bite and suck human blood, but, more significantly, controls his voracious impulse to penetrate and suck the bodily fluids of his victims.
In a flashback which reveals a pre-vegetarian Edward, Edward describes himself as a monster. While the choice of language is interesting because it resonates with how LGBT identified individuals have often been represented and thus thought of (Benshoff 1997, 2006; Dyer 2002), the language also reveals a judgement. This fictional condemnation and repression of a super(natural) instinct eerily resembles an existent discourse which condemns natural feelings of same-sex attraction and desire. This existent discourse, informally referred to as ‘Pray the Gay Away’, endeavours to reconcile homosexuality with religious beliefs, specifically Christianity. The fundamentalist practice of attempting to convert people identified as ‘homosexuals’ into ‘heterosexuals’ resembles the Cullen family’s practice of converting vampires into vegetarian vampires. In the same ways that [End Page 13] the Cullen family believe that the desire to and act of (suck)ing the blood of humans is incompatible with a moral life, many extremist Christians believe that same-sex desire is incompatible with a moral life. Given Meyer’s religious standing and the text’s overriding didactic messages of piety and restraint, connections emerge between Meyer’s fictional family who abstain from the perverse bodily desire to consume blood and individuals like Alan Chambers, the longstanding president of Exodus International, the organization which has single-handedly become synonymous with the phrase ‘Pray the gay away’ (Crow n.pag). Both bodily desires, thirst for blood and attraction to the same sex, are similarly constructed as being purely biological and instinctual, and both pious groups, the Cullen family and organizations like Exodus International, champion similar ideologies that maintain that those very instincts can be overcome with just a little (neoliberal) effort and determination.
Gripping Edward’s hand, Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) leans into Edward’s dying and bed-bound body and tenderly whispers words, unbeknownst to the viewer, into Edward’s ear. Following this, Carlisle bites into Edward’s exposed neck, holding Edward’s face still as his body writhes in agony. In the violent moment, Edward is pictured screaming, gasping for air as his eyes open wide in pain. A victim of circumstance, Carlisle is depicted as experiencing feelings of regret and possibly even abhorrence as he removes himself from Edward’s penetrated and infected body. Carlisle is demonstrated as possessing immense focus and self-discipline: ‘not many of us have the restraint to do that’ (Twilight). Carlisle’s decision to ‘turn’ a dying Edward is one based in compassion and reason instead of impulse and instinct, which distinguishes Meyer’s brand of vampirism from her predecessors. Even as Carlisle is seen as producing a monster, Carlisle is sympathetically rendered as the morally righteous patriarch who is capable of controlling his desires.
Another feature of the vampire narrative that Dyer claims can be easily read metaphorically as an image of queer sexuality and experience is the discourse of self-loathing that surrounds the vampire. Discourses of self-loathing are particularly essential to the construction of the sympathetic vampire (Williamson 63). As many have noted, the sympathetic vampire is a vampire who loathes its condition or identity but is essentially and ultimately constrained by it (Williamson 2005; Dyer 2002). Unlike the unsympathetic vampire, the sympathetic vampire despises and feels contempt for its perceived and/or self-identified culture and personal identity. Unlike the traditional vampire, imagined as a predator and perpetrator, the sympathetic vampire is regarded as being a victim of circumstance (Williamson 63). Again, Dyer relates this imagery to the queer identity and experience. Dyer posits that queer readers of vampire fiction may very well identify with the ‘curse’ of vampirism because the framing language used to understand and empathize with the melancholic vampire reflects modern bio-medical discourses about the ‘curse’ of ‘homosexuality’. With the medicalization and essentializing of ‘homosexuality’, individuals identified as queer were more frequently pitied than abhorred. Indeed, the twentieth century ‘argument that “we/they can’t help it”’ (Dyer 81), which has often taken the form of ‘a mix of distaste for homosexuality with a recognition that it cannot be resisted’ (81), is similarly employed within the vampire narrative. Respectively, the sympathetic vampire innately ‘can’t help it’ and its awareness of its biological disposition is often met with feelings of regret, disgust, and disappointment. This identity crisis, which, as Dyer contends, bears a striking resemblance to the consequences of internalized homophobia, rings true for forlorn queer folks across North America. [End Page 14]
Throughout the series, Edward experiences several identity crises in which he struggles to accept his seemingly inherent queerness as a vampire. As a creature that has instinctively perverse desires—a voracious thirst for human blood— Edward is perhaps fittingly imagined as experiencing crises which are almost always surrounded by language of self-loathing: ‘All the men I killed were monsters. And so was I’ (Breaking Dawn: Part I 0:05:40). This language, as Dyer notes, has been informed by the modern queer. In Breaking Dawn: Part I, Edward recalls a time when he enjoyed killing humans. Interestingly, Edward is only ever visually imagined as haunting, biting, penetrating, and sucking male bodies, save Bella’s body, which is always out of necessity to save her life. Edward is demonstrated biting the neck of a man. When he explains this to Bella, he emphasizes that he only penetrated (my language)/punctured men. This scene is informed by language of regret and disgust—’I was a monster’ (Breaking Dawn: Part I 0:5:56). Although Edward is meant to be read as regretting his decision to kill men, I argue that this scene can be alternatively read as an instance of Edward’s homoerotic panic, especially because this ‘coming out’ scene is in response to Bella jeeringly saying ‘What, you’re not a virgin?’ (0:05:12). The language of the forbidden, the impermissible, combined with Bella’s enquiry about Edward’s previous sexual exploits, contributes to the reading of Edward as an ashamed queer. In addition, these scenes in which Edward struggles with his identity often occur when Edward warns Bella of the dangers of his ‘condition’ to discourage her from its destruction—‘I’m the world’s most dangerous predator’ (Twilight 0:53:20). Thus, Edward’s continuous and purposeful distancing from his ‘condition’ renders his actions and attitudes self-loathing.
While Edward attempts to purge himself of any vampireness by refusing to live like a vampire, as demonstrated by his choice to maintain a ‘vegetarian diet’, the villainous vampires—perhaps only villainous because they embrace their nature, which stands in direct opposition to the nature of humans—epitomize the self-identified, out and proud queer, because they embrace and revel in their desires. Whereas Edward denies himself the pleasures, desires, and experiences of the vampire, James, the most celebratory of his differences, embraces his supposed genetic nature and all that it entails. Thus, I draw a parallel between the frequently self-hating Edward and the construction of the ashamed homosexual, both of which are popularly imagined as being incapable of embracing their ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ self. The coded language of the ashamed homosexual, equated with the vampiric condition of Edward. is just another example of how Edward Cullen can be understood as participating in the constructed ways of being queer.
Many Queer scholars have voiced concern for/with the longstanding myopic focus of the LGBT agenda in North America. Repudiating the movement’s central focus on gays in the military and, most significantly, same-sex marriage equity, Michael Warner in particular discusses the agenda’s attempt to normalize and desexualize gays as being misguided and in the interest of only select identities. Rather than either devising a radical reimagining of sexuality, family, and relationality, and/or challenging institutions and [End Page 15] structures which disproportionately privilege the normative, the movement promotes the reappropriation of traditional and restrictive values and institutions.
This type of agenda, assimilationist in function, has been referred to as ‘homonormative’. Homonormativity, as defined by Lisa Duggan in her article ‘The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism’, ‘is a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains them while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumerism’ (23). Working to downplay homosexuality as a form of significant otherness, homonormative conventions mark individuals within lesbian and gay communities as indistinguishable from heterosexuals (Duggan 2002). In line with the gay assimilationist viewpoint(s), homonormative politics are quite different from radical Queer politics, which not only strive to deemphasize the importance of sexual identity politics, but address LGBT issues as they intersect with gender, race, class, ability, and capitalism. Conversely, homonormative politics prioritize issues that involve the mainstreaming and thus normalization of gay identities. Focus on the legislation of same-sex marriage, adoption, and military service as the primary concerns of most lesbian and gay activist groups exemplifies homonormative rhetoric and discourses. Thus, rather than questioning or challenging heteronormative structures and institutions like marriage and childrearing, homonormativity simply asks for inclusion in the existing structures.
Assimilationist ideology that strives to have queer individuals recognized as similar, if not normal, resonates with the discourses employed in Meyer’s text. Although the Twilight series is not explicitly a text about queer sexuality, it is a text about queer creatures. A text about vampires, monsters, and individuals not unlike us, the Twilight saga implicitly explores themes of normality and abnormality. Consequently, the text carries several persistent and enduring yet embedded and invisible notions about normality. These notions are so pervasive and established in Western culture that they are rarely questioned or challenged. I argue that the Twilight series, in its production of normality and abnormality, is reproducing problematic discourses that reappropriate homonormative rhetoric. Much of the rhetoric and many of the discourses that surround the assimilationist approach in the struggle for gay rights, I contend, are reappropriated by Twilight’s Cullen family: in particular, Edward. Like homonormative queers, vampires who endeavour to squelch their abnormal desires and who instead channel their energies into fostering incredibly committed monogamous relationships and raising children are sympathetically rendered as valuable individuals.
I argue that this type of un-radical politic, the assimilation of heteronormative ideals and constructs into queer culture and identity, is deployed in the Twilight saga, whether consciously or unconsciously, to mark ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ queers as separate from ‘abnormal’ and ‘unhealthy’ queers. This is best exemplified by the Cullen family, Edward specifically, through their reappropriation of traditional American values, such as virtue, loyalty, and sacrifice, as well as institutions, such as marriage and family building. In fact, Meyer’s films glorify heteronormative structures and institutions by upholding the importance of compulsory heteronormative coupling, monogamy, the practice of abstinence before marriage, matrimony, the nuclear family, and organic child rearing, which the film Breaking Dawn: Part I provides for Bella and Edward in spite of all supposed folkloric and supernatural odds. Although a queer character—if, at the very least, because [End Page 16] he represents something abnormal—Edward not only takes part in these institutions and structures, but cherishes and upholds them as markers of the good and healthy normal life. Although Edward will never be able to fully attain a normal life because we are told that vampires are—like queers are imagined to be—intrinsically abnormal folk, Edward can acquire most of the sociosexual markers of the valuable sexual citizen. Put simply, Edward cannot change his biological and disreputable impulses, but he can conduct himself in a manner deemed appropriate enough to afford him with the opportunity to border respectability and thus receive the social privileges and rewards listed above.
The Cullens and Edward, in a rejection of their ‘natures’, align themselves with normality by upholding and participating in both social and sexual (heteronormative) value systems and institutions assumed to be natural to humans. Accordingly, the Cullens are valued as respectable figures—in spite of their literal and figurative queerness—because their sexuality is ‘heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial’ and ‘coupled, relational, within the same generation and occur[ing] at home’ (Rubin 280). According to Rubin’s hierarchy of sexuality, their sexuality and ways of relating do not violate distinctions of ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ sexuality, but bolster it by blindly accepting the supposed ‘normalness’ of it.
This message is nowhere more blatantly stated in the text than when Bella implores Edward to have sex with her. We are told that Edward refuses to have sexual intercourse with Bella because ‘Edward is old school’ (Eclipse 1:12:36) and, more importantly, her human scent is most potent and thus attractive to Edward’s vampiric senses when she is sexually aroused. But in desiring to have sex with Edward as a human being before being turned into a vampire, Bella pleads, ‘You said you wanted me to have every human experience’ (Eclipse 1:15:10). Although sex is but one of the ‘human experiences’ Edward hopes for Bella, this statement and scene alludes to the stakes in sexual conduct. A desire for human experience is relegated to a select few privileged experiences which are considered human and thus good. Edward does want Bella to have every human experience and he does want to have sexual relations with Bella, but for Edward, the human experience is conflated with ‘normal’ sexuality: ‘Believe me, I want to. I just want to be married to you first’ (Eclipse 1:17:10). More concerned for her ‘virtue’ (Eclipse 1:17:29) than the threat of vampirization, Edward conflates not desire, perverse or otherwise, with normality and/or ‘human experiences’, but proper sociosexual conduct —a feature that aligns him not only with religious morality, but with homonormative rhetoric and discourses.
Among the moral didacticism, the film’s fascination with marriage serves to normalize the vampires. Meyer’s text, I argue, draws from gay liberationist strategies that have situated the gay individual as being no different than their straight counterpart. Drawing a parallel to the rhetoric and discourses of the North American gay and lesbian movement, I argue that the Twilight series employs homonormative propaganda and strategies to articulate the normalness of the vampire. In an attempt to normalize the vampire, the series embraces an invisibilized politics of ‘the normal’ which requires the vampires to repudiate their perverse desire—a similar tactic that the North American gay movement took in the 1990s.
According to Michael Warner, the North American lesbian and gay movement experienced a drastic political shift in the early 1990s. Warner contends that a large faction of the gay movement stopped embracing a politics of sexual pride and instead embraced a politics of shame (Warner 42). Recognizing that ‘power lies almost exclusively on the [End Page 17] normal side’ (44), the gay movement, he argues, underwent a desexualisation in hopes of garnering more support (legal and social) from the heterosexual majority. As a result, the movement’s embrace of ‘normal’ began with ‘divorcing homosexuality from sex and then from politics’ (60). Similarly, the Twilight text, I argue, divorces desire from sex and politics. The Cullens are virtually ‘just like’ their human counterparts, save their strange desires and impulses. We are told that the only thing that distinguishes the vampires from humans is their desire and lust for blood; however, according to Meyer’s text, if that desire is controlled and restrained, then, vampires—positioned as fundamentally different—can be ‘just like’ us. By controlling their desires and embracing institutions and values considered ‘normal’, the Cullen family move from being creatures of disgust to creatures of respectability. Accordingly, just as ‘marriage, in short, would make for good gays—the kind who would not challenge the norms of straight culture, who would not flaunt sexuality, and who would not insist on living differently from ordinary folk’ (Warner 113), marriage would, similarly, make for good vampires.
Meyer reveals that vampirism can be good—normal, even. If the unnatural desires of the vampire and queer cannot be squelched, the Twilight series reveals that the lifestyles that are assumed to belong to those desires can be. As a result, the queer lifestyle of Edward ultimately becomes indistinguishable from a normative human life. Duggan’s homonormative politics provide a useful platform for addressing and discussing Edward’s normalizing tendencies and his desire to be seen as the same. Accordingly, as gay and lesbian individuals acquire more social and legal equality in North America and social attitudes toward non-normative sexualities evolve, representations of queer individuals change as well. Situating the vampire—a figure that has been championed by queer folks for being queer—as a character that desires to embrace normality as opposed to rejecting it seems fitting to a decade that has begun to accept the emergent normative queer.
In 1995, Nina Auerbach argued that vampires, far from being simply fantastical monsters, were creatures that embodied the age in which they were created. What vampires are, she maintains, ‘in any given generation is a part of what [she] is and what [her] times have become’ (Auerbach 1). Referring to the years in between 1989 and 1993 (the years of George H.W. Bush’s presidency), Auerbach draws compelling parallels and makes convincing comparisons between the representations of vampires and the moral panics and social fears of the period. Correspondingly, my intervention in vampire studies has explored the rather recent depiction of the ‘normal monster’ while discerning how its depiction similarly parallels contemporary Anglo-American politics and culture.
This scholarly work took shape during 2011 and 2013 when debates about sexuality took front stage in U.S. politics. It was during these years that Rick Santorum, one of the Republican primary candidates, was glitter bombed by protesters for his hateful and homophobic denouncements of same-sex marriage. It was during these years that President Obama was re-inaugurated, defeating Mitt Romney. It was during these years that Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage and his administration urged the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex couples. It was during these years that landmark victories for gay rights were achieved, including the legal recognition of same-sex couples from the federal government in states where same-sex marriage is legal. It was also during these years that the final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn: Part II (Condon 2012), which grants the undead but no longer unwed couple Edward and Bella a happily-ever-after ending in spite of their supposed difference, was released. [End Page 18]
These are queer times in which we live. Queer (stange), indeed, when our vampires look and act like what we imagine normative people to look and act like; however, it is not surprising that creatures that have traditionally embodied difference look and act like (some of) ‘us’ now. Returning to Auerbach’s objective, vampires, far from being unimportant and nonsensical creatures, ‘matter because when properly understood, they make us see that our lives are implicated in theirs and our times are inescapable’ (9). Consequently, as North America witnesses a mainstreaming shift in attitudes toward (white, wealthy, able-bodied, male) gays, so, too does it experience a change in attitudes toward one of queer folks’ figurative and metaphoric counterparts, the (white, wealthy, able-bodied, male) vampire. Thus, Meyer’s hetero(normative) vampire reflects an emerging homo(normative) queer.
In this article, I have sought to recover the apparently absent queer of the Twilight series. A narrative about a supposedly odd and out-of-place girl meeting and falling in love with a vampire (or, more appropriately, a rich, white (super)man living with vampirism), the Twilight series is not a text about the abnormal, but instead, one about the normal. Normality is not something that has traditionally come easy to queer folks, and thus, drawing a parallel between Meyer’s normal vampire and the queer identity, commonly understood in opposition to the ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ and ‘good’, has not been a common strategy among scholars theorizing around the Twilight series. I, however, maintain that the normalcy of Meyer’s normative Edward Cullen can be attributed to recent changes in both American attitudes toward and representations of queer individuals. In a society where people once considered different and strange are more frequently understood as being ‘normal’, it only makes sense that the figures they influenced, embraced, and celebrated also evolve to accommodate the period’s new attitudes and perceptions.
 This work does take up both textual and visual vampire fictions as if they are identical mediums. While the article does not permit space to discuss the differences between textual and visual constructions of the vampire, it is worth noting that they do differ. Generally, vampires of film adaptations are emptied of much of the queerness of their literary counterparts. [End Page 19]
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“A Little Extra Bite: Dis/Ability and Romance in Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris’s Vampire Fiction,” by Kathleen Miller
With the phenomenal commercial success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and the profits earned internationally by the Swedish art-house film Let the Right One In, vampires—and more specifically, vampire-human romance narratives—have become big business. Demand for such works has prompted numerous publishers and media conglomerates to “stake” their claim to this burgeoning genre. And while much critical attention has been paid to some of the gothic vampire stories in modern settings—particularly to the American UPN-TV network’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer—others have, so to speak, swooped beneath the scholarly radar. Among these are such popular titles as Tanya Huff’s Blood Books and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, despite each having inspired long-running series of novels, legions of devoted fans, and multi-media spinoffs. In fact, Huff’s and Harris’s works have appealed to global audiences, although both are tied to very specific cultural landscapes: Huff’s Canadian mysteries are set in Toronto, while Harris’s tales are located in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. The TV dramatization of Huff’s novels, Blood Ties, was relatively short-lived, airing for only one season on Canada’s Space and Citytv networks and two seasons on Lifetime Television in the US, but True Blood, the adaptation of Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, has garnered high ratings and, in effect, has “resurrected” the HBO cable network.
Some of the attraction of Huff’s and Harris’s texts undoubtedly rests in their capacity to translate well into different media and genres, and thus to reach diverse audiences. Both series, which are full of action and suspense, have been marketed as general fiction, as science fiction, and as mysteries. These novels and their television adaptations are, however, also courtship narratives that borrow heavily from the romance tradition and, perhaps less obviously, narratives that focus on issues of physical ability and disability. As scholarship by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Mary Klages, and Martha Stoddard Holmes on the literature of disability helps us to see, feminist statements in Huff’s Blood Price and Harris’s Dead Until Dark come filtered through the texts’ compelling narratives of disability. Each work advances a red-herring theory that vampirism is actually a disability, a form of chronic illness; nonetheless, despite their “disability,” the vampires prove to be “hyper-able”—destined to live eternally, impervious to most bodily threats, and uncannily gifted as lovers. Yet vampires are not the only ones to challenge categories of ability and normalcy in these texts, for the central human characters are disabled heroines, who also prove extraordinarily able. Huff’s female protagonist, Vicki Nelson, has a degenerative eye condition, while Harris’s protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, identifies her telepathy as a “disability.” Vampires prove to be appropriate suitors for these heroines because each partner is “othered” by society. Through their status as heroines with seemingly disabling “differences,” Vicki and Sookie display their various abilities, including their strength, insight, and romantic desirability. Furthermore, negotiating and embracing their disabilities leads them to challenge existing notions of gender roles and to construct new alternatives for female accomplishment. Much like that of the supernatural vampire, the disabled female physical body becomes extraordinary, as it helps the protagonists to counter threats of violence and to protect themselves and those around them.
According to Pamela Regis in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, the romance novel is a “work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more of its heroines” (14). Regis claims that all romance fiction contains eight elements that mark the genre: a definition of the social background, the meeting between the heroine and hero, their mutual attraction, the barrier between them, the point of ritual death (the moment in the text when it seems impossible for the heroine and hero to reconcile), the recognition that eliminates the barrier, the declaration of love made by the heroine and hero, and their betrothal (14). In the case of the humans-meet-vampires tales, the first novels of each series—Huff’s Blood Price and Harris’s Dead Until Dark—display many, if not all, of these key romance elements while constructing compelling courtship plots that both complement and further the texts’ corresponding elements of mystery and terror. In Huff’s Blood Price, Vicki (Victoria) Nelson, a former police officer, solves crimes perpetrated by supernatural villains, while negotiating the advances of two different figures: the charismatic vampire and writer of historical romances, Henry Fitzroy (the illegitimate son of Henry VIII); and her hard-boiled former partner on the police force, Mike Celluci. Similarly, the heroine of Harris’s first vampire mystery Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse, attempts to catch a local killer as she sorts out her feelings for Bill Compton (a Civil-War-era vampire) and his rival—a false suitor—her boss, Sam Merlotte (a shapeshifter).
Vampire romance narratives such as these texts, which grow out of the female gothic romance tradition, are often read through a feminist lens. Feminist critics have, in particular, fastened upon and drained every last drop of meaning from the American television program Buffy the Vampire Slayer, conceived by Joss Whedon, while analyzing it as an example of “girl-power.” Although Buffy has been lauded as a feminist text and thus as an antidote to the misogynist contagion allegedly spread by Meyer’s Twilight, the genre of vampire romance in general has received far more negative than positive attention. A part of Buffy’s popularity as a feminist icon stems from its manipulation of the romance genre. While the series features many prominent romance plots, the show does not focus primarily on the courtship or betrothal of its heroine. Ultimately, Buffy does not marry, or commit herself, to any of her suitors—Angel, Riley, or Spike. On the other hand, Twilight, whose dominant narrative arc focuses on the courtship of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, has received much censure of its romance plot, perhaps growing out of widespread academic disapproval of the romance genre. To varying degrees, Kay Mussell, Jan Cohn, Jeanne Dubino, Janice Radway, and Ann Cranny-Francis have all taken the romance genre to task for glamorizing its heroines’ “passivity” and “powerlessness” and for reducing its readers, by extension, to childlike helplessness (Regis 5). For critics of the romance novel, the vampire romance narrative, which often couples a vulnerable human heroine with a dangerous, physically superior and much older male vampire, only exacerbates the gender inequality which they see the romance genre itself as fostering.
Gothic romance fiction, of which vampire fiction is a part, goes back to the eighteenth century and to the female gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe (Modleski 15). This genre has received harsh criticism from scholars such as Tania Modleski and Diane Long Hoeveler, while in her In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic, Michelle Massé goes so far as to suggest that women’s masochistic desires lie at the heart of gothic romance. Massé asserts that the genre encourages women readers to repeat cultural trauma, especially through the genre’s “happy ending” of romantic betrothal, which allegedly reifies dangerous social ideologies about submission, love, and power between the genders (2). While I do not claim that all vampire romance fiction—or all female gothic fiction—possesses a feminist agenda, I do contend that a wholesale dismissal of these genres as sexist, misogynist, and harmful to female readers is reductive and insulting to their audiences. Like any other fiction, gothic vampire romances have the potential to offer both their heroines and their readers numerous alternative romance trajectories and diverse depictions of gendered relationships. As Pamela Regis, who persuasively argues in defense of the romance, has stated, “The [romance] genre is not about women’s bondage, as the literary critics would have it. The romance novel is, to the contrary, about women’s freedom. The genre is popular because it conveys the pain, uplift, and joy that freedom brings” (xiii).
In the case of vampire romances such as Blood Price and Dead Until Dark, as well as their television adaptations Blood Ties and True Blood, the texts present readers with messages of female freedom and gender equality, rather than merely stories of submission and gendered power imbalances, through the texts’ compelling narratives of disability. As mentioned previously, in these works, vampires are categorized as having a form of disability, although each work ultimately cites a supernatural cause, rather than a disease, as the cause of the hero’s vampirism. In all cases, though, despite their “disability,” the vampires prove to be “hyper-able.” While endowing male vampires with hyper-abilities may seem to support the feminist accusation that a gendered power imbalance exists at the center of gothic romance, both Vicki and Sookie are disabled heroines, who also prove extraordinarily able.
When readers meet Vicki, she has a degenerative condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, or “tunnel vision,” which can lead to permanent blindness. After her failing eyesight disqualifies her from street work and forces her into a desk job, Vicki leaves the police force and begins working as a private investigator. Her visual impairment certainly qualifies as a contemporary category of disability. Sookie’s “disorder,” on the other hand, does not correspond to the usual definitions of disability in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first-century legal, medical, and educational discourses. According to these definitions, disabilities “designat[e] a socially-constructed category that groups together people with a wide variety of physical and mental differences, including limb deficiencies, neuromuscular and orthopedic dysfunctions, sensory impairment, mental impairment (including both mental illness and mental retardation), and chronic or terminal illness” (Klages 1). Sookie does not have such an impairment or deficiency; she is a telepath, someone with the extra “ability” to read minds. Unlike Vicki, whose glasses offer a visible sign of her physical challenge, Sookie possesses a faculty that is invisible. Sookie herself, however, labels this mental power a “disability” (2) and sees it as a marker of her “physical and mental difference.”
Mary Klages, Martha Stoddard Holmes, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson have all noted that historically, as a literary trope, disability has signaled pity, inferiority, weakness, vulnerability, monstrosity, and barriers to marriage. In nineteenth-century British fiction, characters such as Charles Dickens’s Tiny Tim and George Eliot’s Philip Wakem evoke sympathy; while Dr. Frankenstein’s “patch-worked” creation becomes a “monster,” and disabled women such as the eponymous heroine of Dinah Maria Craik’s Olive are denied the ability to reproduce, if they can even find (able-bodied) suitors at all. Although Garland-Thomson demonstrates that depictions of disability in contemporary fiction have altered significantly over time—disabled women are also powerful figures for African-American writers such as Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde (Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary 103-134)—discomfort with, and discrimination against, disabled bodies has continued well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In Blood Price and Dead Until Dark, however, it is through their status as heroines with seemingly disabling “differences” that Vicki and Sookie display their various abilities—their strength, alternative insight, and romantic desirability. Furthermore, negotiating and embracing their disabilities leads them to their greatest professional and personal successes, as they challenge existing notions of gender roles and construct new alternatives for female accomplishment. Much like that of the supernatural vampire, the disabled female physical body becomes extraordinary, as it helps to defeat threats of violence and to protect both the heroines themselves and those around them.
In these works, disability functions as a reclamation of the female body (which has often been viewed as “other,” or as “always and already” deformed), even as it contributes to the reinvention of the vampire romance genre. Here it is worth noting that Vicki and Sookie do not have readily apparent physical disabilities. However, in spite of their invisible impairments, both heroines are clearly described as experiencing an experience of social disablement. The texts suggest that disability is an identity that is ascribed to their female bodies, one linked to stigma and prejudice in their interpersonal relationships, professional endeavors, and educational opportunities. Over the course of the novels, with the assistance of their “othered” vampire suitors, disability becomes an identity that Vicki and Sookie willingly adopt, yet only once it has been removed from its common associations of dependency, incompleteness, vulnerability, and incompetency (Garland-Thomson, “Integrating” 261).
The field of Disability Studies remains a relatively new academic enterprise, despite the fact that, as Lennard J. Davis writes:
As 15 percent of the population, people with disabilities make up the largest physical minority within the United States.… [If] the population of people with disabilities is between thirty-five and forty-three million, then this group is the largest physical minority in the United States. Put another way, there are more people with disabilities than there are African Americans and Latinos. (xv)
Earlier discussions of the female body and race in feminist and gothic scholarship often involved the types of questions and issues that are now being explored by Disability Studies scholars. While Disability Studies has received far less critical attention than Women’s Studies, the two prove to be highly compatible fields of enquiry and activism. In Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson asserts that both feminism and Disability Studies work to challenge existing social relations; resist interpretations of certain bodily configurations and functioning as deviant; question the ways that differences are invested with meaning; examine the enforcement of universalizing norms; interrogate the politics of appearance; explore the politics of naming; and forge positive identities (22).
Further, Disability Studies illuminates the long history of misogynist writing about the female body, dating back to Classical Greece. In the fourth book of his Generation of Animals, Aristotle states that anyone who does not take after his or her parents is a monstrosity, since in these cases Nature has deviated from the generic type. He cites the first deviation as when female was formed instead of male (Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary 19). Rosemarie Garland-Thomson notes that here Aristotle sets up a masculine “generic type” against which all physical variation appears as different, derivative, inferior, and insufficient. This establishes the Western tradition of viewing woman as a “diminished man,” one who is monstrous, and is the first step on a “path to deviance.” She writes:
The definition arranges a somatic diversity into a hierarchy of value that assigns completeness to some bodies and deficiency to others. Furthermore, by defining femaleness as deviant and maleness as essential, Aristotle initiates the discursive practice of marking what is deemed aberrant while concealing what is privileged behind an assertion of normalcy. (Extraordinary 20)
In both Blood Price and Dead Until Dark, the fictional heroines challenge the superiority of the what is deemed normal and the inferiority of the gendered female body, through their exceptional dis/abilities, as well as through the elements of the romance plot.
The Blood is the (Love) Life: The Power of Romantic Vision in Blood Price and Blood Ties
In Tanya Huff’s Blood Price, readers first encounter Vicki Nelson through her visual impairment: “She took off her glasses and scrubbed at one lens with a fold of her sweatshirt. The edges of her world blurred until it looked as if she were staring down a foggy tunnel; a wide tunnel, more than adequate for day to day living. So far, she’d lost about a third of her peripheral vision. So far. It could only get worse” (16). Unable to perform the duties of a homicide investigator—due, in particular, to her night blindness—she has quit the police force, where she formerly was known as “Victory” Nelson. For Vicki, her disability is accompanied by great uncertainty. Although her condition may not ultimately lead to complete blindness, it is nonetheless irreversible and incurable, and her response is to feel anger. As she tells her doctor, “‘My condition […] as you call it, caused me to leave a job I loved that made a difference for the better in the slime-pit this city is becoming and if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d rather be bitter’” (45).
In an attempt to reclaim her life (and pay her bills), Vicki becomes a private investigator, at first suffering through boring and unchallenging cases. But after the city of Toronto experiences a series of mysterious, unsolved homicides, Vicki is hired by Coreen Ferguson to track down her boyfriend’s killer. The bodies of the victims have been drained of blood, and so the media begins to report that the killer is a vampire. In actuality, the killer is a demon—an evil being summoned by a sociopathic college student who, in a clever homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho and The Birds, is named Norman Birdwell. The nerdy and socially isolated Norman plans to use this demon to wreak vengeance on all those who have taunted and rejected him. With her intelligence, perseverance, and courage, Vicki identifies the killer. And with some help from her two romantic suitors, Mike Celluci and Henry Fitzroy, Vicki defeats both Norman and the malevolent forces he has summoned. As Vicki begins her new career, she embarks on a journey of personal, professional, and romantic discovery that enables her, despite her literal blindness, to see herself, and the world around her, with more accurate vision.
A large part of Vicki’s past, her life as an able-bodied detective, was her relationship with her former partner, known merely as “Celluci.” Vicki and Celluci were not only partners, but friends. And for four of the eight years they worked together, they were lovers. As the novel opens, readers learn that in the eight months since she has left the force, she and Celluci have had no contact; yet when they start working the same murder cases, their paths cross again, and their bantering “friends-with-benefits” romance resumes. There are, nonetheless, numerous barriers to Celluci and Vicki recognizing and declaring their mutual affection, in order to reach the betrothal stage that romance fiction requires. Their complicated relationship is explored, but not resolved, in Blood Price. One obstacle to their romantic union is Vicki’s uncertainty about the parameters of their new relationship. She fears that if they become a couple, and fail, she will lose a good friend; whereas “lovers are easy to get […] friends good enough to scream at are a lot rarer” (47).
Perhaps a more difficult and significant obstacle to overcome is Celluci’s attitude towards Vicki’s disability. Unlike some narratives of disability that deny female characters’ sexuality and desirability, Blood Price shows Celluci physically attracted to Vicki: “Sometime later, Vicki shifted to reach a particularly sensitive area and decided, as she got the anticipated inarticulate response, that there were times when you really didn’t need to see what you were doing and night blindness mattered not in the least” (40). Thus, Huff provides her heroine with a healthy sexual identity, despite her disability.
Vicki’s disability, however, creates other difficulties. Early in the novel, Celluci is established as the epitome of a natural-bodied strong male, aware of his own power and authority: “[Vicki] looked down at the toes of her boots, then up at Mike. At five ten she didn’t look up to many men but Celluci, at six four, practically made her feel petite” (14). His new consciousness of her physical limitations increases his controlling and paternalistic behavior, as he cautions her against taking certain cases, invades her personal space (by pushing her glasses back onto her face from the tip of her nose), and attempts to take over management of her body (telling her what vitamins will “cure” her condition). Ultimately, his concern leads him to infantilize her, as he tries to force Vicki into dealing with her disability in a way that makes sense to him, a way that will allow her to lead a “normal” life (46). Upset that she has continued to track a murderer, despite her retinitis pigmentosa, he shouts, “’You are no longer on the force, you are virtually blind at night, and you are more likely to end up as the corpse than the hero’” (78). Ultimately, Vicki does not allow Celluci’s anxiety over her safety to restrict her actions; instead when he urges her to be careful, she asks him, in turn, to stop being a “patronizing son of a bitch” (116).
Celluci cannot understand, in particular, Vicki’s decision to leave the police force. He sees nothing wrong with Vicki accepting a demotion to a desk job—a role that would supposedly better suit her “diminished” abilities—and erupts in anger:
‘[Oh] no, you couldn’t stand the thought that you wouldn’t be the hot-shit investigator anymore, the fair-haired girl with all the answers, that you’d just be a part of the team. You quit because you couldn’t stand not being on the top of the pile and if you weren’t on top, if you couldn’t be on top, you weren’t going to play! So you ran away. You took your pail and your shovel and you fucking quit! You walked out on me, Nelson, not just the job!’ (47)
Clearly, Vicki’s exercise of autonomy presents a psychological and emotional barrier for Celluci, who associates her reaction to her medical condition with a “betrayal” of both their professional and romantic partnerships.
In addition, Celluci proves unable to accept the supernatural aspect of the killings, which further divides him from Vicki. His character exemplifies the hard-boiled, rational masculinity of the detective novel tradition, and he routinely taunts Vicki for her acceptance of theories that suggest the crimes could be supernatural in origin. Even after he witnesses the death of Norman Birdwell and the materialization of the demon lord, he refuses to acknowledge fully what he has seen: “This was worse than anything Celluci could have imagined. He hadn’t seen the punk with the assault rifle disappear into thin air. He didn’t see the thing standing in the middle of the room smiling. But he had. And he did” (266). Moreover, he continues to trust in the power of the police force to stop the demon (267). When he files his report of the night’s events, he leaves out pertinent information related to the killings and concludes, “‘It won’t do my arrest record any good, but the killings will stop and I figure [Norman] got what was coming to him’” (270). Unlike Celluci, though, Vicki begins to see the world (and crime) differently, in large part due to her physically altered sight. As Celluci chooses not to join her in these new beliefs, Vicki’s romantic vision of him changes. Prior to her disability, Vicki perceived Celluci as a valued partner, both on-and off-the-force; however, now she acknowledges that he lacks some of her professional and personal abilities and insights.
On the other hand, Vicki’s second suitor, the vampire Henry Fitzroy, encourages Vicki’s acceptance of the supernatural. He also prompts her to forge a new relationship to her disability and to the world around her, as she arrives at a fresh understanding of her own identity. Interestingly, Henry, the four-hundred-and-fifty-year-old vampire who was the bastard child of Henry VIII, is a writer of historical romance novels and a romantic at heart. After many years of bachelorhood, he wants something “more” in his life (23)—a connection to another human being beyond casual sex and blood feeding (53). Huff uses the character of Henry to mock critics of the romance genre cleverly and good-naturedly: “Henry […wondered…] why some people had less trouble handing the idea of a vampire than they did a romance writer” (124). In Blood Ties, Henry becomes an author of graphic novels, a genre typically thought of as more masculine than the “feminine” romance. Regardless, both versions of Henry are empathic; ready for, and receptive to, the world of feeling, intuition, and emotion—the world that Mike Celluci disdains.
Much as Mike’s imposing height (which evidences his paternalism) illuminates gendered hierarchies in Vicki’s relationship with him, so Henry’s centuries-old existence lends his relationship with the mortal Vicki some inequalities in terms of knowledge, experience, and power. Huff, however, introduces elements that illuminate Vicki’s potential equality in the relationship. Henry is, for example, shorter than Vicki (160). In addition, while her disease makes her unable to see in the dark, Henry is hyper-sensitive to the light. They make good crime solving partners, for their conditions are the yin and yang of disabilities. Also, Vicki accepts Henry’s disability—i.e., his vampirism—and does not judge him or try to curb his nature.
As with Celluci, Vicki and Henry have a mutual physical attraction. When Henry is wounded and needs blood to survive, Vicki allows him to drink from her. He says, “‘I could feel your life, and I could feel the desire rising to take it’” (218). Vicki too remains haunted by their intimate exchange, saying to herself, “Wonderful. The city—the world even—is about to go up in flames and I’m thinking with my crotch” (223, emphasis in original). Although she and Mike worked together while being romantically involved, their relationship was not allowed to “interfere” with their work (66). Yet her inability with Henry to compartmentalize her professional and personal desires enables her to transform. Through her partnership with Henry, Vicki changes from a no-nonsense, emotionally closed-off cop who hates and resents her disabled body, into a receptive and aware woman who has the potential for a fulfilling romance, and who embraces the alternative insights that acceptance of her new dis/abilities and new identity provides.
Over the course of the novel, Vicki experiences transformations in her understanding of her disability, of her world, and of new possibilities for romance. She takes on the unsolved murders to prove that, despite her condition, she is a fully functioning member of society (84). Soon, she no longer “sees” herself as a cop, but rather in a more important role, as a “one-woman chance of stopping Armaggedon” (227).
Early in the narrative, Vicki hesitates to give full credence to the existence of vampires, but she comes to accept whatever will keep her safe: “‘And it’s not that I believe in vampires[.…] I believe in keeping an open mind. And,’ she added silently, grimly, her mind on Tony and his crucifix, ‘I, too believe in stayin’ alive’” (81, emphasis in original). On first reading newspaper reports of vampires, she “tilted her chair back, she scrubbed her glasses and let her world narrow into a circle of stucco ceiling. More things in heaven and earth … She didn’t know if she believed in vampires, but she definitely believed in her own senses, even if one of them had become less reliable of late” (30). Eventually, the protagonist’s acceptance of the supernatural fuses with her coming to terms with her diminished eyesight. As someone who has always worked intuitively (72), she must learn, now more than ever, to rely on her senses and her gut feelings. Her cases with Henry strain reason and credulity, as she uncovers what cannot be seen or readily understood, even with the (able) naked eye.
Metaphors involving sight and knowledge appear throughout the text. When Mike taunts her about believing in vampires, she responds, “‘At least I’m not so caught up in my cleverness that I’m blind to outside possibilities!’” (40, emphasis added). The idea of vision recurs, with the narrator commenting that “In eight years on the force, she’d seen a lot of strangeness and been forced to believe in the existence of things that most sane people—police officers and social workers excepted—preferred to ignore. Next to some of the cruelties the strong inflicted on the weak, vampires and demons weren’t that hard to swallow” (106, emphasis added). Vicki realizes that the evil she has witnessed does not vary greatly from the monstrosities of supernatural or otherworldly violence; during her final confrontation with Norman and the demon lord he has summoned, Vicki is grateful for her decreased vision: “she attempted to breathe shallowly through her teeth, glad for the first time she couldn’t really see” (262). Though she may not literally see the clear outlines of Norman and the demon in the darkened room, her ability to open herself to alternative forms of sight and vision—to refuse to be “blind” to supernatural possibilities—allows her to solve the murders and eventually to defeat the demonic evil. As Henry proudly observes, Vicki does not have tunnel vision; she will adjust her “worldview” to fit the facts of the situation (92).
Though the violence has abated by the end of the novel, the courtship plot has yet to be resolved. Despite his inability to articulate his feelings, Celluci clearly cares for Vicki and visits her in the hospital, where she is recovering. Fishing for information, he refers to Henry as her “new boyfriend” (270)—an assumption Vicki neither confirms nor denies. It is clear to the reader, however, that she no longer feels bound exclusively to Celluci. The narrator says this of Vicki’s reaction to Celluci’s police report and to the outcome of the case: “[She] wasn’t sure she agreed so she kept silent. It smacked too much of an eye for an eye. And the whole world ends up blind” (270, emphasis in original). Whereas Celluci thinks that Norman got what he deserved and is content to hide or deny the supernatural nature of the case, Vicki is less sure about this righting of the scales of justice. She is also unwilling to explain away the supernatural elements of the murder mystery. Thus, it is apparent that, like the reader of vampire romances, she is unsatisfied merely with Celluci’s blind world view.
On the other hand, the end of the narrative also opens the possibility of a romantic union between Henry and Vicki, though readers know their courtship will not be smooth. Aware of the potential power differential between them, Vicki says, “With four hundred and fifty years of experience, he had enough cards already” (271); yet she ultimately leaves room for romance: “Would he understand what she was offering? Did she? ‘We can have dinner’” (272). When Henry asks whether she believes in destiny, she replies, “‘I believe in truth. I believe in justice. I believe in my friends. I believe in myself.’ She hadn’t for awhile but now she did again. ‘And I believe in vampires’” (272). Her belief signals recognition and serves as a form of declaration—a declaration of openness and of romantic potential, perhaps even of eventual betrothal. Disability, which traditionally has been the barrier to literary courtship, is not the obstacle here; instead, it illuminates and undermines Celluci’s machismo and strengthens Vicki’s bond with Henry. Rather than reifying stereotypical gender roles, it opens up new possibilities, with both male suitors. Furthermore, disability leads to the female protagonist’s professional success, financial independence, and personal fulfillment, as she develops a “second sight” for the supernatural, one that actually heightens her crime-solving abilities, making her now, more than ever, “Victory” Nelson.
Till Death Do Us Part: Mind-Reading and Romance in Dead Until Dark and True Blood
In Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse lives in a society in which vampires have “come out of the coffins.” In other words, they have become legal citizens, as Japanese scientists have developed a synthetic blood that makes it possible for vampires to live in the open without the need to hunt humans for sustenance. Set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, the narrative links human prejudice against vampires to the history of slavery, racism, sexism, and homophobia in the American South. The opening credits of True Blood, Alan Ball’s television adaptation of the novels, feature an eerie montage of erotic and religious images, including one of a noticeboard outside a church that reads, “God Hates Fangs.” (Of course, this sign alludes to actual prejudices that exist outside the text, playing on similarities between the words “fangs” and ”fags.”) In this not-so-brave new world, Sookie must negotiate her relationships with humans and vampires, while at the same time struggling to confront her “disability.”
Although Sookie may not fit the qualifications for disability as many contemporary readers or viewers would conceive of it, the amended Americans with Disabilities Act of 2008 reads that “disability depends upon perception and subjective judgment rather than on objective bodily states” (6). The law acknowledges that
being legally disabled is also a matter of ‘being regarded as having such an impairment.’ Essential but implicit to this definition is that both ‘impairment’ and ‘limits’ depend on comparing individual bodies with unstated but determining norms, a hypothetical set of guidelines for corporeal form and function arising from cultural expectations about how human beings should look and act. (Garland-Thomson Extraordinary 6-7)
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson explains that, although these expectations may reflect physiological norms, their “sociopolitical meanings and consequences are entirely culturally determined” (7). Hence, Sookie, who views herself as “disabled,” along with the surrounding inhabitants of Bon Temps who categorize her abilities as mental impairment or “craziness,” dictate a culturally determined reading of Sookie’s telepathy as a “disability” (2).
Moreover, Sookie’s mind-reading does, initially, impair and limit the quality of her life. As the novel begins, her parents are already dead, but readers learn that her telepathy had caused fear, confusion, and estrangement in her family:
My parents didn’t know what to do about me. It embarrassed my father, in particular. My mother finally took me to a child psychologist, who knew exactly what I was, but she just couldn’t accept it and kept trying to tell my folks I was reading their body language and was very observant[.…] Of course she couldn’t admit I was literally hearing people’s thoughts because that just didn’t fit into her world. (51-52, emphasis in original)
Sookie’s brother, Jason, a self-absorbed, highly promiscuous “party-boy,” also rejected his sister and her uncanny abilities. At school, moreover, Sookie’s telepathy caused problems, for her teachers thought she was learning-disabled and inflicted on her a series of invasive tests (52). As her inability to concentrate limited her opportunities for higher education, she was forced to take menial jobs in order to be financially independent. Her telepathy has continued to cause difficulties at the bar where she works as a waitress; she must consciously keep her mind out of her co-workers’ thoughts: “I never listen to Sam’s thoughts. He’s my boss. I’ve had to quit jobs before because I found out things I didn’t want to know about my boss” (4). Perhaps most troubling to Sookie is her feeling that her telepathy has cut her off from romantic relationships. At twenty-five, she has remained a virgin, because
sex, for me, is a disaster. Can you imagine knowing everything your sex partner is thinking? Right. Along the order of ‘Gosh, look at that mole … her butt is a little big … wish she’d move to the right a little.’ […] You get the idea. It’s chilling to the emotions, believe me. And during sex, there is simply no way to keep a mental guard up. (25)
Although Sam briefly serves as a false suitor in Dead Until Dark, her ability to read his thoughts, as well as her discomfort over complicating their work and personal relationships, leads Sookie to forgo this courtship with a human man. Instead, the narrative ultimately focuses on the romance of one woman, Sookie, and one “man,” Bill.
Sookie’s feelings about her disability and her potential for romance transform when she meets Bill, the vampire. Bill is immediately fascinated by her, saying, “You’re different […] What are you?” (13). Although he cannot identify her telepathy, he senses her otherness. He proves unable to “glamour,” or control her mind, and this resistance to his supernatural charms marks her as independent and desirable. Furthermore, the difference he senses in Sookie constitutes a feeling of commonality between them; neither is precisely like a “normal” human. Sookie, too, is attracted to Bill, and her interest in him, coupled with her disability, enables her to save Bill’s life. When they first meet at Merlotte’s, the bar where Sookie works, Bill is sitting with a criminal couple, Mark and Denise Rattray. Worried for his safety, Sookie “lets her guard down” and reads the Rattrays’ minds. She realizes they plan to drain Bill’s blood and sell it illegally (vampire blood is said to have healing properties and to increase sexual potency). With this knowledge, Sookie follows, attacks, and stops the Rattrays. Thus, the heroine saves the (dead) hero’s life.
What had been deemed an obstacle to romance—i.e., Sookie’s “disability”—now becomes a significant point of attraction and aid in her courtship with Bill. He, in turn, provides a safe space for Sookie’s romantic exploration, as she cannot read his thoughts:
I did something I ordinarily would never do, because it was pushy, and personal, and revealed I was disabled. I turned fully to him and put my hands on both sides of his white face, and I looked at him intently. I focused with all my energy. Nothing. It was like having to listen to the radio all the time, to stations you didn’t get to select, and then suddenly tuning in to a wavelength you couldn’t receive. It was heaven. (12, emphasis in original)
Since Sookie is not subjected to the constant onslaught of Bill’s mental chattering, she does not need to divide her attention or keep up her guard, as she does with other residents in Bon Temps. Ironically, it is precisely this unknowability that allows her to come to know and understand Bill, through his words and deeds.
In fact, her lack of access to Bill’s mind often leads to the pair’s more conventional romantic complications and miscommunications. Like most couples, Bill and Sookie cannot read each other’s thoughts, and Dead Until Dark wittily and poignantly illuminates the psychological barriers present for most courting couples—barriers Sookie has not experienced with other people. In her previous relationships, she has remained distant, because of her easy entry into others’ private feelings. Now she can both learn from and share with a partner, at their mutual discretion. For example, as Bill tries to remember what it was like to be a “regular” person, he enquires about Sookie’s childhood. Here, she narrates the difficult memory of her Uncle Barlett’s sexual abuse, a secret she has kept hidden for many years and which has made her uncomfortable around men, especially in intimate situations (158-160). Now, she must be vulnerable and open, as she cannot rely upon receiving information through her telepathy. Her relationship with Bill provides her with a previously unknown sense of freedom and pleasure; the day after they make love for the first time, Sookie says, “boy, did I feel powerful. It was hard not to feel—well, cocky is surely the wrong word—maybe incredibly smug is closer” (146).
Even though Sookie is liberated by being unable to hear Bill’s thoughts, she does not “abandon” her disability. As she drinks Bill’s blood (in order to keep up her own strength after he feeds from her), these transfusions, which supposedly have healing properties, do not diminish Sookie’s “illness,” but instead enhance and focus her telepathy. This proves fortunate, for Sookie will need heightened abilities to protect her from a world in which she is under constant threat. Much like Vicki who dates the older powerful Henry, Sookie’s involvement with Bill places her in a relationship that presents danger and possibility of power imbalances. For example, Bill introduces Sookie to the worldly, predatory head vampire of the Bon Temps district, Eric. When Sookie uses her telepathy on Eric’s mind, what she “reads” confuses and terrifies her: “it was like suddenly being plunged into a pit of snakes, cold snakes, lethal snakes. It was only a flash, a slice of his mind, sort of, but it left me facing a whole new reality” (202).
Eric soon becomes fascinated with Sookie’s telepathic powers and forces her to read the minds of his employees in order to find out who is embezzling from his club, Fangtasia. Afraid to resist Eric’s commands, Sookie uses her telepathic powers reveal the embezzler, the vampire Long Shadow. Infuriated, Long Shadow subsequently attacks and nearly kills her. Unlike the cold dread that first overcomes Sookie when she catches a glimpse of the evil in Eric’s mind, this harrowing experience causes her to become more assertive and aggressive. She forces Eric to negotiate new terms for any future telepathic services she may perform for him and she makes him agree to not retaliate against any future disloyal workers (206). Thus, Sookie’s relationship with Bill introduces her to more significant foes and causes her to develop new strengths.
Sookie will need this increased autonomous status to fight the series of brutal murders raging through Bon Temps. They represent the romance narrative’s point(s) of ritual death. In this case, however, the deaths are not ritual, so much as literal; a number of local women, women who have had sexual relationships with vampires, have been found raped and strangled. Sookie’s brother Jason, who had been involved with all of the murdered women, remains the police department’s prime suspect. But Sookie, whose romance with Bill has increased her confidence in herself and in her abilities, embraces her telepathy and tries to use it to clear her brother, by listening in on the thoughts of the residents of Bon Temps.
When this method proves futile, Sookie takes refuge at home. She too is a target, since she has had a sexual relationship with Bill; in fact, the killer murders her grandmother in an attempt to get to Sookie. When Sookie realizes the murderer has been in her house again, she abandons traditional means of protection, saying, “I might not have the rifle, but I had a built-in tool. I closed my eyes and reached out with my mind” (275). Using her telepathy, she locates the real murderer, Rene Lenier, and begins probing his thoughts. Although Rene has seemed a perfectly “normal” man—holding a respectable job while dating Sookie’s friend Arlene, and caring for her children—Sookie learns that his able-bodiedness and mental stability are an illusion. By delving into his twisted mental processes, she uncovers his motive for the murders—anger toward his sister, Cindy, who dated a vampire—and uses this information to taunt and distract him, until she is able to kill him with his own knife. Rene’s murderous rage and violence has made him monstrous. Thus, through her understanding and acceptance of her difference, Sookie not only challenges notions of gender and disability, but she solves the mystery, clears her brother, and protects both herself and the townspeople. Interestingly, True Blood, the television dramatization, uses the violent confrontation in Dead Until Dark to advance the romance plot, rather than to focus chiefly on the power of Sookie’s disability to secure her safety. Whereas in the novel Sookie defeats Rene on her own, in the adaptation both suitors, Sam and Bill, come to her aid. While neither man succeeds in killing Rene, both help Sookie to foil his murderous plot and protect herself.
By overcoming her view of her disability as a “barrier” and cheating (ritual) death, Sookie achieves union and freedom with Bill. Further, she gains self-acceptance and greater understanding of her own potential. At the novel’s end, recognition, declaration, and betrothal come in quick succession, as Sookie awakens in the hospital to find Bill watching over her: “‘Soon we’ll be back to normal,’ Bill said, laying me down gently so he could switch out the light in the bathroom. He glowed in the dark. ‘Right,’ I whispered. ‘Yeah, back to normal’” (292). In these closing lines, Sookie acknowledges that normalcy is no longer her desired state. She now understands that no one is “normal”; the human and the vampire condition alike are states of disability, in which we all learn to negotiate our wants and desires both in spite of and, in large part, because of our extraordinary bodies.
Although Blood Price and Dead Until Dark advocate messages of female empowerment and ability through their heroine’s status as “disabled” characters, their transformations of dis/ability are not complete. Much like, in vampire literature, whenever someone is turned into a vampire, lingering traces of the individual’s original humanity remain. Similarly, these texts, along with the television adaptations of them, still re-inscribe certain cultural notions of desir/ability, namely as embodied in their heroines’ physical appearances. Vicki has an athlete’s body that can be maintained with little effort (30). Sookie tells readers, “You can tell I don’t get out much. And it’s not because I’m not pretty. I am. I’m blond and blue-eyed and twenty-five, and my legs are strong and my bosom is substantial, and I have a waspy waistline” (1). The creation in both novels of conventionally attractive, young, blonde, shapely heroines, as well as the casting of stars such as Christina Cox (Vicki Nelson, Blood Ties) and Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse, True Blood), reaffirms conventional standards of able-bodied, western ideals of beauty. In True Blood, moreover, Paquin often appears in revealing, provocative clothing, and the camera frequently surveys her body in a heavily eroticized and objectifying gaze. However, in their depictions of the strength, power, and romantic success of their heroines, Blood Price and Dead Until Dark do challenge cultural notions of disability, even as they reclaim the vampire romance for new generations of readers—especially for those who appreciate feminist messages with a little extra bite.
Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.
Blood Ties. Cr. Peter Mohan. Perf. Christina Cox, Kyle Schmid, and Dylan Neal. Insight Film Studios, 2006-2008. Television.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Print.
—.“Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Leonard J. Davis. New York: Routledge, 2006. 257-282. Print.
Davison, Carol Margaret. Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. Print.
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Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark. New York: Ace Books, 2001. Print.
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Stoddard Holmes, Martha. Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
True Blood. Cr. Alan Ball. Perf. Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, and Sam Trammell. Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, 2008-current. Television.
Wendell, Susan. “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability.” The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Leonard J. Davis. New York: Routledge, 2006. 243-256. Print.
 The Blood Book series consists of five novels—Blood Price (1991), Blood Trail (1992), Blood Lines (1992), Blood Pact (1993), Blood Debt (1997)—and one short story collection, Blood Bank (2006). At present, there are nine books in the Southern Vampire Mysteries: Dead Until Dark (2001), Living Dead in Dallas (2002), Club Dead (2003), Dead to the World (2004), Dead as a Doornail (2005), Definitely Dead (2006), All Together Dead (2007), From Dead to Worse (2008), and Dead and Gone (2009).
 In 2007, Penguin USA re-released Huff’s books with new promotional covers, in conjunction with the debut of the novels’ television adaptation, Blood Ties. Harris’s books have been translated into numerous languages including Serbian, French, and Russian.
 Despite only modest ratings for their Canadian broadcasts, the two seasons of Blood Ties were released on DVD. Further, the show’s rights have been purchased internationally, and the program has aired in the US, the UK, Spain, and Latin America. In the US, the second-season premiere of True Blood was seen by 3.7 million viewers, becoming the most-watched HBO cable network TV program since the finale of The Sopranos two years earlier (Reynolds par. 1). The encore presentation drew 5.1 million viewers (Reynolds par. 4).
The TV dramatizations of both Blood Ties and True Blood make the most of their sources’ romantic plots, emphasizing the works’ love triangles and sex scenes. For example, the promotional material for Blood Ties highlights the central dilemma of the heroine, Vicki Nelson, whose loyalty to one suitor conflicts with her growing attraction to another. Advertisements for True Blood feature a provocatively clad Sookie Stackhouse lying beneath her lover, who has just punctured and penetrated her neck.
 For example, see Christine Seifert’s “Bite Me! (Or Don’t).”
 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson contends that the concept of disability has been used to cast broadly “the form and functioning of female bodies as non-normative” (“Integrating” 260), even when discussing those female bodies which are ostensibly able-bodied.
 Garland-Thomson notes that similar language is often used to represent female bodies.
 See Judith Halberstam’s Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, H.L. Malchow’s Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain, and Carol Margaret Davison’s Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature for discussions of racial and sexual difference, configured as monstrosity and disability, in the gothic genre.
 Readers do not know whether or not Henry, in turn, accepts Vicki’s disability, because she does not inform him of her retinitis pigmentosa.