what do we recommend?

I have written about safety on this blog before, in various contexts. Probably quite a bit of that content ought to be revised, but that’s a job for another day. Today’s subject is related to safety.

Whether hanging out in a more or less vampire centred chat, or on a small community forum, there will more or less regularly be newcomers who know next to nothing about vampirism and are seeking knowledge. And there are a heck of a lot of sites one might recommend, just have a look at the (incomplete) list maintained by the VVC to get a first idea.

My personal shortlist of sites i recommend is much shorter:

  1. SphynxCat’s Real Vampires Support Page for the quality and technical detail of her collected articles.
  2. Sanguinarius Real Vampire Resource Site for the breadth of content.
  3. The Vampire Community Message Board (VCMB) as a forum for vampires.
  4. The BlackSwanHaven (BSH) as a forum for donors.
  5. The Conventum Tenebrarum (soon to become Nexus Noctis) as a site for german speakers.

These are of course not the only good sites out there on the web, and depending on circumstance and information sought i will direct people to other sites. The question is, why do i direct people to these sites and not to others?

There is of course some personal bias, i won’t deny that. But more importantly, they are reasonably sane. Nobody goes around claiming vampiric super-powers. They do not make strong claims about the nature of vampirism. They are a-religious. Their main concern is how to deal with being a vampire (or a donor) in normal day to day life.

Then i compare that to smaller or less established sites i’ve been on. Here i find (amongst others) claims to extreme age (a guy claiming 120 years of experience whom i stumbled across today is a minor example), immortality or drastically slowed ageing, being able to turn others. I read claims, stated as factual, of direct lines of descent from mythological/religious entities (Lilith is a prime example – it’s rather hilarious when supposedly pagan vamps claim descent from Lilith, placing them smack-bang in the abrahamic traditions). Alternatively they claim descent from (pre-)historical individuals (or claim to be the re-incarnation of those individuals) despite their claims not fitting the historical and/or archaeological record.

Then there’s the strong claims as to the nature of vampirism, claiming as fact what is at best speculation. Whether these are about energy work (broken chakras/producing insufficient energy) or parasitism by non-physical entities, about viral infections (thankfully those claims are rare) or interbreeding of demons/angels (again with the abrahamic traditions) with humans, anybody who claims these as factual needs a reality check, possibly with a half-brick in a sock.

And i haven’t even spoken about the religious groups yet. These range from the obviously stupid (“i worship Neptune the greek god of the sea” – read that just today, and i really hope you see what’s wrong about it) via the fluffy and vague wiccans and generic pagans who somehow tie their vampirism into that, all the way to the vampire religions of the kheperians/aset ka and the obviously cultish temple of the vampire and strigoi vii.

Please note that i am not making any claims to what vampirism is. I am not saying that any religion is right or wrong, that would just be stupid of me. I am not claiming that problems with subtle energy can’t be the cause of vampirism, or that vampires don’t result from the interbreeding of angelic and human stock. I am not saying that it is impossible for a vampire to turn a human, or to age more slowly than others. We, as a community, do not know what causes vampirism. The best we currently have is the data from the VEWRS&AVEWRS.

What i am saying is that smaller or newer communities tend to espouse such claims as i’ve listed above uncritically. I don’t think it’s necessary to speculate much on the causes of that: uniformity of opinion, social dynamics in small groups, rejection of criticism by leaders or by whole groups, conscious manipulation by cult leaders, the list is long. They tend to adopt a single view of vampirism and present that as (the only) true view.

So when a new member of the VC approaches us seeking knowledge, where do we point them? At the tiny group which was created last year and knows the truth about vampirism (or claim to…), or at the large flourishing group which encourages discussions and multiplicity of opinion and which allows the newcomer to figure out what works for them? That doesn’t mean they won’t have to sift through a huge lot of bullshit: even the best vampire sites and forums are loaded with stupidity. But at least it gives them a better chance to figure things out for themselves.

Okay, enough ranted. I am not claiming to be smarter or more knowledgeable than others. But exactly because of that these thoughts are important.

Daddy’s Girl – a movie review

I’m a bit of a movie-fan. That’s not really something i talk about much here, as it’s mostly not relevant irrelevant to vampirism and donoring. In particular i’m into “grotesque” movies, recent examples might include “Taxidermia” or “The Human Centipede“, “Dumplings” would also fall into this category, or “Marquis“. It is really not so much a style or genre but a certain quality which makes people i tell about them say you’re weird and move a little bit away from me on their seats, with a slightly worried look in their eyes.

I also enjoy a wide range of other off-beat movies[1], and it won’t surprise you then that i’m not too fond of large productions aimed at drawing the masses to the cinema. I do enjoy horror, but not because it’s scary; if you (dear reader) are ever in a chat with me while i’m watching a horror movie (a few readers who might experience that) you might hear me exclaiming in glee and describing the most outrageous scenes in sumptuous detail. Yes i’m weird.

Vampire movies are a thing apart. Most of them are just really bad. Many are downright horrible[2]. The genre has been milked so hard that it’s very rare for a vampire movie to actually bring in something new. And then of course as donors or real vampires we get our very own reasons to rant about vampire movies. Yet there’s quite a few i like. “Let The Right One In” is an outstanding movie for any genre, which i recommend wholeheartedly to any movie fan (and i will restrain myself from going on a rant about the fucking idiots[3] who are making an american remake). I am rather fond of “Night Watch” too, both in its written and movie forms. “Vampire Diary” (the british movie, not the american series) is interesting in the way it blurs the lines between lifestyler and real vampire, and between real vampire and “real” vampire[4], and also because it centres on the donor. Romero’s “Martin” leaves the question of whether he is a “real” vampire or a human hungering for blood wide open.

And then a friend on the VCMB pointed me at “Daddy’s Girl” (“Cravings” in the US), and this is something new. This is, for all intents and purposes, a movie about a real vampire.

Lets start by dashing your hopes. The reason you’ve probably never heard about it is that it is not a good movie. The acting is stale and flat, or else ridiculously overdrawn. The shots are crude, again either flat or exaggerated. The plot is cobbled together and doesn’t really know what it wants to be, a psychological drama or a horror or a movie about doctor/patient relationships.

It also does a really bad job at portraying a real vampire. But then, it is a drama, not a documentary[5], and the vampirism is supposed to create an arc of dramatic tension running through the movie. I have not heard a single case of a real vampire unhooking a hospital patient from a blood infusion (no doubt such fantasies are common, but going that extra step and making it real?). Similarly, accounts of non-consensual feeding are extremely rare, though one assumes they would be under-reported. However, cases of nailing victims to the floor, murder, or abduction tend to get into the news, and if there’s a vampirism angle that would certainly get picked up.

So what’s actually in the movie? There’s a psychiatrist, struggling to deal with the suicide of his wife and the death of his mother. There’s the vamp, a teenaged girl, who becomes his patient after an act of self-injury misinterpreted as a suicide attempt. There’s the vampire’s mother, who gets into a relationship with the psychiatrist. Of the side characters i think only the donor-girl deserves mention, who gives us the best scene in the whole movie.

<Warning, there follow spoilers>
So we have a wonderful triangle of a relationship. It starts of when the vampire kills the psychiatrist’s very ill mother when she pulls out the blood infusion she’s receiving. The two develop some kind of freudian psychosexual doctor/patient relationship, which goes haywire when the psychiatrist starts sleeping with the vampire’s mother. Pretty soon the vampire is knocking at the psychiatrists front door, begging for a place to stay the night. She then proceeds to drug him up, and when he’s completely knocked out she feasts on his blood (via venipuncture). In an interlude we see the vampire butchering her pet rat, one assumes in a desire to get at its blood. In what i consider the best scene, certainly the most relevant to real vampirism, the donor girl, who bears the scars of serious self-injury, cuts herself across the arm and then lets the vampire feed from her. She is obviously rather terrified of the vampire and of the experience, leaving in a hurry. This is the only scene of which i can say that it actually mirrors many real vampires’ experience, though it is a feeding which went bad. When the donor bumps into the psychiatrist, she spills the whole story to him. Subsequently he researches Renfield’s syndrome[6] and clinical vampirism, gets into trouble with hospital administration and is suspended (from work, not by hooks or rope). The vampire kills the psychiatrist’s wee little doggy and blends him to a dark red drink (i had to facepalm). Events pick up, the psychiatrist allows himself to get drugged by the vampire again, wakes up nailed by to the floor through his hands with the vamp wanting to pierce his carotid artery with a hairpin. His estate agent turns up, giving him a moment of hope (i think they were going for comedy at this point), only for it to be shattered when the vamps mother sides with the vamp. The estate agent gets hit over the head and fed from. In the final scene the psychiatrist is chained to a bed in a basement somewhere, the mother being kind and caring from him, while the vamp blissfully drinks from a plastic tube connected to his neck somewhere.
<You survived the spoilers!>

If you read through that you’ll understand why i say that it’s a very bad portrayal of sanguinarian vampirism. The only scene which i actually consider accurate is the feeding from the donor, the rest is wild dramatisation and invention. Of course a drama does need a story-arc, suspense, resolution, etc., but Daddy’s Girl handles the whole thing exemplarily badly.

Nonetheless it is a movie about an actual real sanguinarian vampire, which doesn’t invoke any kind of supernatural or sci-fi explanation, and who is devoid of any superpowers of metaphysical gifts. To my knowledge it is the only movie around which does that, if you know of another then please let me know in the comments. By including a donor the movie also managed to do something which most documentaries fail at.

It’s just a shame that it’s such a bad movie.

[1] i’m going to refrain from making a long list, sorry.
[2] check out Jonathon8’s handy guide to vampire movies by a “real” vampire.
[3] i am very selective about my swearing, most swearwords function by othering, and if you’ve read my blog any length of time you’ll know that is something i try to be aware of. But when i call somebody stupid or an idiot, that implies uttermost scorn on my part. “Fuck” just emphasises whatever i’m saying, positively or negatively.
[4] “real” as in fictional, not actually real.
[5] and considering the quality of most documentaries out there, “Daddy’s Girl” is hardly doing a worse job.
[6] Renfield’s is not recognised as a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s symptoms, progression, and characterisation have little to none correspondence to the experience of actual sanguinarian vampires. Any time anybody invokes Renfield’s syndrome as an explanation of vampirism they are doing the whole VC a disservice. Renfield’s is garbage, and belongs on the same heap of trash as explanations of vampirism invoking Erszebet Bathory, Vlad Dracul, Kain or Lilith. Furthermore, don’t those idiots who invoke Kain (and most who invoke Lilith) realise that by doing so they are embracing a worldview which holds that the world was created out of nothing some 6000 years ago? Stupid nincompoops! *Cough* sorry, don’t know what came over me there.

donor appreciation day

If you frequent the various sites and fora of the vampire community (and you’re reading this, so i reckon you do) you’ve certainly come across Drake Mefestta’s declaration of October 1st as Donor Appreciation Day. In case you’ve somehow missed it, the full text is at the end of this post.

This has stirred up quite a flurry of activity: of the top of my head there’s discussions about it on the AVA forums, two on the VCMB, in the Black Swan Haven, on the german CT, the VVC has put a poll about it online (i’ve not linked those instances requiring registration), and i reckon there are probably discussions ongoing more or less everywhere in the VC. Some of the reactions have been quite negative, and there’s been some drama, but that’s more or less to be expected in a community like the VC.

I am inclined to support the proposal. Not that i’ve ever felt unappreciated or used by any of the vampires i’ve donated to, and though i love a little pampering that is hardly reason to create an international holiday.

But what i’ve seen is this: a donor coming into the community, telling more or less horrific stories about things their vampire has done to them. Often the vampire would have denied doubts the donor had brought up, saying to trust them, and that they knew what they were doing. Often the vampire would have actively discouraged the donor from seeking advice with the VC, or even denied them the right to do so.

I’ve not seen it often, but often enough. And it seems to me that a large majority of donors have very little – if any – contact to the VC, and are entirely dependent on their vampires for information. Most of us certainly can’t seek information or support outside of the VC (Drake definitely got that right: if a member of the general public just about understands that somebody might want to drink blood, they look at donors with blank incomprehension). Though i trust that most vampires are entirely well-intentioned towards their donors, a few aren’t, and for those the isolation of donors is ideal. And even if the vampire is well-intentioned the relationship with an uninformed and isolated donor is more likely to deteriorate than when the donor is knowledgable or has reliable people to talk with.

In that sense i support the creation of a donor appreciation day. Not as a day for vampires to pamper us donors, but as a day for the VC as a whole to reach out to donors. As a day for the VC to encourage vampires to introduce their donors to the community. As a day for vampires to connect donors to other donors. As a day for integrating donors into the community. If you then want to go ahead and pamper your donors a little, then i’m sure none of us will complain. But let the first goal of this holiday be a reminder that donors need the community just as much as vampires do.

http://www.facebook.com/drakemefestta

To the members, supporters, and observers of the Vampire Community

July 31, 2010

Throughout the decades the vampire community has been comprised of members from all paths, faiths, and walks of life. As a community and as individuals we have all felt, at one time or another, the burden of our own personal tribulations, being what we are and existing within a social structure that is growing but still infantile in its understandings has made for a difficult way of life for many within our society. I feel that there is a part within our community that still can be considered far more unacknowledged in their way of life and whom I feel deserves necessary validation and recognition for what they do in support for our community, our donors.

Within the general society donors are often looked at as simply food, portrayed often as something to be fed upon and nothing more, given an almost consistent stigma of helpless prey to the mighty hunter and to this I raise my objection. I believe most would agree that though we the vampires may be negatively perceived by many, there are still others who would equally find positive traits, things to admire and find fantasia or mystique in therefore the icon of the vampire still has a formidable substantiation to it . The donor’s life however I consider the perception to not only be misconstrued in society but also not as empathized within the community due to the fact that almost all that would feed from a donor had never been in the donors place and truly experience what they sacrifice for our preservation and all so willingly as well.

By this I would wish to declare that on October the 1st, I will be holding personally as a secular holiday, as a day of thanks to the donors that have given so much for our preservation. I feel that they are just as much of a part of our community as any other and hold an irreplaceable role as the ones who make it possible for us to exist and maintain our sense well being and that is something to give deepest honor to. I hope you will all join me by giving thanks to your donors however you see fit and celebrating their sacrifices to us. This secular holiday I offer for our community I hope will fortify the bond further of our society and whatever role we all have within it.

I welcome your thoughts and insights to this desire of mine and anticipate you will support me in this endeavor.

Regards,-Drake Mefestta

Benecke – take two

It’s been a long time, and i’d promised this post to be up very soon, sorry about that. There’s been a bunch of real-life stuff going on keeping me busy, sorting out long-standing issues in my life, it’s actually quite good.

But i still want to talk about Dr Benecke, even though i’m no longer in that rush of “he’s so awesome!” which i’d been in right after the WGT. Having had a little more time to reflect on it i also understand better just what was so awesome about the encounter.

To frame the whole thing: the WGT is a major goth (and associated) festival in germany. The   german vampire forum i participate in uses the WGT as an excuse to organise a get-together, one of several throughout the year. And no, they’re not all goths, but quite a few of them are, and the WGT is fun anyway. The meetup begins with a brunch on sunday morning, at a cruel time for those of us who have been partying three nights already. One of the forum-member who had met Benecke previously rather spontaneously invited him to be our guest of honour at the brunch, and that’s how i encountered him.

He’s a man of many talents: by trade a forensic biologist, he’s also a member of the ig-noble committee, an author, a public speaker (in both academic and general settings), and an expert on (real) vampires [1]. He’s pierced and heavily tattooed, very enthusiastic about anything he focuses on, springing from subject to subject, his mind finding links and connections everywhere. He has a strong tendency to draw one along with his enthusiasm.

Benecke wasn’t just at the WGT as our guest, of course. He also, on saturday and sunday, gave presentations as one of the many events at the WGT (in this case he spoke on serial killers, it was very interesting). During brunch he proposed to reserve seats for us, and make sure that we could get in, as the venue (a large theatre) was likely to be overly full. In the general enthusiasm i agreed to come along, and was not disappointed (just being ushered in as VIPs while a crowd had to wait outside was worth it *grins cheekily*).

But what has all this got to do with vampires and donors, you ask? I’m getting to the point (two points actually), and i apologise for being so wordy, but without a bit of context it really loses impact.

So we’re sitting there in the theatre, Benecke is on stage, beginning his presentation. He introduces himself, his work, how the presentation will go, etc. He does the usual round of thanks to the organisers and helpers and all. Then he welcomes his special guests, the vampires. We are all cheering, and presumably gathering strange looks from the rest of the audience, but Benecke is utterly deadpan, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have a bunch of vampires in the audience, and furthermore as if there were nothing particular at all about openly acknowledging that [2].

He then continues to say that of course those in the community know what a black swan is, but for those who don’t know, a black swan is a special friend of vampires. And now he offers t-shirts just for them in his merchandise stand [3]. We cheered some more, of course, and then he dove right into the presentation.

Both of these are perhaps small things. What is so special about a t-shirt with a black swan design? Indeed if you don’t have anything to do with vampires it is nothing much. But vampires are already outsiders, perpetually at the edge of society (and if a vampire has a “respectable” position in society they have to keep their vampirism well separated from their public life). Us donors, even if we’re not outsiders in the vampire community, are nonetheless at the edge of the VC. All to often donors are overlooked, we do not appear in the books or articles or tv-reports, we are not interviewed by reporters. It is not that we are obviously disrespected, but very often we’re only found on the periphery of the VC.

Thus getting very public acknowledgment like this is always pleasing. It’s also nice to find some merch for us: there is vampire-specific merchandise everywhere, whether we’re talking about clothing or jewellery, “blood”-drinks (there’s the Tru-Blood drink, and an energy-drink which comes in a pouch styled on a blood-pouch), or even fangs. But if you’re looking for stuff for donors, for swans, then you’ve got a long search ahead of you.

But just as important was the casualness with which Benecke welcomed us. I’ve been attending meetings of various out-groups for a long time now, always as a member of that group. Self-help groups for people with eating disorders, groups of trans-folk, most recently, vampire meetups. Of course the thing which brings us together in these meetings is the way in which we are “other”, but once we’re there a twofold dynamic develops. On the one hand, within that group we are no longer defined by our otherness, our otherness doesn’t distinguish us anymore. That allows us to be ourselves, and to forget about being other for a while. On the other hand, it enables us to speak freely about the otherness.

Whether somebody is searching for support, looking for answers to questions which they just can’t ask anywhere else, or whether somebody is remarking on some incredibly ironic or funny situation which can only be ironic or funny if you share this otherness: these are conversations which you can only have if, just for a little moment, you can be normal.

What Benecke did there, when he welcomed us like that, was make us normal. And not just normal to ourselves, but normal to everybody sitting in that theatre.

[1] i have not yet read his book on the subject, so can’t vouch for it directly. A third and expanded edition is currently in preparation, and several friends have been consulted for that, so i’m rather optimistic about it.
[2] Hah! Take that, black veil!
[3] Available here, sorry that the link is only in german.

Laycock on Vampires as an Identity Group – a review

Joseph Laycock has been at it again, this time with an academic article: Real Vampires as an Identity Group [1]. My regular readers will know that i’m a bit of a fangirl of Laycock’s [2], so i was quite excited when the article was announced, and already planning an eventual review here. Getting some direct encouragement from a prominent member of the VC (vampire community) decided the case and moved it up on my priority list.

In this article Laycock describes his anthropological work with the AVA (Atlanta Vampire Alliance), and the VEWRS (Vampire and Energy Work Research Survey) which the AVA was conducting. He then discusses how this survey is contributing to the construction of vampire as an identity group. It is interesting to read his description of his research, which gives a much more vivid image of his time amongst vampires than one draws from “Vampires Today” [3]. I will first comment on a few of his observations, then dig into the core of his arguments, before finishing of with some critical comments.

Laycock remarks that one vampire told him he would prefer to be like everybody else, as a demonstration that vampires see the vampirism as inherent, and not a choice. In my experience this attitude is far from unique. Quite a few vampires have expressed the same desire to me, and i’m at the point where i tend to be at least a little doubtful of vampires who do not express a certain ambivalence towards their vampirism.

I enthusiastically agree with the observation that vampires (and other members of the community) are quite comfortable talking about vampirism in public, at least when we’re in a group. The “dessert” story took place in public, and when recently at a public conference the speaker greeted his “special guests, the vampires” we all cheered loudly [4].

If the relationship between real vampires and roleplayers is quite strained in the US, my experience with the german VC so far indicates a much more relaxed attitude towards roleplaying. I know several vampires in the german VC who enthusiastically participate in vampire LARPs, and some describe meeting other vampires there. When at the WGT we got a chance to participate in a LARP many of us wanted to go.

Laycock also notes how there is quite some antagonism between the more occult vampire groups and the dominant discourse which describes vampirism as inherent; i might even go farther and say that they are incompatible. A sanguinarian who used to be an active member of the temple of Set described to me how they found very little of interest to them in the order of the vampyre, and preferred to pursue advancement in other orders. Similarly in conversation with “father” Todd i found almost no common ground between his conception of vampirism and that of the vampires i usually frequent, and his discourse denied their identity as vampires.

Now though the subject of Laycock’s anthropological research was the vampire community, the argument he makes in this article is only incidentally related to vampirism. So we need to make an excursion into the theory of identity construction.

A long-standing argument in social sciences is whether social categories are socially constructed or based on objective criteria. The later says that (to use an overly exaggerated example) boys and girls are objectively different (at least anatomically), and their differing interests in toys results from this. The former say that children are basically all pretty similar, and their differing interests in toys results from social conditioning (pink toys for girls, blue ones for boys) [5]. Both sides of this argument aren’t really satisfying intellectually, but the concept of dynamic nominalism allows the two to be joined. When a concept of a kind of person comes into existence (in this case vampires) that kind of person starts identifying as that kind of person. Those people exist independently of the category, but without the category the objective criteria which includes them in that category cannot be understood in that way.

There is an ongoing sociological debate in europe on whether class still exists as a meaningful social category which i think illustrates this concept quite well. French citizens tend to have a keen and detailed understanding of their socio-economic class, while german citizens tend to all consider themselves “middle class”. When presented with pictures of people of different socio-economic status and asked to group them, they create very similar groups, even though they aren’t given any instructions on how to group them. When the experimenters then explain that they are doing a study on class, and ask the subjects if they wish to change any of their groupings accordingly, the french make a few adjustments, resulting in groupings which correspond very precisely with the socio-economic class of the people on the photographs, while the germans leave their groupings untouched and don’t see what adjustments might even make sense. The french can also explain why they created the groupings they made, while the germans can’t. Now france, in a bid to pursue “égalité” (equality, one of their revolutionary ideals) officially keeps track of socio-economic class, and has laws aiming to equalise chances for kids of differing class, while germany since bismarckian times (well over a century) tracks status as “beamter” (functionary, a state-employed person), employee, or employer/owner. Germans, lacking the categories to describe class, still group people according to class – despite strong discourse against it, class still exists in germany. However, class does not constitute an identity group, unlike in neighbouring france, as there is no category with which individuals could identify.

In a roundabout way my own experience as a dragon might also help to illustrate this relatively complicated concept: i have known for almost two decades that “dragon” is a large part of my identity. I experienced mental and emotional shifts and the sensation of phantom limbs long before i ever heard of otherkin or therians. It was always “interesting” to try to explain these experiences. At a time i was in very intense psychiatric treatment, which contributed to regular and powerful shifts; here my experiences were quite positively treated as a kind of meaningful self-narrative, however that never really covered the “realness” of my identity. Later, when i grew close to several people with DID (dissociative identity disorder) i began identifying dragon as an alter [6]. This was already much closer to how i perceived myself, as this allowed me to perceive dragon as part of myself. It was only when i started exploring the vampire community that i encountered the concepts of otherkin and therian. One could understand that as being the moment those categories came into existence for me, and my identification as dragon was almost instant. Whereas before i was “some kind of crazy”, afterwards i was a dragon.

Laycock argues that the vampire community forms such an identity group. For vampires, vampirism is an inherent condition, while the identity and social category of “vampire” has been emerging mostly since the seventies and eighties (though Laycock traces the beginnings of this back into the 19th century) [7]. But the vampire community does not have any central leadership, its members are joined in small groups or not affiliated with any group, many don’t even use the same vocabulary [8]. Laycock calls it an acephalous entity, literally “headless”. Furthermore, vampires have had very little control over how they have been represented in media and academia (try finding an article in press which doesn’t somehow sensationalise vampirism).

In this situation the VEWRS fulfils two obvious functions. On the one hand it makes it much harder for people to claim things about vampires. We now have actual data on who and what vampires are. On the other, it creates a mirror for vampires to see and recognise themselves in. But though the AVA members state that they do not intend to, through the survey, create a definition of what a vampire is, it is quite inevitable that the VEWRS does influence the definition of vampirism. The data from the VEWRS is the only available quantitative data on vampires [9]. I only joined the VC when much of the preliminary data published was already available, and i find it difficult to imagine not having this data to fall back on. In this sense the VEWRS is actually a very strong defining force; it and the people behind it (analysing and publishing the data) have become knowledge creators, participating in constructing the social category of vampire.

There is no doubt that the VEWRS constitutes an important contribution to constructing the category of real vampire, and it is remarkable in that it is vampires defining themselves. I also totally understand that other groups, e.g. otherkin or therians, express a desire for such surveys in their own communities. Personally i would love to get my grubby little fingers on the data of those non-vamps in there who are donors [10].

But i can’t help but feel that some of Laycock’s thoughts on the impact the VEWRS has are overly optimistic. He claims that it de-otherizes vampires, but i can only partly agree with that. Again a short excursion into theory is necessary, as the “other” is a major concept in social sciences. An “other” is created when a perceived or actual difference is used to construct not just differing social categories, but when one of these categories is designated “normal” and the other “different”. In this process it is always the more powerful category which designates itself as the normal, and enforces that normality, while the “different” category, even if it is numerically superior, is punished in various ways for showing its otherness.

Imagine for a moment, if you’re a vamp, that nobody would think it unusual if you stared at pulsing veins, the shops were all open at night but tended to close during the day (assuming that you’re nocturnal), and you could get away with assaulting and feeding from non-vamps (but judge, s/he was asking for it, going around with their neck uncovered like that). That’s what it’s like when you’re the dominant category, when you’re “normal” [11].

When you’re the “other”, well, it’s less fun. If you’re lucky you just don’t get taken seriously and labeled a roleplayer. But you might also get kicked out of your church when somebody outs you, in a divorce proceeding your ex only has to hint at the v-word and you’re lucky to even get visitation rights with your kids, and if blood-drinking is legal at all in your jurisdiction then it still is fraught with risks, and people will assume that you’re certainly guilty of something.

De-othering happens on two or even three levels. The individual and the community can come to understand that they are actually quite okay, and don’t deserve to be treated that way. They can come to understand themselves as different, but not other [12]. However, as long as the dominant group continues to otherize and more or less systematically disadvantage you, having de-othered yourself internally at best gives you a limited advantage. Perhaps importantly, it can help in allying with other othered groups, as exemplified in the witches vs. vampires softball match which Laycock mentions [13].

The VEWRS is certainly very useful for the internal and individual de-othering. But when the community is so thoroughly othered that not even its way of understanding itself is recognised (Laycock calls the concept of “subtle” energy “subjugated knowledge”, and the sangs who believe that they suffer from a physical condition are hardly closer to recognition by doctors), it is going to be a long and arduous process before the community achieves a “different, but not other” status.

Similarly, when Laycock says that by calling the non-awakened folk “mundanes” or “muggles” we are creating an oppositional outsider, i get the impression that he is speaking from the position of the dominant normal and failing to understand the position of the “other”. The concept of “oppositional outsider” comes quite directly from studies on deviance, which are extremely marked by dominant “normal” people studying and even creating new categories of “others”. When we use cis-gendered in the trans community we’re not trying to create an opposition, we just need a different word than “normal” to be able to stop othering ourselves whenever we talk about cis-gendered people. Whenever we say “normal people” we participate in othering ourselves, we need a designation to which makes both us and them different but normal. Mundane does the job nicely [14].

Finally, i think that Laycock misses the point when he says that, as vampires become an established identity group, everybody else becomes non-vampires. The members of the dominant group are by default not conscious of the privileges which being normal constitutes, after all it is normal to have them. The othered group however is usually acutely conscious of the ways in which not being “normal” disadvantages them. Perhaps the biggest privilege of belonging to the “normal” group is that you can be blind to the privilege you receive, you are never confronted with it. As such, all the others consider themselves “normal”, and will continue to consider themselves “normal” even after vampires become well known.

If the above sounds rather critical that is not supposed to diminish the importance of Laycock’s work for the vampire community. He is the only scholar so far who has approached the VC with an open mind, willing to see what is actually there instead of what he wants to see [15]. His work is consistently respectful of his subjects, which is very gratifying to experience.

In this article Laycock calls the members of the AVA knowledge creators, giving the community – through the VEWRS – an image of who and what they are. It seems to me that he has himself become a knowledge creator, that his work has also become a significant contribution to how vampires perceive themselves. Seen not as an academic, but as a member of the VC, this is perhaps the most important aspect of his work.

In any case i will continue to follow his work. I understand that he has an article on otherkin and therians in the pipeline, which i am eagerly awaiting, and certainly intend to review here when it is published.

[1] Laycock, Joseph; “Real Vampires as an Identity Group: Analyzing Causes and Effects of an Introspective Survey by the Vampire Community” Nova Religio – The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions; August 2010, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pages 4-23
[2] Idea: maybe i could interview him someday for this blog?
[3] This article was almost two years awaiting publication, so it’s writing pre-dates “Vampires Today”.
[4] “Dessert” is an earlier post on this blog, and the speaker was Dr Benecke, whom i still owe you an entry about. It is mostly written already, but i’ve been rather distracted.
[5] This example is almost a caricature of the issue, i am fully aware of that.
[6] Alters are the various personae of a person living with multiple identities, i.e. with DID.
[7] Incidentally, this approach neatly answers the recurrent question of “where are all these vampires coming from, and why weren’t there any half a century ago?” The people with the vampiric condition were there, but there was nothing they could identify with.
[8] Laycock says that the basic categories of sanguinarian, psi-vamp, and hybrid are generally agreed upon, but in my experience even these are still disputed (never mind the vocabulary: he uses “psychic vampire”).
[9] The vampire sarasvati is currently compiling the data from her own survey of vampires, but the scale of her project is much smaller and as of yet no data has been formally published.
[10] We’re not an obvious candidate for an identity group, at least not one based on inherent criteria. But nobody knows who we are, and we too would like to be able to say “this is who we are“.
[11] And i think that’s one reason quite a few vamps i know like Daybreakers. Because there the vamps are the normal ones.
[12] An example from a slogan for lgbt-rights: heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common.
[13] I wonder if they had rules about “no magick, no draining”, or if it was more freestyle…
[14] cheshirecatman, whom i must thank for proofreading this article, comments that: “I think this is a form of empowerment too. Not so much creating an opponent but creating a term for them just as they did for us.”
[15] I still wonder how different Laycock’s experience would have been if his first experience with vampires had been with e.g. the strigoii vii and their very narrow and mystical definition of vampirism instead of the AVA.

i was on TV!

Ok, so this is rather random, but i want to post it anyway. You remember how i said we played V:tM at the WGT? There was a guy with a camera there. I didn’t think about it much, but it turns out he was making a report for the MDR, a german tv-station.

Here’s the clip (link doesn’t work anymore, sorry), sorry it’s in german. I’m the crazy chick at 1:12, with red hair and yellow eyes.

</shameless self-promotion>

p.s. the promised posts are coming soon.

Parasites and symbionts

So i’ve promised you all some other posts, but this one is fresh from the press:

Donating, to me, is usually a win-win situation. At the very least it is a pleasant experience for both the vampire and me. Usually the vampire gets significant benefits, in particular sangs might benefit for weeks. For me a good feeding means deep restful sleep, a chance to relax from my usual overcharged state, and often also a break for my body during which it can heal from my everyday stresses.

It is not quite a symbiotic relationship, because in a true symbiotic relationship the two species are dependent on each other. But it is certainly one from which both the vampire and i benefit, and that’s without even considering any altruistic motivation.

But some vampires are parasites. They slip in a link when you’re unaware, when you’re preoccupied, when you’re tired from lack of sleep or from illness. They don’t ask, don’t negotiate, they disguise the drain with symptoms of illness, and then they just draw all that they can. Once they’ve drained enough, they don’t even disguise it any more, as you’re too weak to defend yourself anyway.

I’m lucky enough to have a very experienced psi-vamp and energy-worker, one who recognises the symptoms and can stop the parasite (and hopefully hurt them in the process). But getting attacked by a parasite like this is not something i wish on anybody.

I like vamps, i like the vampire community. Most vampires are friendly, open, very accepting of otherness. Most vampires are also very polite about feeding, never feed without explicit consent, and very conscientious about after-care. But idiots like this parasite, they throw the whole community into disrepute.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.