Archive for July, 2010

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.