Archive for the ‘ community issues ’ Category

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.


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.

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.

slave donors reprise: not like this

third post in 24 hours! though actually, this one is less fun. because just as i write about slave donors, we get the news that some guy from [1] has had a warrant for an arrest issued against him for “electronic solicitation of children”. the news has been pushed to the vampire community by the folks at the AVA, who do a good job in keeping us alerted to current events which impact the community. you can read the full news articles on their forum.

usually i would disregard such news items. not that child abuse isn’t a horrible crime which needs to be taken very seriously. not that the victims of child abuse don’t suffer deeply and deserve all our support. but child abuse is pandemic. at least 1 in 5 children suffers some kind of sexual aggression before they reach the age of 16. sexual abuse of children happens everywhere, in all societies, all cultures, all religions. and don’t forget the reverse: if so many children suffer abuse, then there are just as many abusers. think of that next time you chat with your colleagues at work, or with your mates in the bar, or the fellows with which you do sports. it’s a harsh reality.

but each time the media takes an event such as this and created a scandal around it they are helping us forget that it is something which happens every day all around us. no, they happen in catholic boarding schools or in scary goth internet fora. the perpetrators are priests (who quite consciously are “other”, and therefore never quite trustworthy for the simple mind) or self-proclaimed vampires (and how could they be anything but monsters). the media makes us believe that child abuse is something special, which only happens to others, when in reality it is happening all around us. sometimes i get very angry about this.

it is even worse when the media, like both the articles linked above, drag up and lay out all the sordid details in search of a higher readership. very soon this sinks into pure voyeurism, readers getting their fix of righteous outrage on the back of the suffering of others.

so what did actually happen here? as far as can be seen from the articles there was no force involved, no threats, no violence. to put it a little extremely, it was simply a relationship which developed from vanilla into an online master/slave relationship. the only thing which doesn’t work is that the girl is too young.

in BDSM one of the few universal rules is that all participants must give fully informed consent. there are edge-cases to this, of course, such as in consensual non-consent or when subs agree to play without safewords. but even then the partners don’t enter into that kind of relationship without understanding what this involves. fully informed consent is one of the very few absolute hard limits i play by.

the other edge-case for fully informed consent is whether the participant are able to give such consent. somebody who is not mature enough is not capable of understanding this kind of relationship and it’s implications, and is therefore not capable of giving informed consent to it. this is why we have legal age limits. some youngsters grow up alarmingly fast, but many don’t. so all are by default protected. and in a master/slave relationship being capable of understanding the implications at the time that consent is given is even more important, because being in such a relationship does weird things to your brain.

i do not mean to minimise the severity of the perpetrators deeds. fully informed consent is such a big thing exactly because the kind of power dynamic established in a master/slave relationship can very easily lead the slave to do things which they would not have agreed to do without that power dynamic. and a fifteen year old girl can not give such consent, even if she were mentally and emotionally mature enough to understand what she was consenting to. this has to be a hard limit.

nevertheless, the news lies not in that it happened. the elements which made this case news-worthy were that the perpetrator frequents a goth/metal forum, that he dresses himself in the allure of the vampire, that he is overseas (and not just overseas, but in such a remote location as the shetland isles), that he lives with his parents. the scandal is that people who read this story get to blame it all on strange people, on vampires, on people who live far away, they get to blame everything on the other, thereby becoming that little bit more blind to the abuse which is happening all around them.

what this whole post isn’t about is vampires, or donors, or bdsm, or master/slave relationships, or vampire/donor relationships, or even vampire/slave-donor relationships.

[1] is only peripherally linked to the vampire community. a few real vampires can be found there, as there is some overlap between the communities. but it is mainly a social network catering to the goth lifestyle, fashion, and music. nothing in the articles indicates that the perpetrator actually identifies as a vampire.

Joseph Laycock’s “Vampires Today” – a review

So a few days before the winter solstice i finally got my copy of “Vampires Today” by Joseph Laycock [1], and read it during the winter break. You might remember that i’ve already written about the book several times before, from the original book announcement via interview links to speculations about identity and ontology. After all that i feel that i owe a proper review of the book, not to mention that writing one will hopefully help me get a clearer understanding of the book as well.

(If all this is too long, here’s the short version: if you’re interested in the vampire community and only have time for one book, this is the one to read.)

First impressions, as others have pointed out the cover is marvellously garish, making me rather reluctant to leave it lying around. I’d be less bothered if it had a more restrained, academic-looking cover. There are a small number of illustrations which i could take or leave, and unfortunately a number of typos which shouldn’t have passed editing. Extensive notes and a very complete bibliography are included as is to be expected from a scholarly work, and the addition of an index does not come amiss. The writing is pleasant and lucid and mostly devoid of jargon, and as such should be accessible to most readers (though i might have missed some jargon in as much as i use it myself).

So what’s in the book? In the first chapter Laycock gives us an overview of the various types of vampires. He does a review of previous attempts at categorisation, which he rejects as being unhelpful in understanding modern vampires. What he proposes instead are three axes along which to sort self-identified vampires. The first is between lifestylers and real vampires, while the second axis goes between feeding types (psi and sang). The third distinguishes between awakened and initiated models of vampirism. Most of my involvement with the vampire community has been with groups and individuals who follow the awakened model, where there is a strong tendency to reject initiatory models out of hand, so Laycock’s inclusion of these made me hesitate for a bit. However in a later chapter he returns to the initiatory model at length, which led me to understand that segment of the vampire community much better.

In the second chapter Laycock asks why and how people come to identify as vampires. He examines better and less known popular theories such as the porphyria myth, “renfield syndrome”, “clinical vampirism”, but also the idea of pathological narcissism or that it’s an escapist fantasy taken too far (or roleplaying taken too far). He quickly shows that the clinical and psychiatric models don’t actually match the experience described by vampires, and also rejects the escapist fantasy theory. Instead he proposes to distinguish between the vampire milieu which is formed of the collective cultural concept of vampires on one hand, and on the other hand the vampire community which is formed of those people identifying as vampires. The vampire milieu then functions as a toolkit (one of many) with which people in our hyper-individualistic society create a more or less coherent and meaningful identity and narrative of the self. With this theoretical framework in place he can avoid the ontological question [2]. Instead he can look at how the vampire milieu evolved to the point where it could become an identity toolkit, and how in the last decade or so the vampire community has become strong enough to feed into and become an actor in the development of the vampire milieu.

With this in mind it becomes evident that the next chapter needs to examine the vampire milieu. In other words this is where Laycock describes the toolkit out of which vampire identities are constructed. This is the second longest chapter and to me one of the most interesting, but i must say that i know relatively little about vampires in literature and film and so on (at least for a member of the vampire community [3]). Somebody who’s more deeply fascinated by how vampires have been represented over time will probably not learn that much, but it should still be a good and thorough recapitulation. A long section is dedicated to vampires in literature, film and tv, from the very earliest offerings in the 19th century right up to the near-present. He pays particular attention to the moments when the image of the vampire changes, becoming aristocratic with Bram Stoker’s (and then Bela Lugosi’s) “Dracula”, and in particular the first tragic vampires in the sixties. Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend” is significant as the first work interpreting vampirism as the effect of a virus [4]. Further sections are dedicated to vampires in occult writing and in metaphysics/holistic health, and again Laycock traces the development over a century and more. For those of us who follow an awakened model of vampirism the inclusion of these occult subjects might be a bit off-putting, but they have also shaped the vampire milieu significantly, and have helped me understand certain parts of the vampire culture better. The last section in this chapter considers the part of role-playing in shaping the vampire milieu, while being itself influenced by the vampire community. Here as well as in other places he makes the important point that the vampire community is now an important factor in shaping the vampire milieu.

The fourth and fifth chapter are dedicated to the two main directions in the modern vampire community: the later titled “The Vampire Community” considers awakened vampires, who form a large part of the publicly visible community today; the former examines the initiatory vampire groups. This last one is particularly interesting. I have a tendency, which i seem to share with a large segment of the awakened vampire community, to dismiss the religious crowd as delusional and to ridicule them. If you want an example of that you might consult the transcripts of the VVC global community chat on vampirism and religion [5]. Considering that awakened and initiatory groups give significantly different meanings to being a vampire it is not really surprising that they are a bit antagonistic; this chapter at least gives an understanding of the internally quite coherent place where initiatory groups come from. I would recommend this chapter in particular for anybody coming from an awakened model who has business with initiatory groups.

Though the fifth chapter isn’t dedicated exclusively to awakened groups, they do make up the majority of the visible community, both because they are more numerous and because initiatory groups are often quite secretive (even more so than other vampires). Laycock calls this a “speculative history”, as much is only vaguely documented and/or relies on oral histories. Very interesting is the concept of womb communities: communities which aren’t directly related to vampirism, but in which early self-identified vampires were more or less at home and could learn to express themselves and form their identities. These created protected environments in which the first vampire communities could form. The current community is described fairly well, though i didn’t find much new for somebody already involved in the community. For an outsider this would certainly also be very informative.

Laycock is a scholar of religion, and thus the sixth chapter is a discussion of vampires and religion. He points out that when talking to his peers most of what he does is show how vampirism is not a religion, which is what he does here too. I do find the sociology of religion to be fairly interesting, but for me the concept of “real vampires” has never been crossed with religion anyway. So for me reading this chapter was more of a “people really say that?” experience, and sometimes it felt like Laycock was building up the arguments just to have something to demolish. I’m not saying that he did that on purpose, but it was the least interesting chapter for me.

Unfortunately the next chapter was only slightly more interesting. It is unfortunate that vampires mostly appear in the media when they are the subject of scandal, but i’m frankly just not that interested in rehashing old scandals and celebrity news. He does make the point, with which i wholeheartedly agree, that the vampire community is at a point where it is being made public whether we want to or not. As a community we have written too much and our forums are too public and open for it to be possible to crawl back into the coffin. The vampire community is out – it is now up to us to decide how to present ourselves.

Concluding, Laycock speculates about what the emergence of vampire as an identity signifies for the rest of society. As i’ve also previously done in this blog he makes a comparison with the trans community, which just like the vampire community claims a socially disputed ontological identity. He makes another comparison to the autistic community, which like the vampire community has done a lot to define itself from the inside, instead of having a definition imposed on it from the outside. An interesting point Laycock makes is that as vampires (and therianthropes and otherkin [6]) emerge into the public view, this gives others the identity of “non-vampire” (or “non-kin” or “non-therian”). Unfortunately i think that this is a rather idealistic view; the privileged identity-group tends to ignore the non-privileged groups, and assume that by default everybody is like them (white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, healthy, wealthy… you get the idea). In contrast, members of non-privileged groups are almost constantly made aware that they are different, and cannot forget it. A ciswoman [7] does not have to worry about her identity as a woman (though she can’t forget that she is a woman, while a man can readily equate “man” with “human”), but she will hardly ever think about being a ciswoman. It is easy for her to assume that her experience as woman applies to all women. On the other hand a transwoman can hardly ever forget that she is trans, and not cis. Similarly most people who become aware of vampires as an identity group will rarely consider how that puts their identity of human into question. We, the vampires and therians and otherkin, we can’t forget that we are different from the mundanes.

It is tricky to write about an identity as an outsider, there is a big danger of telling people what and who you think they are. This doesn’t only risk affronting your subjects, but in a foundational work (and i think this could be such a work concerning vampirism) you also risk prejudicing future researchers. In this regard i think Laycock did good work, he seems to have approached the subject with a very unprejudiced mind. Perhaps it was lucky that he had his first contact with vampires at the AVA (Atlanta Vampire Association), one of the most down to earth vampire groups currently active. If his first encounters with real vampires had played out in the courts of Gotham [8] or with one of the religious groups we might well have been left with a very different book.

By concentrating on the vampire as an identity group Laycock also deftly avoids the ontological question: are modern real vampires actually “real”, do they really have this need for psi-energy or blood which other humans don’t have? Are the symptoms described by vamps who haven’t fed enough based on an actual need, or are they perhaps “only” [9] psychosomatic? Unfortunately we can’t answer these questions. Assuming psi phenomena were real, we still have no tools to examine them with, nor even have a theoretical framework in which to place them. The experience of sanguinarians would be accessible to modern medicine, but the hope of anybody investing the kind of resources needed for that kind of research seems fanciful at best. With this in mind Laycock’s approach is excellent, but i remain convinced that the ontological question will raise it’s head again sooner or later [10].

As expected he hardly writes about donors, and when he does it is about what vampires do with donors. Vampires feed from donors, they have relationships with donors, and so on; the donor in there is entirely passive and denied any agency. Of course this is a donor blog, and i’m a donor, so i’m certainly a bit biased, but i remain convinced that by overlooking donors and our identities so thoroughly he and others are missing an important aspect of the community. The vampire identity would hardly be what it is today if there were no donors. Even with the central question of the book being how vampires have evolved from eastern european monsters to a valid identity group and how the vampire milieu functions today as an identity toolkit, disregarding donors so completely is problematic. While reading it occurred to me that this critique might be extended to the larger community. The diverse vampire communities are made up not just of vampires, nor just vampires and donors. Most of the vampire groups i’ve seen contain large numbers of non-vampires, and in writing about vampire communities it might well be illuminating to consider who besides vampires forms the communities.

But even with this lack i can only repeat that i consider this to be an excellent book, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any interested readers. It should be required reading for any outsiders involved with the vampire community or doing work on the community. Many vampires would also profit from reading it, at least for an understanding of the different currents and interpretations of “vampire” and for the roots of those differences in the community.

[1] Laycock, Joseph; Vampires Today: the Truth about Modern Vampirism, 2009, Praeger
[2] More on the ontological question later.
[3] I’ve been accused of having read too much vampire fiction. If that accusation had come from outside the vampire community, i might have agreed. But compared to most of the vampire community i find myself relatively uninterested in vampire fiction.
[4] You might have seen the recent movie adaptation, but i’d heartily recommend the book. I think a point could be made that Matheson’s vampires have more in common with modern zombies than vampires. It’s also interesting that the protagonist in “I am Legend” – the only human in the story – is much more monstrous than the vampires. But i’m getting sidetracked.
[5] I just noticed that the transcripts aren’t yet posted. They will be available on the site of the VVC.
[6] Laycock has said in interviews that he is doing work on therians and otherkin, and that he’d planned a chapter on us for this book which was removed for editorial reasons.
[7] “Cis” is a prefix gaining use in the trans community for men and women who were assigned the gender which they still identify with. Their gender identity is just as constructed as that of trans people, and the prefix cis allows us to talk of them without having to refer to them as “normal” (i’m speaking as a transwoman here).
[8] Otherwise known as New York.
[9] It is petty to say that something is “only” psychosomatic. The suffering experienced is just as real whether the need is “real” or in the sufferer’s head. I’ve witnessed both the suffering of thirsting vampires and the relief brought by feeding often enough to affirm that both are real.
[10] The ontological question will eventually rear its head and require some kind of answer anyway, but there’s nothing we can do about it for now.

the Donor Bill of Rights – a critical reading

the Donor Bill of Rights (hereafter DBOR) is possibly, together with the various versions of the black veil, one of the most widely circulated documents in the vampire community. it is one of the default texts which donors are pointed at, and is commonly referenced in outside media when donors or vampire ethics are discussed. in style it seeks to be a foundational work, laying down the basic rights of donors which are to protect them in their relationships with vampires. the project is laudable, but it seems to me that the actual importance ascribed to the DBOR and its wide circulation are in stark contrast to the quality of the work.

i have talked about the DBOR before, and not been too happy with it (though had trouble putting my finger on why exactly i didn’t like it). i’ve mentioned my discontent with it in a few public forums too, going so far as to suggest that it ought to be revised. this was even brought up briefly in the latest VVC public meeting (page 30 in the transcript), but the reactions were dismissive, asking if it even needed to be revised. so here’s my critical reading of the DBOR, and why it needs to be revised.

right from the beginning it is apparent that the language of the text is unnecessarily florid: “the most precious of gifts”, “life essence”, and “my personal sacrifice” are a few examples of this. this style, while lending the document apparent weight, obscures the actual content, and should be eliminated in favour of precise language.

the suggestion in the preamble that the DBOR be signed as a contract between vampire and donor is beguiling, even more so as it includes the possibility for re-negotiation. however, the DBOR does not have the form of a contract or agreement which could be signed, so it is unclear what the signatories would actually be agreeing to. additionally, foundational texts are usually not re-negotiated, they act as frameworks within which negotiations can take place.

the actual enumeration of rights is also problematic and lacking in clarity. though there are ten articles listed, a careful reading reveals that there are actually only seven rights listed. some articles list multiple rights, others don’t list any and on the contrary contain obligations, and some rights are listed repeatedly.

these are the actually enumerated rights, with the number of the articles they appear in:

  • 1. right to decline to donate; 5. right to decline to donate
  • 2. right to know that in a vampire/donor relationship
  • 3. right to time to heal; 4. right to heal
  • 5. right not to be or feel threatened; 10. right to feel safe
  • 6. right to seek guidance or counsel (but only if feeling threatened)
  • 7. right not to be blackmailed (right to discretion/privacy)
  • 10. right to terminate relationship

the articles ought to be re-written to be clear and precise in meaning, and to the extent feasible to use language which is applicable to both donors and vampires. it also ought to be discussed if and to what degree the enumerated rights are actually the ones which we want to have in a new DBOR.

article 9. deserves a special mention, because it extends the rights to the vampire. i find this to be a good sentiment, but for it to easily make sense almost all the rights would need to be re-worked. it also doesn’t work easily with the title of the text, which ought to be extended to “Donor and Vampire Bill of Rights”. but i agree that the text ought to be expanded to include vampire rights as well, as within a vampire/donor relationship a lot of these apply to both parties.

the closing words are again interesting, and possibly reveal the intention behind the creation of the DBOR. vampire/donor relationships are not as such more prone to abuse than other relationships, but the secrecy which is necessarily implicit in the relationship makes it potentially more difficult to deal with abuse when it happens.

in sum, the Donor Bill of Rights as it stands is too busy, tries to do too much, and is critically unclear in content. i think those are sufficient reasons for it to be revised or replaced. obviously just criticising the DBOR is easy, creating something new is a rather larger order. but these are my reasons why i think it might be worth the effort to revise the DBOR.

i always appreciate comments on my posts here. this post has been on my mind for quite some time, and might regard others as well; i would particularly welcome comments on this post.