Posts Tagged ‘ Benecke ’

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.

Vampires at the WGT

I was away for a bit, attending the Wave-Gotik-Treffen (WGT) in germany. It is a huge festival, with 200 bands, a wide array of other cultural events (readings, movies, cemetery tours, picnics, opera, etc.), lasting well over 4 days (opening on thursday, and the last events going well into tuesday morning), with 20’000 attendants and 40 venues spread all over the town of leipzig. The target audience is the “black folk” (black referring to the predominant colour of dress), that melting-pot of goth, metal, punk, cyber- and steam-punk, victorian, ren-fair, pagan, bdsm, and other culture.

Half a year ago i would hardly have known that this existed, even though it’s the biggest event of its kind on the planet. But the german vampire forum (the CT) which i started participating in earlier this year uses the WGT as an excuse for a large get-together every year. The sewing forum which i joined more or less at the same time has also been continually abuzz with talk about the WGT, not surprisingly, as it is a wonderful occasion to show off all your most extravagant creations.

So i was getting ever more excited, and about 10 days before the event everything came together, i could buy spare tickets from a friend, got offered a ride for most of the distance, borrowed a tent from another friend. I had no idea what i was getting myself into, the WGT is way huger than i could ever have thought.

The whole event was (at least for me) under the sign of the vampire. Those of us from the CT who were camping decided to make a common camp, and though of the six of us there were only two vamps it was still quite interesting. Two others were lycs, another self-identified dragon and potential donor, and me. I’ve been negotiating with one of the vamps about a possible vampire/donor relationship.

Then there was also a whole day LARPing V:tM. I was just browsing through the program book (almost 200 pages, full glossy print, bound in white leather, and ad-free) and saw that mentioned, so several of us went to have fun there. Hey, just for once i could be the vamp! Though i didn’t experience much of the plot it was still fun. Then meeting up with more of the vamps to watch “Kevin – the integration of a myth”, a zero-budget movie in which fiction-style vamps are forced to live “normal” lives, integrated into mundane society. Truly hilarious.

Sunday was our big meet, the by now almost traditional brunch of the vampires. I was a little frustrated because i couldn’t find the dress i’d wanted to wear for that (turns out i’d left it in the photo-studio a few days earlier), but what the heck, i’d brought along about 10 different outfits. Forum meets are always fun, even as a newbie it’s fun to meet all the people you’ve been chatting with, and for the old-timers these are people whom they’ve known for years. The mood was happily exuberant and bubbly, but also with intense conversations and discussions going on. We’d had the chance to invite Dr Mark Benecke and partner to our brunch, amongst other things one of germanys foremost experts on real vampires, which gave an extra zest to the meet. I’ll write more about that encounter in another post.

In the evening hanging around in the pagan village with all the vamps (and Benecke and partner) having more discussions, and these much more specific than during brunch, more intense, in a smaller circle. I’ve mentioned my thing where certain vamps trigger a desire in me for them to feed from me. Here, it was so many vamps that i couldn’t say anymore which of them was triggering it, and it all came together in a prickly confusing overwhelming desire to be fed from. Silly perhaps, and certainly impractical, but then, the whole vampire/donor thing is like that.

Then finally on monday we found out that “father todd” would be making fangs that afternoon. Through what i knew of him i had already formed a rather low opinion of him. All his media-appearances and the way he’d turned “being a vampire” into a money-making lifestyle mean that it’s become quite irrelevant to normal vampires whether he actually is a vamp or not. Still, at least this was a chance to see for myself what the deal was with him, and his fangs are reputed to be quite good. So those of us who wanted fangs, and those who were just curious, went to see what the deal was.

I intend to write a separate post about the fangs, but as to Todd, he’s an impolite oaf with delusions of grandeur. His definition of a vampire doesn’t intersect anywhere with my definition, or indeed with those used anywhere in the vampire community which i participate in. It was still worth meeting him, because at least now i can judge by myself, but Todd is no asset to the vampire community. And it was fun to see my vampire friends getting fangs for themselves.

So that’s it for an update, and a promise of more posts to come. I hope to be a little more regular with my updates, but hey, you do what you can.