Posts Tagged ‘ other ’

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.

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.

christian vampires

those of you who run their own websites or who have wordpress blogs will of course know that one can see the search terms which people used in google and co to find one’s site. i’ve made it a habit to enter the search terms into google myself, to see what other sites come up, and of course how high up the list i appear (it’s vain, of course, but sometimes very satisfying for the ego).

today i got two gems, here’s the first.

Christian Vampire: we all know by now that vampirism is not a religion (except for those for whom it is), and the general discourse within the vampire community is that there are vampires of all religions and creeds, even vampires who identify as christian (the exception is given by those who believe that vampirism is a religion, to them of course everybody else can not be a vampire). Still, in my ramblings through the vampire community i have encountered folks (vampires, donors, otherkin and therians) who subscribe to a huge variety of faiths: vodooisants, satanists, setians, asatruar, wiccans, followers of sumerian and egyptian gods, and that’s just those i can name of the top of my head (not to mention those who follow vampire religions) (and vampires of who’s faith i’m uncertain, but who are militant fighters against malaria).

but christian vampires? i honestly haven’t come across many folks in the VC who actively identify as christians. the reasons for this are probably multiple: of course there’s the biblical injunction against blood-drinking (but then again, for those christians who take the substantiation during the eucharist to be a literal event that becomes a little more complicated (they are all cannibals and blood-drinkers!!!!!)), but most vampires also share an experience of being “other” from the mainstream, which amongst other things leads them to explore minority faiths (which often are more open to the “other”). there might also be the injunction against witchcraft which makes christian faiths unwelcoming to vampires.

nonetheless, i shouldn’t be surprised that there’s whole groups of christian vampires around, after all the population base from which the (anglophone) vampire community stems is largely christian.

anyway: the site itself seems to be quite dead, it hasn’t been updated since late 2008, and many items still show the notorious “coming soon” buttons (i.e. “coming never”). the content is a bit of a mixed bag (to be mild). some info about psi-vamps is fairly accurate, some texts i felt like i was reading texts copied verbatim from other sources, other texts were outright offensive (do not feed from homosexuals, as we have bad energy, yeah right – then i remember why i can’t stand most christians).

it seems to me that the author realised their otherness, but instead of embracing and exploring otherness and all the wild beauty which being “other” offers they are trying to reduce their otherness as much as possible, and are overcompensating by rejecting all other forms of otherness. that is, sadly, all to common.