Notes & Queeries: The Allure of the Lesbian Vampire

Last year, when True Blood debuted, the show’s producers hinted that we would see a lesbian vampire, but all we got was the suggestively lesbian-ish character of Pam, a vampire who gazes a bit lasciviously at Sookie.

Lesbian vampire Pam (Kristen Bauer) in True Blood

Suggestive gazing has its place (in fact, most of Twilight is about this), but it does not make a lesbian vampire.

The lesbian vampire is not about mere leering; she is, in fact, one of the only ways that lesbian characters are allowed to boldly, forthrightly express their desire for other women.

Given the limitations that Hollywood imposes on female characters, this actually makes some (unfortunate) sense. These days, the entertainment industry’s definition of womanhood is generally limited to thin, conventionally attractive, feminine, youthful white women.

This narrow understanding of womanhood has very little room for queerness.

The lesbian vampire — because she is damned to begin with — is one of the few ways that lesbian characters can even exist in the mainstream. She’s so far out of the norm that norms somehow need not apply to her.

Ione Sky and Meg Tilly in the 1989 TV movie Carmilla

True Blood’s producers promise that this summer there really will be a lesbian vampire on the show, and it won’t just be about looks anymore. Actress Evan Rachel Wood (Once and Again, The Wrestler) will play Sophie-Anne Leclerq, also known as the Lesbian Vampire Queen of Louisiana, and she’ll embark on an affair of sorts with Sookie Stackhouse’s cousin, Hadley.

Even from the casting sides, which describe Sookie’s cousin as a “fresh-faced 20 something year old country girl” who “has been seduced into a whole other world,” we can discern the beginnings of a familiar tale.

The lesbian vampire, who is sophisticated, worldly, and entirely comfortable with her sexuality, seduces the naive young innocent, who is immediately, irresistibly drawn to her. This is the story line that animates most lesbian vampire films, including the one that many queer women might recall as one of their own favorites: The Hunger, in which Catherine Deneuve deftly pulls Susan Sarandon into a highly erotic and deadly embrace.

I must admit that though I’ve found the lesbian vampire to be a fascinating symbol, I’ve never personally felt any real draw to vampire stories.

Lesbian vampire exploitation films can be amusing and campy, but they also are not shy about their purpose: titillation for a male viewer. Nine times out of 10, there is an actual male character in the film who watches the lesbian vampire as she seduces and them victimizes a young girl.

And it is exceedingly rare for any lesbian vampire to survive — or even to live on in the body of her victim, as in The Hunger — at the end of the film.

Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger

She may be free to seduce women, but she almost always faces the ultimate punishment for it: death.