Blood, Fantasy, Balls, and Other Traditions in Vampire Culture
The general fascination with vampires is nothing new, but in the 1990s vampires enjoyed a revival, spurred in part by the success of Dracula Bram Stroker (1992) and Interview with a vampire (1994). By the time Jennifer Wolf studied the vampire subculture in New York City, it was possible to find vampires in cities across the country. Cosplay, sex, blood drinking, and sometimes even darker acts were all part of CosmoInvestigate the strange and fascinating world of vampires in real life. From the January 1999 issue. –Alex Belth, Hearst Archives
Michelle leans into a chair, her black velvet buttocks a seductive target, while Father Sebastian gives instructions on the beautiful art of spanking. He pulled the cat’s tail across her back, slowly at first, then building momentum. As the blows fall further, Michelle raises her wrinkled brown mantle and shrieks with glee. That’s when you see that below her blood-red lips are a pair of sharp white fangs, and that her eyes have no iris – only black pupils floating in a sea of white.
Father Sebastian, 24, founder of the Sabretooth vampire clan, deals a few more blows, then hands the whip to Michelle’s fiancé, Ron. Nearby is a couple in a dry black hump in a coffin.
At Mother’s Weekly Vampire Ball, a nightclub in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, this strange mix of sex and sadism is standard fare. In clubs in San Francisco and Houston, at parties in New Orleans and Philadelphia, vampires – in the literal sense of the word – crawl out underground. Some, like Michelle and Ron, embrace it in part as a way to spice up their sex lives — S&M and fetishism are a big part of the culture. Others seek a society in which their dark sides are accepted and celebrated. But some participate because vampire is a true identity to them; They wear their fearsome fangs and contact lenses 24-7 and live what many of them call a vampire lifestyle. While most people in the vampire scene are just playing, some are seriously dead. They drink human blood, sometimes killing a few of them.
Most teens between the ages of 20 and 30 at tonight’s party, the “Lady Ophelia’s Vampyre’s Ball,” wear custom-made fangs and exotic-colored contact lenses. Women wear velvet or nude except for a few black plastic or leather belts on their chests and bottoms. Fishing nets are the norm, as are lace-up boots, dog collars, decorative tattoos, and red or black lipstick. Lots of guys look like Lestat Interview with a vampireHe wore white ruffled shirts under long velvet coats. The scene is horrific, and I must admit it’s oddly exciting.
“I’m drawn to vampires because so much of it is about expressing yourself sexually,” says Michelle, 32, an accountant and mother of two. She had her first child when she was 17, and motherhood, housekeeping, and work have been all she’s known since then. About 18 months ago, I started reading about vampires and discovered a world with few rules beyond respect and acceptance of others’ sexual and spiritual inclinations. “People are very judgmental,” she explains. “Here, you can just be yourself.”
Elsewhere in the club, darkly lit, furnished with gothic velvet chairs and sofas, and pulsing with the melancholy and erotic tunes of Inkubus Sukkubus, the vampire rock band from Gloucestershire, England, people behave as they would in any other country. Clubs: drink beer, have a conversation and dance closely. Many of them have club names that can go along with their club personalities, nicknames like Discord, Tran and Lilit. “This club is like my home,” says Discord, 25, a New Jersey-based website designer who previously snooped in the coffin. “I’ve always been weird, and when I was younger, I was pretty lonely. I only found this scene recently, and I’m more comfortable in it.”
Kathryn Ramsland, psychologist and author of Dark Breakthrough: Undercover with Vampires in Today’s America. But for Sharon, a 30-year-old magazine editor with white skin and dyed black hair, the vampire is as much about romance as it is about eroticism. She describes her living room in her Brooklyn apartment as a “vampire salon,” complete with black lace curtains, Gothic figurines, and black-and-burgundy velvet-covered furniture.
“What I love about playing a vampire is the idea that someone wants to be with you forever,” she says. “It is about strong, beautiful women. The vampire has a very powerful presence.” Sharon remembers her first vampire kiss: “It’s really exciting to kiss a guy with fangs, like feeling threatened,” she recalls with a certain longing. “It’s so exciting when he bites your neck, it’s like he’s going to eat you alive.”
I understand why Sharon finds a vampire so sexy. To attend the party, I put myself in the hands of tattooed and pierced salespeople at a clothing store in New York City’s East Village. The resulting outfit: a robe, a breathtaking corset, and a sheer black skirt over a black vinyl and fishnet thong. When I was wearing this little number on the street, the guys stopped in their nails, mouth wide open. Try to touch me. This is the effect of a 22 inch textured waist and flowing breasts.
But not everyone is at the scene for the sexual charge alone. Viola Johnson, 47, author Dhambir: Blood Child, is another type of vampire – the blood drinker. Her need for a red, warm liquid is intense. She says that if she is not fed regularly, she suffers from night sweats and nightmares. “It’s a physiological need,” she claims. “Since I was 16, I have had a biological need to drink blood.”
Like many blood drinkers — Viola estimates there are 100,000 nationwide — she has a feeding circle, a group of vampires who drink blood from tiny cuts in each other’s skin. Some vampires have feeding parties, but since Viola has lived in many cities over the years and travels a lot, her group is more scattered. Depending on where and when she is, she breastfeeds once every three months or so.
The diabetic lancet is Viola’s favorite cutting tool. Designed to pierce the skin so a diabetic can monitor their blood sugar, it has a 1/16-inch blade, making it effective in both punctures and crevices. “There’s no need to hit a vein or artery,” she explains. “Capillaries close to the skin can give you more blood than you can imagine, especially if you suck on it.”
But diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis are very prevalent, and participants in nutrition are medically examined. Viola would not consider drinking from someone who has recently had the flu or is taking antidepressants. “I don’t want the drugs in my system or the cause of the drugs,” she says. In fact, Viola had only two donors outside of the regular feeding circle that had given her food for 25 years. “It’s incredibly intimate work,” she says. “Everyone I drink from becomes a part of me.”
The morning after the vampire ball match, I was sitting on a red velvet bed sheet inside Vlad and Sky’s East Village apartment. A black lace canopy floats above me, and the room is filled with a vampire ensemble: Dracula movie posters, candlesticks, crucifixes, skulls, and a vase full of dead roses.
“I can smell your blood,” said Skye in a whispered voice. “It smells good.” Skye, 24, whose beautiful Eurasian features brighten her cheeks, says she started getting bloodthirsty as a teenager but didn’t know how to look for a donor. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy,” she says.
Then I met Vlad (whose age has not been revealed but appears to be in his 40s) five years ago on Halloween night. “I told him I needed someone to drink from, and that I’d been wanting to drink for a really long time.” When Skye’s blood was confirmed to be free of HIV and other diseases, the two began drinking from each other (Vlad was already tested).
“We had a complete exchange,” she says. “He cut me in the forearm. He drank from me and then I dived in and drank from his chest. It was so refreshing, like absinthe, like coming home.”
Vlad and Sky didn’t drink for me, but they showed me a video of them doing it. On the tape, Vlad cut Sky with a single-edged blade on the back of her shoulder – which heals faster than the arm, where there are many scars – and licked the blood with his tongues. “I was born into this,” Vlad told me. “When I was a child I would drink blood from little girls when they fell to the ground.”
Like Vlad and Skye, most of the vampires I spoke to took great pains to explain that vampires have more to do with living a more realistic life than killing and dying. However, Ramsland’s book is inspired by the disappearance of Susan Walsh, a 36-year-old single mother, exotic dancer, and budding journalist from Notley, New Jersey, who disappeared while trying to make her fame by writing about vampire culture. Given Walsh’s involvement with suspicious men and sexual antics, her disappearance can be attributed to a number of factors, although the media has teased this by associating it with vampire activities.
Whether Walsh gets wronged or falls for vampires, vampires have been blamed for a number of criminal incidents in the past. Last November, 21-year-old Joshua Rudiger, who claimed to be a blood-drinking vampire, was arrested for slashing the throats of four people in San Francisco, killing one. In 1997, vampire John Bush, 27, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for molesting eight teens he had invited into his vampire family.
Vampire: The Masquerade, a role-playing game, was partially blamed for the Virginia Beach incident. It was also used as evidence in the Springfield, Missouri, murder trial of the 35-year-old, a teacher accused of butchering his wife and two children. Two slits in her neck have been interpreted as vampire marks, as have the letters M-for vampire lord– that was painted on the wall near the corpses.
Rod Ferrell, a teen from Murray, Kentucky, also led a vampire role-playing game. He and three others were charged with the brutal murders of Eustis, Florida, the couple, Richard and Ruth Wendorf, the parents of his girlfriend Heather, 15. graveyard.
Ferrell is now sitting on death row.
Among the first places I went to research vampire culture was Father Sebastian’s Canine Lab in the back of Andromeda, the body piercing shop on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. He worked in dentistry once, cutting several sets of teeth a day — 10 or more a day around Halloween. When I arrived, he was taping a bunch of uppers and lowers for John, 24, a Staten Island shoe store manager who has holes in his ears, nose, and eyebrows. He says he has more on his nipples and through his penis. “I get canines because I can’t grow my own canines,” he says. “They made me feel very sexual.”
“Sexual paganism and S&M are an important part of vampires,” explains Father Sebastian. His long brown hair with blond streaks in the front is tied up in a ponytail, and he is wearing a fake blood stained lab coat. There is a lot of polygamy. Jealousy is the biggest sin in the vampire clan, as well as endangering another person.”
So, as Father Sebastian whipped Michelle behind her at a vampire ball a few days later, she understood when he told her fiancé, Ron, “If there’s anything offending you, tell me to stop.”
This is a community, however perverted to the common eye, respecting each other with whips, with razors, with blood, with each other. Dressed as a vampire ball, on the street I feel like a spectacle. But as I approach the club and see others dress up like me, my self-consciousness dissipates. I don’t feel like a vampire, but I feel excited. Strange, actually. The ranger, adorned with red contact lenses, fangs and a tighter leather jock strap over the leather pants, looks dazzled. Mostly, I think, because he cards me and sees that I don’t look my age. He licks his lips, looks at me approvingly and says, “You be A vampire, isn’t it, dear? “