Of all the supernatural creatures, there’s something wonderfully bisexual about vampires. It’s easy to blame Anne Rice for that with her genre-dominating bisexual libertines, but really she was drawing on a much older tradition, taking the subtext into text.
Originating in Eastern Europe and Asia, the original vampires are unrecognisable in the vampires of Western fiction. Flesh-eating, plague spreading, and frequently missing large chunks of their bodies, they seem more like demons or the equally inaccurate horror movie zombies than the vampires we’re used to. Fascinating, scary, but for the most part, wildly unsexy, and if it wasn’t for the intervention of a bunch of disaster bi folks road-tripping across Europe, the image of the vampire would likely have stayed that way.
Lord Byron, the atavistic bad boy bisexual, had to leave England in a hurry due to rumours of sodomy— still a hanging offense at the time. He and his friends/lovers Percy and Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and his personal physician, Dr. William Polidori, spent a wet summer together in the Italian Villa Diodati, inventing literary genres in between sexcapades. While Mary Shelley birthed sci-fi through Frankenstein, Polidori created the Romantic literary vampire by basing him on Byron himself. Filtering the genuine folklore they’d encountered through the literary conventions of Gothic horror, Polidori’s vampire Lord Ruthven is exactly the destructive bi stereotype we’re all so very tired of— though in Polidori’s defense he was trapped with the living embodiment of it at the time.
Though a sexual relationship between Ruthven and the unfortunate Aubrey is never made explicit in The Vampyre, it’s about as queer as Polidori could make it and still succeed at publication. Ruthven and Aubrey’s relationship is filled with the same miserable obsession and sexual tension that got The Picture of Dorian Grey included in Oscar Wilde’s sodomy trial, and the works that came after it were no less full of claustrophobically displaced desire. Carmilla and Laura drip with sexual tension in Sheridan La Fanu’s Camilla, while Stoker’s Dracula is a parable about the dangers of sexuality existing outside the bounds of middle-class marital respectability. In all of these, the shadow of Byron looms long; the vampire is a dangerous, corrupting figure, and the hedonistic lifestyle he, or she, offers is ultimately destructive.
The bi energy of vampires goes deeper than their tendency toward playing the Byronic hero however, even if it does share an origin point. The new literary vampire of the 1800s had evolved from ravening ghoul into a seductor, one whose primary goal was sustenance rather than sex, and yet still approached his victims, regardless of gender.
Though this came from Polidori’s desire to excoriate his employer through a deliciously thin metaphor it seeped down into the nature of the creature, existing at a more primal level than any personality traits or behaviours. Fundamentally, no matter who they are or how they behave, vampires are gender omnivorous beings for whom food is a form of foreplay, at the very least.
Victorian sexual repression (or rather, the performative respectability they were forced to play in public) leant itself perfectly to this blood drinking as a metaphor for sex, and the necessary ambiguity of it made space for queerness. If, after all, we are pretending not to recognise that this is what’s going on then it makes perfect sense for men to feed off men, and for this not to be questionable at all! The Emperor’s new clothes have frequently been a cover for queerness. At the same time, the cultural distaste and distrust of queerness fed the construct of the vampire as bisexual and this bisexuality as part and parcel of their villainy. We always project the things we fear onto the Other, real or mythical, and the bi vampire was a Victorian double whammy— after all, the only thing more threatening than a queer is a queer who might also fuck your wife.
It’s no coincidence that vampires began their rehabilitation as queerness was becoming more acceptable, nor that it made its way there through kinky fiction that straddled the line between erotica and horror. Though many in the community pursuing respectability would prefer to forget it, there’s a long history of LGBT+ people finding safety and acceptance among the kink community before we were given access to the white picket fence.
It's also no coincidence that as vampires have moved into the mainstream they've become straighter, detached from their subversive origins. The worst of them have to be the insipid Twilight lot (and just be thankful we got this far into an article on vampires before mentioning them) who only drink from animals and wait to have (and then only ever heterosexual) sex until marriage. Buffy’s “good” vampire Angel isn’t much better, and it’s a little troubling that he seems to become bi (though don’t get excited those young enough not to have watched it, it stays well in the realm of subtext) while missing his soul. Even then, there remains a clear erotic charge to feeding when it involves their preferred gender, raising questions about all the other times they’ve fed.
It’s hard to detach sex from an act that involves penetrating an erogenous zone after all, and even with some writers trying to desex feeding or portray the impulse as an entirely heterosexual one, there’s too long a history of vampires behaving otherwise to straightwash the beast.