Loving the Vampire, Then and Now
The “vampire scene” has evolved, losing qualities that once permeated it.
Posted Oct 31, 2018
This week, the New York Times published an article about Todd Hoyt, a.k.a., Father Sebastiaan, who showed a reporter the city’s vampire scene and talked about old times in the vampire arena. The reporter had read my book, Piercing the Darkness, about my adventures inside this subculture during the 1990s, when Todd had viewed himself as the ultimate entrepreneur. He’d been a fang-maker and party planner. Reading about him now reminded me that it’s been exactly 20 years since I published my book about being at those vampire gatherings. (It even launched at a vampire club in NYC.)
At the time, I’d been on the track of a missing Village Voice freelancer, Susan Walsh, who’d been on a similar venture in 1996. She’d known the East Village vampire community pretty well. But she'd also done other things that had put her at risk. It wasn’t clear that the “vampyres,” as they called themselves, had anything to do with her disappearance. The deeper I penetrated, the less likely it seemed, especially after I learned that her boyfriend was a member of this community.
Which is not to say that there was no danger. The vampire image attracts all kinds. During the course of my exploration, I met people who claimed they’d violated, assaulted, harmed, and even killed people. But they were rare (and possibly lying). For the most part, I discovered participants who enjoyed the nightlife in some form of lace, leather, velvet or rubber vampire attire.
To explore, I purchased leather boots and black velvet clothing, got fangs made (by Sebastiaan), popped in some black contact lenses and found out where the vampires partied. Then I got dressed and went looking. I knew I might face some dicey situations, such as whether to take illegal drugs, give or drink blood, and go to dangerous places after dark.
Last year, I discussed the method of immersion in this blog. Here, I’ll talk about how the subculture seems to have evolved.
The Times reporter went with Todd, now 43, to a place called The Limelight, but his description suggests that the scene today is but a shadow of the once-thriving underworld of the late 1990s. The vampire community he met at a dinner party was based in social media rather than live-action role-playing, blood ceremonies or secret associations. He seemed disappointed.
He thought the 90s community was linked to Anne Rice’s fictional vampire universe, but I’d discovered that plenty of participants were not her readers. They preferred edgier tales or the world of leather and BDSM. Their imagination was rich and their garb colorful.
Those whom I met wanted to remake the vampire according to their own preferences. I encountered energy vampires, emotional vampires, genetic vampires, reincarnated vampires, or those who’d been “turned” by a virus. Vampires could eat food (including garlic), work on Wall Street, walk in daylight, steal souls, come from Mars, faint at the sight of blood, and put makeup on in a mirror. Many viewed the vampire as compassionate, even empathic. Others insisted on the sociopathic predator of nineteenth-century tales. Some formed "families," others shunned such bonds. Many identified a historical era that enhanced their image of a vampire and spent thousands to dress lavishly in that style. Each gathering was full of spectacle.
As we moved into the 21st century, things changed. In my opinion, the popularity of the Twilight books vamped the energy, although True Blood on HBO kept the dark, dangerous bloodsucker alive. The subculture disintegrated into various subgroups, losing numbers as people moved on or grew out of it. I watched Todd tried to regenerate such events as the Vampyre Valentine’s Day gathering or the Endless Night Halloween party, but they didn't draw the way they once had. (I went to one "ball" in the 2000s and found such a spare attendance that I left.)
I’m glad I had the experience. I never found out what happened to Walsh, but I did witness an extraordinary wave of creativity surrounding an image I’d loved since childhood. I’d met no one that resembled my idea of a vampire, but I'd come to appreciate the metaphor’s elasticity. It had served as an exploratory arena and source of identity for many people. I expect that one day, we’ll see another surge of interest. When we do, it will show us a cultural shift, as the vampire has always done.
Ramsland, K. (1998). Piercing the darkness: Undercover with vampires in America today. New York, NY: Harper Collins.