Yes, I’ve Written an Essay About “The Vampire Diaries”

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It may seem odd that I was moved to write this personal account by an episode of The Vampire Diaries, the campy high school supernatural melodrama on the CW. But if you’ve read this blog for more than a couple of days, I can’t imagine you’re surprised. I’m way behind on all my TV shows (or “stories” as I like to call them), but I did manage to squeeze in last week’s VD today. The episode, “Miss Mystic Falls,” centers on yet another Mystic Falls high society function, reluctantly attended by the world’s most beautiful teenagers.

Every single one of these functions ends with a significant body count, so you’d think they’d just stop having them, or that they would at least run out of debutantes to attend them. As the title suggests, this week’s episode centers on the Miss Mystic Falls competition, but the real story is about Stefan (Paul Wesley). If you’re not watching the show, then you’re probably the sort of person who uses his time wisely and takes advantage of this precious gift we call life. Me, I prefer to spend an hour a week watching cute vampire boys take their shirts off.

The cutest of the shirtless vamps is Stefan, the brooding, tortured “I’m in love with a human and don’t want to drink human blood” kind of vamp. To save his life, he recently had to drink a little human blood, and now he’s on a drinking bender that would make David Hasselhoff blush. Only, Stefan’s robbing blood banks and terrorizing teen girls on his binges.

All of this makes for the guiltiest of teen angst pleasures, but this week’s episode also struck a chord of a different sort, and I found myself holding my breath at times and surprisingly moved by it all. What?! Am I really talking about The Vampire Diaries here? The show that dared to do Robert Pattinson-inspired pompadours in its Civil War flashbacks? Yes. Because, like a lot of gay people, I know what it’s like to deny who you are, try to run and hide from it, and resist any kind of temptation whatsoever. I also know what it’s like to give in to that temptation and the kind of guilt and internalized shame that follows.

In a surprisingly powerful scene, Stefan steals away from the party-of-the-week with a pretty blonde he’s hypnotized and plans to eat. In the woods, he paces and growls and argues with himself over what to do: resist the temptation or give in. I knew I was gay pretty early on. One of my earliest memories, actually, is observing other boys and innately recognizing I was somehow different. But for a short period of time in college, I decided that if I couldn’t change my ways, I could at least resist the urges. I was convinced that being gay was the source of all my problems: my depression, my mood swings, my slipping grades. So I stopped hooking up with guys and began my life of celibacy and meditation.

The vampire/sexuality metaphor is certainly not new. As long as there have been vampire stories, there’s been that underlying theme of sexual hunger and wild abandon. The Lestat kind of vampire intrigues us as the sexually alluring symbol of hedonism and sensuality. The Angel and Edward types of the genre woo us with their determination to resist their darker side for the sake of love. Stefan falls into this latter category, and when we met him, he had been off the sauce for decades.

The vampire/homosexuality metaphor always breaks down at some point, because while we identify with the passionate character that tries so hard to deny his true nature, it’s hard to celebrate the results of a vampire being true to himself. Self-acceptance comes with a body count. But as Stefan paces and argues and leers at his helpless victim, it’s easy to identify. That kind of repression is what always leads senators to bathroom stalls or rock stars to public parks. If you repress something, it will most likely come out in some self-destructive or impractical manner. Stefan, of course, is fighting his urges for the safety of others, but to me, it’s a fight to accept who he really is: a big, gay vampire. Wait. No! He pouts a lot for a straight boy, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. Giving in to temptation is intoxicating. The rush of freedom, the release of endorphins, the overwhelming sense of power and pleasure. Temptations are, by nature, tempting.

My own “Stefan” era came to an end after only a few months of suffering and bad poetry. And making others suffer with my bad poetry. And, thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to realize that my mood swings, depression and slipping grades were entirely due to the struggles of living a lie, not my attraction to men. Temptations arose during that period of time, naturally, and I spent many a night arguing with myself over whether or not to give in and what I was really trying to accomplish in denying my own true nature.

In the previews for this week’s episode, it appears that Stefan would rather die than go back to his blood-sucking ways. For vampires to come out and be true to themselves, they still have to drink blood. How they get it is another story. But hopefully, when gays come out, people don’t mysteriously start to die all around them.

I can appreciate the struggle, though. And as long as vampires are the center of attention in pop culture, the parallels with sexuality and sexual liberation will continue. And as long as dreamy, brooding vampires take their shirts off and try to come to terms with their true natures, I’ll be there. Because I’ve been there.

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