‘Let Me Taste You’: Lesbian Vampirism

Sarah Wagoner
5 min readMay 10, 2023

Lesbian vampirism was a common trope used to get around homophobic censors. It did not start with the Hays Code, as vampire fiction itself is a Gothic literary tradition. Lesbian vampirism is one of the few horror subgenres wherein we have a rather clear–cut starting point, namely with Sheridan le Fanu’s “Carmilla” The inspiration for Dracula’s Daughter, “Carmilla” follows a female vampire as she seduces her female prey. A key difference in “Carmilla” was a romantic framing of the vampire-prey relationship. The novella is narrated by the prey, Laura. Laura herself fauns over Carmilla, with Carmilla providing romantic dialogue in response to her adoration.

The most telling exchange is in Chapter IV, where Laura finds herself falling under Carmilla’s romantic charm:

“blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.’” (le Fanu)

The possessive speaking is reflective of that of male vampires and their prey, seeing them as their lifeblood, and thus their property. It still relies upon a possessive, abusive relationship which lends to the underlying homophobic message of “Carmilla”. Despite the erotic allure of the novella, the lesbian romance is not allowed to exist. Throughout, Laura’s seduction is framed as grooming, as the corruption of a virgin, with a group of men, including the male descendent of a vampire killer, “saving” Laura by slaying Carmilla. The queer villain is destroyed by the heteronormative knights. Laura has a solemn perspective on her death, even recounting Carmilla’s death as “the sinister absence of Carmilla” (le Fanu Chp. XV). So, even if queer romance is shown, they cannot survive. The heteronormative order must be restored at least by the death of one of the queer people, often being the assumed instigator of queerness. This usage of the ‘bury your gays’ trope will appear in later lesbian pulp novels, with the same premise of the predatory lesbian who corrupts the virginal teenager. However, with vampire lesbians, the predatory lesbian is not portrayed as butch, and thus unattractive, but as a “white, feminine heterosexual woman” (Weiss 91). Lesbian film historian Andrea Weiss argues that the framing of the lesbian vampire within the male gaze becomes “doubly disturbing, as she appears ‘normal’ by society’s standards for women and yet is not” (91).

Looking deeper into Weiss’ analysis, we can see how the lesbian vampire trope has resonances that go beyond lesbian sexuality. This is not to say that the women loving (or biting) other women aspect of lesbian vampire fiction should be discarded, rather it is to say that we should think of the framing of the lesbian vampire, in her many forms, as it relates to bisexuality, transgender narratives, and non-binary narratives. Weiss expands upon the vampiress’ normal appearance, by referring to it as “her ability to ‘pass’ as heterosexual; she is not visually identifiable as either lesbian or vampire” (91). The idea of passing as heterosexual, while possible for lesbians, is commonly pushed against bisexuals, especially bisexual women. Women are consistently assumed as heterosexual as women are framed as the binary opposite, and such a complementary gender, to manhood, meaning women are immediately compared to manhood. Lesbianism disproves the binary understanding of sexuality, but even within the lesbian and gay community, bi women are believed to be more attracted to men, which contributes to the myth that bisexuals pretend to be queer. So when the lesbian vampire is never fully seen as queer, and as heterosexual, she reflects the experience of bisexual women. We are she who hides in the dark, performing femininity when needed but aching for queer companionship and love.

Lesbian transgender themes can also be found within her, as the teeth of the vampire commonly act as metaphorical for penetrative genitals. The vampire in all its forms is seductive in order to gain access to the bodily fluids of their victims, which can be compared to sexual interest in exchanging sexual fluids. The access to those fluids is gained through their fangs, which are sharp and penetrate the skin once the victim is under the vampire’s allure. So how is that penetration queered with a vampiress?

Weiss argues that the penetrative female reflects the fear of the vagina dentata, the woman whose body may fight back (91), but I would argue we can see the penetration as questioning a binary understanding of genitals. Most understanding of lesbian sex has relied upon cisgendered understandings of womanhood, which is complicated with the existence of transgender lesbians. Transgender women themselves are misunderstood as all going through genital transition. Medical transition has many barriers, including medical history, harassment, local laws, race, and class, not to mention personal reasons. Gender is not determined by a set of genitals. So, with transgender women who do not transition, we have transgendered lesbians with penises who may have lesbian, penetrative sex. Due to anti-trans rhetoric, transgender women are similarly framed as actually straight, like bisexual women are. But it is reversed, as their gender is mistaken as their assigned gender at birth and their sexuality is thus considered heterosexual. Like the lesbian vampire, they are on an invisible double-axis, largely made from how they are framed as predatory, both by the larger heterosexual culture and by the growing movement of trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which bleeds into lesbian politics.

So the lesbian vampire and her reliance on passing and invisibility, reflects the same trials that come with passing but also invisibility within multiple queer identities. Even for queer people who do not pass, such as non-passing trans people, she can be seen as her line between the masculine and feminine forces audience to question the very difference between genders, including genitals, sexual orientation, and gender presentation. Even in the overtly sexual lesbian films of the 70s, the penetrative teeth come in tandem with traditional lesbian sex, forcing the audience to consider the possibilities of lesbian and trans sexuality outside of heteronormative standards.

Works Cited

Dracula’s Daughter. Directed by Lambert Hillyer, performances by Gloria Holden, Marguerite

Churchill, and Otto Kruger. Universal Pictures, 1936.

Le Fanu, Sheridan. “Carmilla.” In a Glass Darkly, Ireland, Richard Bentley & Son, 1872.

Weiss, Andrea. Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film, Penguin Books, 1993.



Sarah Wagoner

Literature Major, GWST Minor, Graduate Student, She/Her, focus on politics in media, Professional email: sarahwagoner6@gmail