John Edgar Browning met his first “real vampire” in a Gothic apparel store. A doctoral candidate at Louisiana State University at the time, Browning had already been on the hunt for several months. He was talking to the store owner of Wicked Orleans, a Gothic-style clothing and leather shop in New Orleans’s French Quarter, when a middle-aged woman and two teenage boys walked through the door.
The store owner stopped mid-sentence. This woman, he motioned, was one of the people Browning was looking for.
Nervously, Browning approached her and started talking to her about his ethnographic study of “real vampires.” To be clear, these aren’t people who possess the supernatural powers that we associate with the likes of Count Dracula, but rather individuals who claim to have a medical condition that requires them to drink blood (human or animal) in order to sustain themselves.
Well, that's no fun. What's the point of being a vampire if you don't get to live forever (or until somebody stakes you or exposes you to sunlight) and have special powers?
Members of this community have chosen to identify themselves as “vampires” in defiance of the negative images that the label evokes. Did she know anyone who fit that description?So they're just hipsters with unusually odd dietary habits.
The woman smiled, and Browning had his answer — her open lips revealed teeth that had been filed to a point, like fangs.
Surveys conducted by the Atlanta Vampire Alliance have found that there are at least 5,000 people in the United States who identify as real vampires. Browning said there are about 50 living in New Orleans alone — a figure that he guessed is common for most major cities and corroborated by sociologist DJ Williams to the BBC.
That seems like a low number to me, given the number of people in the United States that consume vampire literature and media.
These communities have largely kept to themselves, knowing enough about public perception to not want to attract prying eyes. Browning, aware of the visceral disgust that his research is likely to provoke, seldom brings it up in everyday conversation. But his own initial belief that there was something wrong with these people faded after he started getting to know them.
“After a short period of time,” he said, “I realized that they weren’t crazy. At least, they weren’t any crazier than your Average Joe.”
According to Browning, symptoms of vampirism start to manifest around puberty, when those who later become reliant on ingesting blood find themselves physically “drained” for no discernible reason. They usually discover accidentally that blood offers a remedy: They might bite their lip, for instance, and realize that swallowing the metallic liquid between their teeth gives them an instant burst of energy.Now we're just talking bullshit artists.
Not every vampire must drink blood to survive (those who do are called “sanguinarians”). Some simply derive strength from taking the “psychic energy” of others. This can be accomplished through intimate human touch, like giving someone a massage.
The community has adopted terms to describe their unorthodox habits. To “feed” is to drink blood, while those who give their blood are called “donors.” Being “awakened” and “coming out of the coffin” are ways to talk about becoming aware of one’s vampiric identity. “Elder vampires,” then, are those who have been awakened for some time and can in turn advise others on how to cope.
The vampires whom Browning spoke with claim they can’t control their urges, which amount to a need for around two or three feedings a week. If ample blood is on offer, they might refrigerate it and later combine it with other ingredients, like tea.I suppose it's remotely possible that the "real vampires" lack the ability to produce some co-factor in blood that the rest of us produce and use for ourselves. Kind of like GDF11, the protein in young blood that can apparently reverse aging to some extent. But I doubt it's that simple. And it doesn't explain why people file their teeth.
Kinesia, a woman who identifies as a blood drinker, told the BBC that she isn’t a vampire by choice. “Many of us would rather not go through the cyclic symptoms and just be happy to live life like a normal person,” she said.
A real vampire in Britain, Alexia, echoed the sentiment: “If the cause could be identified, I would most certainly take a pharmaceutical pill.”
“This could very well be in our heads,” a vampire who calls herself “CJ!” admitted to the BBC. Yet, those vampires who have tried to stop drinking blood have met scary consequences.And I know vegans who get sick if they find out they accidentally ate a piece of meat.
When Kinesia went four months without feeding, she found herself in the emergency room with a low heart rate that would shoot up to 160 when she stood up or walked around. This would be followed by a massive migraine, and sometimes a loss of consciousness.
Browning said he knows of a woman who found herself unable to go to work or even walk after a period of not ingesting blood. When her husband came to see her in the hospital, she fed from him in her room and immediately felt better.
Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Sunday: Just What It Says On The Label" ready at The Other McCain to fulfill any Rule 5 needs I might have missed.