Vampire fiction has been a growth industry since Anne Rice changed the terms with her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in 1978. Lesbian vampire fiction has a history that even predates Dracula. In the nineteenth century, fantasy female bloodsuckers were associated with the “femme fatale” that was featured in so much art and literature of the period.
Now that vampire fiction could take up a long shelf in the horror section of your local bookstore (or on-line bookseller), are lesbian vampires as scary as they used to be? Yes and no.
The title of this book is either disappointing or meant to be provocative. Feminists of the 1970s objected to the use of “girls” to define women of all ages, and sometimes reacted by avoiding the word completely (as in “Congratulations on the birth of your baby womon”). “Girl” as a designation for every female is parallel to the racist use of “boy” for every African-American male, and “garcon” (boy/servant) for every waiter in a French restaurant.
Girls Who Bite as a description of scary women who feed on the life-blood of others sounds trivializing. This is probably the point, meant to be ironic. The central characters in a collection of lesbian vampire erotica are supposed to make the reader squirm. They are supposed to seem threatening, even creepy, but also sexy as hell. The BDSM dynamics are too obvious to need an explanation.
The cover of this book is just right: deliberately theatrical, suggestive of twincest and dopplegangers, it shows two pale, almost identical blondes wearing red lipstick, eye shadow and fingernail polish. They face each other, closing in for a kiss or something fiercer.
One of the themes in these stories is the interchangebility of "good girls" and "bad girls," or the difficulty of knowing which is which. In "Bloody Wicked" by Vivi Anna, a witch goes into the woods to cast a spell, propelled by her sexual energy. Soon afterward, a male deputy sheriff appears at the witch's door with Alexa, the new sheriff in town. The sheriff's grilling of the witch about a dead man is a thin cover for mutual seduction.
The world of law enforcement is also the setting for "Dark Guard" by Karis Walsh. Lisa is a cop assigned to investigate a series of killings, supposedly committed by "Marginals," despised supernatural beings who live in ghettoes. She is paired with a member of the "Dark Guard," Aurica the vampire. Lisa is appalled, especially because Aurica is so attractive. Lisa wonders why her male Chief would do this to her, but she soon discovers that Marginals in general are not the enemy.
Lesbian vampires appear in several of these stories as avenging angels who punish abusive men. In "La Caida" by Anna Meadows, the narrator is growing up in a Latino family of Naguales, women who can survive on blood, supported by their ordinary male relatives. The narrator refuses to feast on the blood of rapists or wife-beaters until she discovers a naked woman who is actually a fallen angel who needs to be rescued. Although the alarming number of "disappeared" women in Mexican border towns (especially Juarez) is never mentioned in this story, the existence of real-life cultures in which men may feed on the "blood" of women with impunity suggests that Naguales could actually make their communities safer. In the story, the family of blood-drinkers is accepted by their neighbors.
In "Dark Angel" by Paisley Smith, a closeted lesbian in 1930s Germany who married a Nazi to "cure" herself of her "unnatural" desires is attracted to a strange woman in a nightclub. Just after her husband shoots her in a nearby alley, a seductive voice asks her if she wants to die or to live. Her answer changes her future.
In "Red Horizons" by Victoria Oldham, Eleni the charismatic vampire is a passenger on a cruise ship run by Captain Jayne, a mortal. When Jayne goes ashore to satisfy her sexual itch, the vampire protects Jayne from those who might really harm her.
“The Crystal Altar” by Adele Dubois is an almost-satirical story about a strange “makeover.” The narrator’s geeky, unpopular cousin has gone to Europe and returned transformed – and she brought a coven of glamorous European girlfriends with her. When cousin Angela asks to have her birthday party in a crystal cave at night, the narrator wonders what is really going on.
In "Pet Door" by Angela Caperton, the vampire appears at the door of a diva as a stray dog, and the vampire remains in character as a submissive pet even when she has resumed her human form. The woman musician who orders the vampire to use the pet door (not the one intended for humans) is clearly in control, much like a dope dealer who controls an addict because she has what the addict needs.
"Bound Love" by Christine d'Abo is a parallel story about Maili, a vampire who craves the discipline that only her mortal Mistress can provide. Here Maili suffers from a desperate need for her next fix:
Being out of control was something she couldn't afford, not with the bloodlust riding her so close, so hard. She was too old, too tired, and if she let herself slip into the oblivion of the lust, Maili knew it was a pit she wouldn't be able to emerge from. The fine line between feeding her hunger and becoming a ravenous monster was one she dared not cross.
Several of these stories focus on one-to-one lesbian relationships which never grow stale. In "Al Dente" by Delphine Dryden and "Madeline" by A.E. Grace, long-term vampire lovers enjoy hunting mortal men together. The immortal female predators enjoy men as playmates and as food, but there is nothing like the companionship of a sister-immortal.
"Impundulu" by Regina Jamison is about an unusual woman from South Africa who recognizes the narrator, a woman who has apparently been Impundulu's soul-mate through the ages. The narrator is appalled by an image of herself participating in a threesome with a woman who has willingly offered herself as a blood sacrifice. Impundulu, representative of the African past, shows the narrator who she really is and reminds her that they will be together as long as one of them "remembers."
Two of these stories are set in museums, shrines to the past. In "Beloved" by Shayla Kersten, the vampire is an Egyptian warrior goddess, Sekhmet, who eternally seeks union with her opposite and lover, the goddess Hathor. According to the writeup for an exhibit:
Hathor personified love, motherhood and joy and was usually depicted with the horns of a cow framing a sun disk. Some legends show the two as a single goddess or aspects of the same one; others have them as separate entities. However, all indicate their destinies were intertwined.
"Night at the Wax Museum" by the editor, Delilah Devlin, draws on existing vampire literature. Mina Harker, a character in Dracula, appears as a figure in a coffin that seems to be made of wax. She is part of a Halloween display in a museum, guarded by Krista, a military woman who is recovering from the trauma of war in Afghanistan. Krista discovers why several male guards have disappeared, and she learns that Mina still has a reason not to like men armed with wooden stakes.
In "The Gift of Lilith" by Myla Jackson and "She Knows I am Watching" by Rebecca Buck, the "vampires" don't seem to survive on human blood at all, but on energy, and their interest in mortal women is mutual. Their lure is palpable. Read this collection only if you want to be seduced.
In the Foreword to She Shifters, Kate Douglas says:
I write of the redeeming power of love and the need for us to love ourselves before we can freely love another. I write of men and women who have suffered, but have gone on to find the strength to believe in themselves, to believe they are truly worthy of love—and to choose partners who are worthy of their love. But most of all, I write about acceptance. That love in and of itself is what matters. Paramount in my stories is the concept that we are all worthy of love, that gender, race, religion, and all the other things society tries to throw in our way as barriers to love are foolish—though I have to admit, they do create wonderful themes around which to build our tales.
These are recurrent themes that are foregrounded throughout the sixteen excellent stories of lesbian paranormal erotica within this anthology: love, redemption and acceptance.
The genre of the paranormal has always been popular with those who believe themselves to be outside the limitations of whatever is perceived as normal. This is possibly why the genre has always had such an extensive appeal for teenagers (a demograph who invariably see themselves as outsiders). It’s an appeal, which we’ve seen evinced repeatedly over the past decade or so, with teen icons such as Buffy and Bella Swan creating a fantasy world of the paranormal where teenage angst is an acceptable form of expression.
But this is not a book for teenagers – this is aimed at a more adult market.
However, there are certainly echoes of the outsider striving for redemption and acceptance in stories like “Sneak” by Giselle Renarde where the common unity of a curse is found between a lesbian shape-shifter mouse and an unfortunate and unhappy sex worker.
Ah, Loralee, so unassumingly pretty underneath that thick foundation, the false lashes, the dark shadow. Her men only got to see her one way—made-up, falsified, cloaked in everything she wasn’t. Her skirts were small, but her hair was big—teased and sprayed to retain dimension. It wasn’t the real Loralee on that bed, just a body that looked like her. Cosmetics prevented the men, the adulterers and perverts, from seeing her true self. Loralee, pretty Loralee, was so vulnerable, so insecure…so like Bess. Bess looked on, unnoticed, as some reeking cowboy took Loralee from behind. His shirt was half-off, dirty denim around his ankles, boots grinding mud into the worn-down carpet. They were all so lazy, these dirty, grunting men. Loralee deserved better, but the poor thing was resigned to her fate.
And how, exactly, did Bess know all this? Well, people tend to talk when they think they’re alone. Loralee always talked to herself when the men had gone, while she stripped the bed. Poor girl always washed the sheets after a john had left.
“Sneak” Giselle Renarde
It’s argued that regular readers of the paranormal genre can often identify with the characters and familiar tropes found in this milieu of fiction. Some critics claim that regular readers of this genre see a reflection of their own personality in the personification of those outside the restrictions of society’s regular limitations.
I’m not sure how much of this is generalisation and how much is likely accurate but there are echoes of the outsider in many of the stories in this collection, including JL Merrow’s second contribution to this anthology: “Nine Days and Seven Tears.”
I found where the heat of her was centered, and as she opened for me like a sea anemone, she arched her back and hummed with pleasure. The scent and the flavor of her almost overwhelming me. I tongued that hard, crimson bud again and again, until Freyja shuddered and came, crying out softly in an ancient language I longed to understand.
“You make me so hot,” she whispered, but her white fingers felt cool on my heated skin, like the lap of the sea on a hot summer’s day. They rippled over me, bringing life and yearning to every part they caressed, and then they dove inside me, darting in and out with a touch that both burned and soothed.
“Nine Days and Seven Tears” JL Merrow
This is not to say, despite these stories sharing themes, that they are predictable. The stories in this collection are all exciting and well-written. Editor Delilah Devlin has picked a fine host of fiction for this anthology, each of which works as an exemplar of erotic fiction and together they collectively work to fulfil the promise of the title.
She Shifters explores a wide array of metaphors for female sexuality and lesbian intimacy and presents the reader with an accessible selection of stories that can be enjoyed for the surface pleasure of erotic fulfilment, or can be considered for the greater depth that they give to this genre.