Contrary to what you might have been told as a kid, vampires are real. At least according to DJ Williams, director of the social work program at Idaho State University and director of research at the Center for Positive Sexuality in Los Angeles. Williams argues not only are vampires real, they walk among us—and they deserve equal access to social services.
Williams made the case for vampire acceptance in his article, "Do We Always Practice What We Preach? Real Vampires' Fears of Coming out of the Coffin to Social Workers and Helping Professionals," published in Critical Social Work in July. While his research is focused on so-called "self-identified" groups like vampires, furries and BDSM practitioners, he said the principles of his work—arguing for more understanding of the nature of identity—can be applied much more broadly.
"We've seen a lot of people who are gay or lesbian who don't want to come out, who want to stay in the closet, because they face discrimination," he said. "It's the same process. They're the same social processes. We live in an age of technology so there are more possibilities for how people live and understand themselves. We need to be more savvy about that process so that we don't marginalize and discriminate. This isn't going to go away."
What is a self-identified vampire?
A self-identified vampire has to do with how people select that term to represent a part of themselves. They can be categorized as lifestyle vampires, in which they identify with a certain aspect or persona of the mythical vampire, versus real vampires, who use the term "real" to distinguish themselves from lifestylers. But real vampires believe they have a deficit processing energy.
What kind of energy are we talking about?
They call it "subtle human energy." They feel like they need a little extra energy to feel healthy physically, psychologically and spiritually. A lot of times when people hear "vampire" or "real vampire," people think that's very strange. It's interesting to me how the word "vampire" has a different connotation for people. Outsiders really tend to focus on the term "vampire" and the associations that come up. That gets in the way of clinicians, too.
How many vampires would you say there are in Idaho?
It's hard to say because it's such a closed community, for good reason. Our experience is that any substantial city is probably going to have a vampire community or vampires. Numbers are difficult, but our estimates are probably in the thousands worldwide. This is an international phenomenon. A vampire community study got 750 responses from over 30 countries. It gives you a little more perspective. But there's a lot of demographic diversity in this community. There's tremendous age diversity and diversity in terms of religious identification, culture and education level.
What about other self-identified communities?
We get a lot of media attention with our vampire study, but my research team studies people who engage in BDSM, and we see very similar kinds of things. A lot of demographic diversity. Clinicians are starting to get a little bit of a grasp on those kinds of worlds, but there's a lot of bias and marginalization still that needs to change.
What's the current disposition of social workers toward self-identified groups?
With BDSM, there's accumulating research now that people who engage in BDSM are normal, well-adjusted people, but there's still a lot of bias among clinicians to frame it pathologically. Now when we look at vampires as another step further, we see the same kind of thing happening. With people who engage in BDSM, we have a difficult time finding clinicians who are open-minded to work with that population. Vampires are an even more secretive, underground group, and there's even less information about this community and who these people are.
How do these kinds of biases manifest in the clinical setting?
We struggle with relationships sometimes, or career changes. That sort of thing. When somebody who's in a minority position goes to a clinician for something like that, that really should be the focus of treatment and intervention. But at the same time, the better a clinician can understand the client's world, the better the rapport is going to be between the clinician and the client. The issue is, somebody comes in and they understand themselves in a certain way, it would be really helpful if the clinician could understand that and work within the client's world to provide better treatment.
What was your point of entry to the topic of self-identified vampires?
My Ph.D. is leisure science, and I have a master's degree in social work. So I'm interested in things that are kind of different, unconventional—even crime—that has a leisure bent to it. I've been researching BDSM and was working with a dominatrix to understand her world, and found out after working with her in her world for a while that she was a vampire. And again, from a leisure perspective, what do people do—this seemed like a really interesting topic.
What are we missing?
A lot of times people see the vampire piece and they miss the forest through the trees. How we stereotype, how we fear what we don't understand—that's what's at work here. That's the takeaway. We need clinicians to be much more sensitive to how people live, what their leisure is.
By Harrison Berry