From "Twilight" to "The Vampire Diaries," vampires are everywhere, and we've really come to love our famous fanged friends. Real-life vampires, however, don't have it so easy, as MTV's "True Life" explored last year:
People who self-identify as vampires are often misunderstood and find themselves hesitant to reveal their identities to others, even in critical situations involving social workers and health care professionals, according to a recent study from Idaho State University and College of the Canyons researchers, published in the journal Critical Social Work. These academics sought to shed necessary light on a secretive, little-known community and the challenges it faces.
MTV News spoke with Idaho State University's Social Work Program director, Dr. DJ Williams, about his findings.
The survey participants were universally scared of being ridiculed or incorrectly labeled as mentally ill.
None of the 11 participants answered questions in a way that would indicate any kind of abnormal psychiatric histories or below-average levels of functioning. Still, although they had assumed their vampire identities for an average of 14.2 years, they were extremely hesitant to disclose their lifestyle information to health professionals.
"I think that the big issue here is that when a client goes to see a health professional or a social worker, we all have common issues and we all have very difficult problems that we need help for," Williams told us. "[T]he better the professional can understand somebody -- and that person’s identity and worldview and philosophy and lifestyle -- the more likely that clinician can be helpful. The better you can understand your client, the more likely you are to help them in important ways."
There are two primary types of vampires: "lifestyle" and "real."
The community is diverse, with people of all ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds, but Williams -- who first became interested in vampirism after studying consensual sadomasochism and interviewing a dominatrix who identified as a vampire -- explained that it breaks down into two main groups.
"There are a lot of different kinds of lifestyle vampires, but the key feature is they relate to, or incorporate in some way, the persona of the vampire," he said. "These are some of the people who have a nocturnal lifestyle. They might wear black clothing and sport fangs and those kinds of things."
And yes, some vampires have an interest in ingesting "a tiny amount of blood" from donors or animals.
According to Williams, "real" vampires (as opposed to lifestyle vampires) are the subset more likely to be misunderstood by the general public.
"They may or may not identify with the vampire persona, but they believe that they need extra energy ... in order to sustain health," Williams said. "[T]hey may or may not like the vampire myths and stories. All of that is somewhat irrelevant."
Not all of them consume blood, but those who do cite their need for extra energy as the impetus. "It’s not uncommon," Williams said. "It’s not the majority of vampires but it is a sizable percentage, and that’s the way they believe they get extra energy. So it kind of depends on the vampire -- what works for that person in terms of gaining extra energy."
Those who do ingest blood go to great lengths to ensure their own safety and health in the process. ("It is generally expected within the community that vampires should act ethically and responsibly in feeding practices," Williams wrote in the study.)
As for monstrous vampire-like figures in pop culture, Williams sees more harm than good.
"In some ways it hurts the real vampire community because that’s what people's interpretation of vampires comes from," he said. "Real vampires are not what people think. They don’t fit the stereotype."
The study concluded that all identities deserve fair and judgement-free treatment.
Can the general public lessen the stigma around vampirism? Williams hopes so.
"The message is to not take things at face value, to be more aware of our stereotypes and our judgments, maybe focus on commonalities that people have," he said. "People understand themselves in very different ways, and that’s OK. We’re all human. We all have a lot of things in common. I think a little more awareness of our own biases and more cultural sensitivity -- more compassion -- that’s really the important thing underlying all of this."
That's good advice for interacting with anyone, no matter whether they sleep in a bed or a coffin.