You Got that True Blood is About Gay Integration, Right?

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"God Hates Fangs" sign from True BloodMany apologies if I'm stating the obvious. But the vampires in True Blood are symbolic of homosexuals. That was open and clear from the start, wasn't it? 

In the first episode, they speak of vampires "coming out of the coffin," having existed clandestinely for millennia, but now seeking acceptance in mainstream society. 


The opening credits show a sign saying "God Hates Fangs." 


Some vampires derisively refer to humans as "breathers." 


sign for "Fangtasia"Vampires have their own bars, with pun names - the one in the show is "Fangtasia." 


Some people distrust vampires, hatefully referring to them as "fangers."


Vermont is the only state that has legalized marriage between humans and vampires. 


A prominent Christian preacher makes hatred of vampires his focus, often appearing in the media speaking out on the subject. Unsurprisingly, he's later revealed to be a closeted homosexual.


The analogy breaks down in the second season and beyond, as we learn more about the intricate politics and metaphysical relationships among vampires. They're governed by a mysterious, all-powerful "authority." Various characters are sheriffs, kings and queens of different territories. Every vampire has a direct and complex relationship with her "master" (the vampire who turned her into a vampire)(and humans can be turned into vampires voluntarily, or against their will). Vampire blood is sold as a drug, conferring super-sensitivity, as well as endless sexual prowess. Some vampires seek peaceful integration, others want to destroy and enslave the human race.


The world of the show also grows to incorporate other mystical creatures: werewolves, maenads, fairies, shape-shifters, witches. I won't be surprised to discover a given character is a zombie or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. 


Keith and David in Six Feet Under

Alan Ball (True Blood's creator) is gay, and has explored the integration of homosexuals in society before. Six Feet Under featured a closeted (at least for the first season) mortician and funeral director, who attended church and displayed no stereotypically gay mannerisms at all. His on again off again partner in the series is a buff black cop, furious with him for staying in the closet. American Beauty featured a gay couple, employed as a tax attorney and an anesthesiologist. The Marine Colonel neighbour turns out to be closeted and homicidally repressed. 


And even though True Blood isn't solely an analogy for gay integration, it features an abundance of gay and bisexual characters, far beyond the norm on cable television. Character actor Stephen Root (stapler obsessed Milton in Office Space) gives a particularly impressive performance as an overweight, middle-aged vampire, whose marriage as a human had collapsed when his wife accused him of being gay, a charge whose truth he only realized on hearing it. He chose to become a vampire, hoping he'd be transformed into the lithe, sexy beings he'd seen from afar, only to discover he remained frumpy and middle-aged, no more attractive to hot young vampires than he'd ever been. 


eye candy for women and gay men, in True BloodThere are plenty of heterosexual characters in the show, too. The central relationship is between a woman and a man (well, a male vampire). One character's womanizing makes him seem right out of the seventies. There's lots of sex, gay and straight. But contrasting Hollywood convention, we see just as many male buttocks as female breasts. The camera lingers lovingly on the perfect forms of both genders, providing plenty of eye-candy for gay men and straight women (if anything, there's more of a focus on the men's hotness than the women's). 


The show has comfortably transitioned from being an analogy for gay integration into a drama/soap opera/horror/fantasy full of intrigue, action, romance and sex. Major characters are white, black and Latino, human and non-human. The audience is big and varied as well, and therein lies Ball's greatest accomplishment: getting mainstream audiences interested in tales involving gay characters without the series being solely about that. It's about the swirling, multi-coloured world we live in, full of varied and sometimes fluid identity, genuine emotions, attempts to connect and coexist, with plenty of surprises and cliff-hangers. 

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  • Comment Link Michael Milano Monday, 25 June 2012 16:51 posted by Michael Milano


    Yes I would think it was clear to anyone who watched the show, but you never know.

    I agree with all your points but one. The line “there is a lot of sex, gay and straight”. While I think the show has made great strides to be inclusive, there is still room for growth. I can only remember one gay sex scene that was even remotely graphic in nature. And during that scene one of the “gay” vampires was staked and met the true death. It’s as if the show could only be that graphic if one of the gays dies at the end (as punishment for their sin of engaging in gay sex?). And the other vampire was really only doing it for revenge so they could get close enough to kill the other vampire so his motives weren’t really gay (so that is acceptable I guess?)

    I’ve lost count of the number of graphic depictions of straight sex. Does HBO fear the “ick” factor with gay sex? Will it turn off viewers to see 2 dudes going at it the way they show countless straight couplings on the show?

    The lunch counters may be closer together, but they are still separate.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 25 June 2012 19:45 posted by TJ Dawe

    Michael - you're so right. Thinking about it, there's probably equal prominence to gay relationships as there is straight, but the sex is implied, rather than shown. You never seen Lafayette and Jesus getting in on in the explicit way you see Sookie and Bill going at it. Again and again and again. Or you might see Eric jackhammer banging a panting woman in the basement/dungeon of Fangtasia, but you never do see gay sex that openly, or casually. Hmm.

    I can only conclude that HBO does at least partially fear the "ick" factor with gay sex. Or maybe they fear people thinking of True Blood as "that gay show." They've certainly presented gay characters in various shows (and universally, the favourite character on The Wire is Omar, and he's gay, and you see him French kissing his boyfriend, but not much more than that, if memory serves) to a greater degree than network shows have. But there's still a ways to go. Maybe True Blood will eventually be seen as one of the stops along the way to equality. A benchmark, but not the destination.

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Monday, 25 June 2012 23:22 posted by Michael Milano


    While I agree the metaphor of vampire as gay could be considered a benchmark, I think much of that is undone by the actual gay characters portrayed on the show. Let’s take a look at some of the gay characters.

    Lafayette - A drug dealing Medium that can be possessed by any ghost or demon with a ax to grind.

    Jesus - A male nurse with dark magic inside him (a metaphor for the darkness of homosexuality?) Murdered by Lafayette.

    Russell - a sociopath.

    Talbot - Russell’s very effeminate lover who was obsessed with home decor. Stereotype much? he died too... of course in the throws of an adulterous affair. Gays, they are so promiscuous.

    Steve Newlin - Closeted conservative religious nut-gab who tries to force himself on Jason and then tries to buy Jason from Jessica. So a closet case and preditory...very nice.

    Don’t get me wrong I find the show very entertaining but the actual gay characters do seem to play on stereotypes and a lot of negative imagery.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 26 June 2012 18:38 posted by TJ Dawe

    Damn, you're right again. A quick mental inventory of the straight characters shows them all having flaws (which is necessary for there to be drama, I suppose), but not along such extreme or stereotypical paths. Mostly, anyway.

    Perhaps David and Keith from Six Feet Under are better representations of characters with flaws and who are dealing with issues, and who just happen to be gay. Or is there something about them I'm not seeing?

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Tuesday, 26 June 2012 20:20 posted by Michael Milano

    I agree with David and Keith being better representatives of gay characters. They are far more "real" and less stereotyped.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 26 June 2012 21:52 posted by TJ Dawe

    There's a bit in Chris Rock's book "Rock This" where he's saying Cast Me As the Regular Guy, (not as "the black guy"). He went on to detail how many roles he was offered where he was stereotypically black in some way. The role he really wanted was Chris O'Donnell's role in Scent of a Woman.

    David and Keith's relationship, the more I think of it, has the ups and downs of most any relationship. There's definitely the added element of David being in the closet for the first season, and having to deal with homophobia here and there, but the show really seemed to be just as much about how hard relationships are to sustain as it was about America's relationship with death. Neither David nor Keith had jobs that are in any way associated with gay stereotypes. And they're just interesting as human beings, as characters, with flaws and feelings, doing their best. Let's hope for more depictions like this in fiction with gays and straights, women and men, and people of all colours. We're certainly not there yet, but I think we're a few steps closer than we were twenty or thirty years ago.

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