The vampire – traditionally figured as an elusive aristocrat defiling victims to satiate his bloodthirst – has permeated Gothic literature since the early nineteenth century. Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is considered the first to lesbianise the subgenre with his 1872 novella, Carmilla. Le Fanu’s narrative is wrought with Catholic fears of homosexual monstrosity and a colonial threat of displacement by the dark-featured stranger who has penetrated European high society. Turning attention to American literature, Maisha L. Wester has argued that Gothic tropes “all occur as parts of narratives of slavery, not as part of the supernatural”, which is where Jewelle Gomez begins her Afrofuturist epic, The Gilda Stories

Situated in the 1980s and 90s paranormal fiction boom, The Gilda Stories imagines a diverse network of ethical vampires who transgress time and space to straddle immortal/mortal American life. The novel simultaneously engages with Black feminism, Queer theory, and Afrofuturism, establishing the nuanced identities of its Queer women of colour as principal rather than peripheral. A paradigm for comprehending and creating a world outside of Western-dictated notions of selfhood and progress, Afrofuturism is rooted in African diasporic identity’s intersection with techno culture and speculative fiction. As such, Gomez sets each chapter in a different state and key moment of Black American history, beginning with protagonist Gilda’s recent escape from slavery in 1850s Louisiana, and concluding in the futuristic 2050. As an American lesbian of African and Native Wampanoag and Ioway heritage, Gomez recognises the prejudices her characters face throughout the timeline, whilst exploring celebrations of Queer and diasporic communities’ creativity, friendship, sex, and love. The Gilda Stories divorce monstrosity from the Queer vampire of colour through Gomez’s concept of reciprocal vamping and the model of Queer motherhood. 

The Gilda Stories’ vampires enter victims’ minds and exchange a cognitive gift – “energy, dreams, ideas” — in return for the rejuvenating blood they take. This reciprocity acts as a corrective to white heteropatriarchal exploitation of women of colour to preserve social dominance. Instead of choosing vengeance, Gomez’s vampires channel historical injustice to create a humane world, for, as one wise character muses, “it is through our connection with life, not death, that we live”. While the novel’s vampires are recast as selfless givers and creators, the (white, male) humans are conversely presented as parasites to Gilda’s community, threatening sexual violation, physical exploitation, and artistic appropriation. This dynamic is successful in overturning previous evocations of Queer Black women as leeches to society in Gothic literature, meanwhile illuminating dominant power structures’ greater inclination to ‘vamp’ than the vampires themselves. A characteristic of Afrofuturist literature, this socialist vamping creates equality between earthly beings that is unattainable via systems of white supremacy and Western capitalism. In Jerry Rafiki Jones’s words, Gomez shows “it is possible to satisfy one’s ‘hunger’ without being a monster, without producing terror, exploitation, or bodies in pain”. The symbiosis crafted between vampire and vamped in The Gilda Stories marks a mobilisation of Gothic’s fantastical elements to rewrite the past and imagine a better future for Queer and diasporic communities.

Gina Wisker’s claim that African-American Gothic “explores the duties of care that mothers and grandmothers have for the next generation, which needs to recuperate the past and revise the future” bears a striking resemblance to The Gilda Stories’ presentation of motherhood. Gilda’s birth mother was a Black slave who died of an illness caught from nursing her white owner family, epitomising the ‘vamping’ role whiteness has played throughout history. However, her enduring presence in Gilda’s memory demonstrates pride of lineage and foregrounds the tragic fracturing effect that bondage has imposed on Black identity. The other predominant maternal force is Gilda’s lesbian vampire co-parents: a white brothel owner called Gilda (from whom younger Gilda inherits her name) and Bird, a Lakota Native American who teaches Gilda history and languages over her time in Louisiana. 

Described by Victoria Amadour as an “action of white reparation to black slaves”, Gomez conceptualises a maternal blood-sharing process between elder Gilda and younger Gilda to symbolise initiation into vampiric immortality. The process begins with elder Gilda drinking from younger Gilda’s neck and younger Gilda drinking blood from the elder’s breast, an image of Queered lactation. Creating a tenderness indicative of mother and baby postpartum, Gomez writes “Gilda kissed her on the forehead and the neck where the pain had been”, and describes how the younger “clung to Gilda, sinking deeper into a dream”. This ritual concurrently resists nineteenth-century anti-miscegenation laws and heteronormative phallocentrism by allowing the lesbian vampire to biologically ‘birth’ Gilda without male involvement and bypass the male-inflicted strain that pregnancy places on women’s bodies. Giving due attention to her Black identity while being immortally adopted by a white woman, Gomez uses aural imagery as a uniting force of past and present to join both maternal figures (natural and vampiric), by writing that Gilda “heard a soft humming that sounded like her mother” while drinking from elder Gilda’s breast. Maternity in The Gilda Stories conveys gynocentric racial harmony and defies the rigid bounds of heteronormativity to illuminate the virtues of the Queer family dynamic. 

While monstrous presentations of Queer women of colour continue to pervade popular media, Gomez’s vampiric odyssey carves out a space to empower marginalised identities. Cheryl Dunye’s upcoming television adaptation of The Gilda Stories will provide a welcome opportunity to decentre Queer diasporic communities’ suffering on screen and utilise the Gothic aesthetic to instead explore their pride.