Brad and I sat on the bed in his hotel room downtown, on either side of the dog we adopted together nearly three years prior. We hadn’t seen each other in the four months since his move to New Orleans, since the morning we held each other and cried in my bed, before I walked him to his car and he set off across the country. In his absence, I nurtured a sense that we were still somehow beholden to each other. But as we sat on that bed across from each other, there was something besides a dog between us, something more than awkwardness bred of distance. I ventured my guess out loud, and he confirmed that he had met someone. Three days later I drove him to the airport. I asked if his new boyfriend knew about me. He was quick to reply, “I told him you’re family.” He said it firm, like he had dropped something heavy and permanent into their home.
In the summer of 2012, HBO aired the origin story of one of network’s most beloved characters. A Viking prince is bleeding out after a battle, supported by two of his brothers-at-arms as they stumble through a dark forest, all of them drunk on adrenaline. They build the prince his pyre and sit to drink through his last night on earth. As the prince is ready to fall to his final sleep, a force races through the trees, opening the throats of his companions in a quick blur. A small, naked boy appears perched beside the man on his pyre. Blood is running down his chin, his body is carved in an ancient script. He is staring down into the Viking’s face, his eyes are black holes bent in delight.
“You are death.” the prince says in Old Swedish.
“But you’re just a little boy.” His words are labored.
“I’m not,” the boy says, his face split into a grin, unperturbed by the man’s struggle to communicate.
The creature nods, lets the issue pass.
“I watched you on the battlefield last night.” he smiles again, “I never saw anyone fight like you.” He marvels at the fallen warrior, clearly smitten, as if regarding some magnificent animal or a new toy.
“I would fight you now if I could.” The dying man’s voice is hard.
“I know,” the boy’s smile exposes two long fangs catching the firelight, “It’s beautiful.”
“What are you waiting for?” the prince insists, “Kill me.”
“Could you be a companion of Death?” the boy asks, smacking his lips, “Could you walk with me through the world, through the dark? I’ll teach you all I know.” He slows, pausing between each word: “I’ll be your father, your brother, your son.”
“What’s in it for me?” The Viking asks, his eyes falling shut, the start of a smile breaking his lip.
“What you love most:” the vampire replies, “Life.”
With his final breath, the nearly dead man draws out the word in a whisper, “Liiife”. The boy rears back and opens his mouth, fangs out like two knives in the dark, and clamps down into the Viking’s neck, fire crackling at his back.
I was hypnotized the night this scene aired on the now widely-despised vampire smut-fest that was True Blood. I hadn’t seen anything so beautiful since the doomed affair of Louis’ and his child-bride Claudia in the novel Interview with a Vampire, or the hypnosis-induced father-daughter fucking in the film Oldboy. The words remained in my head, repeated through every silence, ‘Father, Brother, Son.’ This throwaway line thought up by someone in a writer’s room at HBO was a triple-god that I knew intimately. I was twenty one and I knew nothing of gay culture besides what I encountered during solo-trips to the bars. The words, father-brother-son, were ripe for adoption to name what I saw as a secret brotherhood that exists in a midnight-dark of bedrooms, alleys, and bathhouses, to name the bloodlines and DNA exchanged there. My relationship to other gay men was confined to those I met off of the internet for sex. We too were masters of the dark, passing seed to orifice in an unbroken line that went back to the dawn of man.
What the show only hints at, of course, is the Viking’s intimate sexual history with his maker, they being as much lovers as they were family. In the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Mystery Novels that True Blood is based on, it wasn’t the cute boy who had turned him, but a Roman soldier from the days of Christ, a man from a culture who would have seen the adoption of a strapping male youth as his right and legacy. The age-tangle presented on the show, of Eric’s maker being boy-bodied rather than man-bodied, is simply more potent. The scene above is sexual by nature: a fae little boy worshipping a big brute’s physical prowess. Such was the way of the pederastic relationships of ancient Greece, Rome, and countless other cultures, especially as they pertained to soldiers, as in the shudo relationships of the Samurai.
The boy, whose television name was Godric, became the Viking’s father in that he created and raised him from his vampire-childhood, his brother in that they travelled the world in a shared state of gleeful hedonism, and his son in that the Viking had achieved a human adulthood in mind and body that, having been turned so young, Godric never knew. The added exchange of fluids through penetration makes all vampirism sexual, but so too does the maker-progeny relationship make all vampirism parental, the two being tangled up in one another, left for the participants to decode, often providing the central tension of their relationship.
The pederasty of Ancient Greece is one of its most memorable institutions, treasured as it was as the highest and the noblest of relationships, and central to a thousand years of politics and governance (and literally legally reserved only for those of wealth and rank). Major offices were passed from lover to beloved as often and in the same manner as kingships were passed from father to son. The poet Sappho remains the historical female exception to this entirely male institution, who, it has been gleamed (without certainty due to limited information about her life) kept a school of beautiful young women from powerful families and wrote poetry about her love for them. The Chinese terms for the roles in male homosexual pederastic relationships were “qi xiong” and “qi di”: “sworn elder brother” and “younger brother.” Wisdom and guidance were exchanged for youth and beauty until the younger matured and took a young mate of their own.
When Brad first discovered my profile on dudesnude.com, he was engaged to a boy who lived in another state. They only wanted a playtoy for the fiance’s visits, a little brother of sorts, and so I was seduced. I was first drawn to Brad because he was bigger, older, smart, and cool. He was the Big Brother I’d always wanted. He was a master of history, literature, and music. I could listen to him explain history for hours as we marched around some dusty tourist destination, pointing at things and asking him questions. It didn’t hurt that he was covered in body hair, shoulders to ankles, like a proper daddy. Despite my curiosity and my being slightly younger, I don’t think he ever saw me as a little brother. Still, I was compelled, only a few weeks into our relationship, to finally learn to bottom. After topping all of my adult life I wanted the empty vessel that was young ever-learning me to be full of his power, knowledge, and strength. I spent a weekend in front of my laptop’s camera, legs up, fingers lubed, porn playing on one side of the screen and a diagram of the rectum on the other. We quickly normalized– he dropped the fiance, we adopted a puppy, and moved into a house in a quiet neighborhood.
Though pederasty is a model that is historically male, one woman author has re-appropriated the trope for her own world-building. Octavia Butler often pairs her heroines with older men. Today we balk a younger woman paired with a much older male, fearing that the woman is giving up some agency, “She’s young enough to be his daughter.” Butler reverses the implied power dynamic. The protagonist of Parable of the Sower is a young woman, not yet twenty, who pairs with a man near seventy, a doctor. Developing a new religion for a dystopic America, she forms the heart of a small clan. The power is hers, and her partner acts as her confidant and servant to the community, but in no way acts as leader. That’s her role, not his. It is not his skill as a doctor that leads the community, but her mind as a philosopher, her youth and her ability to see things in a new way are her strengths.
Reversing child and parent roles in these age-disparate relationships is a go-to model for Butler, but also a common trope of vampire fiction. While the relationship between vampire parent and vampire child often starts sexually, there are exceptions to this rule. Louis and Lestat, of Anne Rice fame, turned the literal child Claudia out of a.) Louis’ guilt and shame for his own vampirism (queerness) and b.) Lestat’s manipulative attempt to bind Louis to him. In other words, the psycho-sexual gymnastics every couple contorts through in the decision to have a child. Claudia matures in mind and develops a romantic relationship with Louis. Rice handles the implication of pedophilia, at least in body, in the same way as Octavia Butler, as we can see in her book Fledgeling. Put the mind of an adult in the body of a child and no harm is done. In the vampire culture of Fledgeling, it is common practice for a vampire to curate a loving family of parasitic human adults of all ages. Her protagonist is another child-bodied creature, a matriarch and protector of her clan. Mothers, brothers, and lovers are intertwined as blood is exchanged and new members are adopted. The power is shifted from the bigger and older to the smaller and younger.
I became briefly tangled with a boy on the internet before a trip to San Francisco, his home. It was this boy’s tiny muscular frame and his being slightly younger than me that drew me to him. He like a little meaty hummingbird. At some point in our texts he referred to his older boyfriend as “Dad” and I popped at the sight of the word. I called him little brother in messages thereafter. Our meeting was a bust for many reasons. We were never really able to break into the intimacy our text exchanges should have led to. He told me that he and his older boyfriend had a sexual disconnect. I couldn’t imagine what this was, they were both perfect physical specimens, the large and small versions of the same body and would, in my mind, click together like puzzle pieces. Later, in bed, when I tried to make him a bottom, he said that he “just wasn’t in that place in his life.” I wondered if his Dad feels the same frustration I felt in that moment.
Butler’s Wild Seed virtually explodes the ramifications of incest, when Doro, immortal breeder of mutants, comes across the most powerful one of his descendants, Anyanwu, another immortal, and, forces her to join him in breeding countless generations. As Mother and Father to a powerful new race, they continue to interbreed with their children over hundreds of years, ad infinitum. At first Anyanwu holds Doro to a pact that states he will leave her direct offspring out of his continued sexual trysts, but the pact is eventually broken. Near the end of the book he reiterates that her insistence is laughable, as they have now spawned the equivalent population of a nation who themselves continue to reproduce amongst themselves. Throughout her novels, Butler seems to waver between the acceptance and condemnation of these forms of incest, a practice that also has ancient precedent and modern comparisons.
More complicated is the medieval example of Arthur. Unravelled, the tale of Arthur is slightly confusing. His early tales are pagan, tangled up with druids and witches offering counsel, while later tales involve his quest for the grail and Guinevere’s devotion to Christ. Morgaine plays friend and villain on and off throughout, and certainly plays villain when she seduces her brother. But later, she is depicted as one of the women who escort his body to Avalon, having “repented.” A more forgiving treatment of Arthur and Morgaine’s incest is offered in the modern retelling, The Mists of Avalon, where Morgaine’s relationship to her brother is central not only to the plot but to the fate of the British Isles. It is revealed that, after being tricked into copulating as teens, Morgaine remained Arthur’s secret true love to the end of his days. One could interpret his love for her as the tragic flaw that leads ultimately to his downfall and the end of Camelot. So perhaps it is not so forgiving a treatment, even if the portrayal of Arthur is sympathetic. Author Marion Zimmer Bradley’s own husband had a preference for teenage boys and died in prison for it, and Zimmer Bradley’s own daughter eventually came out publically against her late mother, citing nine years of child abuse at her hands and shining light onto a darker side of revisionist stories of mytho-historical incest.
Author George R. R. Martin’s literary incest is used to simultaneously accessorize and complicate traditional villainy throughout his medievalist Song of Ice and Fire saga. The arrogant power-hungry Lannister twins stand as the primary example, their life-long affair providing the central drama of the story. Their secret incest is a source of destruction to the realm, and is regularly contrasted with the incest of the Targaryens, the silver-haired and purple-eyed royal family that held the Iron Throne of Westeros for 300 years, whose historical rulers are split evenly between evil madmen and the well-intentioned but ill-fated. Perhaps this is simply Martin’s use of medieval tropes to further saturate his world. Marriage to cousins was common amongst royals, and sibling-incest was a common accusation made against corrupt leading families like the Borgia.
While Martin winks at incest, and Butler explodes it, it’s the vampires who best mirror queer family-making. When queerness is forced upon them by sudden immortality, heightened senses, and a taste for decadence and deep romance, they must flee their families and make new ones. The same is true for the X-Men, the story of persecuted mutants seeking sanctuary amongst each other often being cited as queer allegory. Joss Whedon builds similar queer families, if actually less queer. Buffy, Firefly, and Dollhouse, all start as workplace dramas but end as portraits of misfit families shaped by supernatural or mad-science-induced circumstances. My personal favorite is Dollhouse, a show that only lasted two seasons. Mind-wiped debt slaves injected with new personalities for the entertainment of the rich and their handlers are bonded first by their shared cage and finally as the last stand against the literal apocalypse.
Whedon’s families are usually finding themselves at the center of the apocalypse (see Buffy and the Avengers). Characters in his stories certainly pair up and even get married but they do not get pregnant. New members are adopted as teens and adults, not born. They are made of misfits accruing knowledge, protecting each other from adversity, and forged in battle. The members of each group are drawn together by a holy spark that renders them family. Like the X-Men, the Buffy family is centered in a school where they are trained to use the queerness that expelled most of them from their families. These school settings call to mind the first historically all-Black colleges such as Morehouse and the Tuskegee Institute, where the idea of marginalized identity is subverted and turned into a source of power. Another identity-sanctuary is depicted near the end of Beyonce’s video album Lemonade.
A community of black girls are living on a plantation that is now theirs, gardening, gathering, cooking and making that plantation a beautiful community in place of the horror it’s been host to. The black and white of the film nearly inverts shadow and light, so heightened that their black skin and eyes glow bright against dark skies. The girls are wearing different plays on off-white plantation wear – gloves, fans, off the shoulder frills, but as the video progresses their clothes become intermixed with modern wear, drawing this vision out of fantasy and into reality. We are shown young women standing beside older women who present their young like princesses, warriors, acolytes.
A documentary called Fathers is currently in the works, imagining a world in which AIDS never happened, never swept away a generation of gay luminaries. I have often wondered if the gay community’s shallow sense of history and self is due to the absence of said ‘Fathers.’ Chaos magician Gordon White explains the necessity of regular contact with the dead for magicians and shamans. Dialogue with the ancestors has been a key component of spiritual practice for the length of identifiable human spirituality (even the Neanderthals honored their dead). But White makes an important distinction: this does not mean one has to build a shrine to dead blood relatives who may have been dispicable people, or that orphans do not get to participate in this particular spiritual practice. The concept of “ancestry” is malleable. A magician should not feel limited by who they are able to claim as ancestors.
We are drawn to the warmth of the flame that soothes us, the one that provides some outer reflection of our highly specific inner worlds. True Blood was ridiculous and bloodsoaked, especially by the end of its run, but the show was always at its strongest when it explored how outsiders formed alternative communities. Some werewolves were white trash meth-heads or formed biker gangs while others moved to the suburbs to start a business. Some vampires stalked swamps and slept naked in the dirt while others formed nests in old mansions. The fairies hid from view, be it in an alternate dimension or under the hills, but always in large faceless clusters of beauty and opulence. No supernatural species fell under one rule, but they were always challenging the choices their counterparts made. Had the show focused its tension in this area, it could have become a queer tentpole, but that was never the showrunner’s goal.
Louis briefly glimpses an alternative to the queer nuclear family he created with Lestat when he and Claudia encounter the theatre troupe in Paris. They are depicted in the film as a nest of insects, sleeping in a communal space with holes dug into walls, calling to mind a sort of hive, and all wearing black. But the older and more experienced leader of the theatre troupe, Armand, (who, it should be noted, also appears as a teenager, having been turned at seventeen), falls for Louis, and the two make a natural pair (he’s even got a child lover of his own, though this one is mortal and more alike to a meal bag than a life-partner), and Louis feels that he is finally facing another as tortured and alone as he has felt since even before he was turned. Armand allows his pack to murder Claudia, and Louis to murder all of them in return. Though Louis is enraged at Armand’s actions, he submits to what he hopes will be a final shared peace. The two men remain together for a few decades, travelling the world, but choose to part by the 1920’s, preferring solitude to a companionship built on a shared sense of tragedy.
Brad and I found our holy moments in road trips large and small, watching storms cross valleys miles away while we listened to books-on-tape, on hiking trails to mountain peaks where we’d watch over valleys after blowing each other and sharing trailmix. These moments were framed by our sweat and our silence. Midway through our first summer together, we drove through Cedar Canyon. Listening to the wind rush up at us in warm snapping drafts from deep in the canyon, with giant cedars towering over us, we held each other and planned our funerals, our feet dangling from the cliff over the daylit abyss. I was the last one in the house we’d shared, and as I wandered the backyard I spotted the tree into which I’d carved our initials, mine framed by his on one side and the dog’s on the other. I snapped a picture and had its mirror image drilled into my arm later that week.
The start of Fledgeling finds the main character, Suri, with no memory of who or what she is. Her first act, out of instinct alone, is to bite the man who finds her, binding him to her as the first of her new cluster of humans she protects and depends on. I’m only just realizing that I’ve been attempting to do the same for years with countless boys. Attempts to do so with sex partners mostly come up short. If a boy wants to date, it’s because he wants a boyfriend, not another node in a web of brothers and fathers.
We were rounding a ramp to the Departures level at LAX, our grown dog sitting up between us, scanning the road ahead. “So your boy, he won’t care when I visit?” I asked Brad.
“Well, we may not be able to fuck,” he offered, “But yeah, he’ll be fine.”
“Wait, what?” Something dropped in my chest and he laughed at my surprise. “Would I have to, like, meet him?”
“You could,” He offered, his tone was bright, easy. This was new ground.
“I don’t think I would want to meet him, I don’t think I could watch someone else claiming you, hanging off your arm. Hoo,” I breathed deep, the very image squeezing my lungs.
“You don’t have to meet him then.”
“And if I stay with you– ?”
“You may have to sleep on the couch.”
“While he’s upstairs with you?” I jumped at his response, nonphysical knife in hand.
“It would make me feel like shit too,” he offered.
“If I had an LA boyfriend and you were coming back into town, I would tell him that he wasn’t going to be seeing me that weekend.”
“Well that sounds nice but not everyone can handle that level of openness.”
“I wouldn’t date someone who couldn’t.” I accused.
“I think our relationship is strong enough to withstand changes, that sometimes we’re lovers and sometimes–,”
“-We’re just buddies.” The words washed over me. “I agree.” I said, possessed with sudden awareness that I was fighting wind. We were silent for a few minutes. “There is no shortage of cute boys in New Orleans that I could stay with when I visit.”
“That’s right,” he laughed.
I kissed him when I dropped him at the curb. The sense of tragedy that usually left me teary eyed when departing from a lover was nowhere to be found as I drove myself and my dog back to our neighborhood. I imagined him arriving home, his boy waiting for him, the two of them tucking into each other. We’d once attempted a three way in the house we shared. It didn’t go well, but watching Brad use his big daddy nature to lay his affection on a pretty smaller boy was a revelation. By the time I arrived home, the image of he and his new boy, faceless and nameless to me, passed out of my head without issue.